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Net censorship row is right cock-up

Polical correctness plumbs depth of barminess

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A Los Angeles attorney has been blocked from joining the New York-based BlackPlanet.com online service - because her name doesn't fit.

Sherril Babcock was barred from joining the African-American community site because her last name was deemed "unacceptable".

According to the cyberrights group, Digital Freedom Network (DFN), BlackPlanet.com uses a software filter to censor words deemed to be offensive.

It claims "cock" triggered the political correctness shutters and barred Ms Babcock's application.

As Ms Babcock explained: "Babcock was my father's name as well, and I am very fond of him."

Although BlackPlanet.com's Moderator for Member Services, Crystal Martin apologised twice for the inconvenience, she told Ms Babcock: "Unfortunately, the letters that form the word 'Cock' is [sic] acceptable and will not be recognised by our system."

And BlackPlanet.com is refusing to override the system manually and bypass the dotty process. In fact, it is defending its use of the censorware.

The episode has had Alan Brown, Internet development director for DFN, in stitches.

"Censorware is a non-solution for a non-problem," he said without referring once to Scunthorpe Town FC, when the bumptious team wore dicky bows and mishit the ball in a fixture against Arsenal.

"It doesn't block what it intends to, most of which doesn't hurt anyone, and it blocks far too much of what it shouldn't.

"It's a failure and it's scary that some want public libraries to adopt this junk," he said.

Still, at least this episode helped Brown take a trip down memory lane. It reminded him of the time when AOL banned the word "breast" in its chat rooms. The decision was only overturned when members of a breast cancer survivor's group complained that the ban left them with very little to talk about.

Ah, happy days. ®

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