When Lorelai Monet went to the San Luis Obispo Regional Rideshare website to sign up for the organization’s October Commute for Cash challenge, she was accused of using offensive language and her profile wasn’t processed. Monet works as center coordinator for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, and when she typed the organization’s name in the employer field, the words “gay” and “lesbian” set off the program’s automatic censor, which, in turn, offended Monet.
“Apparently the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are bad words to Rideshare,” she said shortly after being flagged. “It bothers me a lot that they have someone there deciding what words are appropriate to use.”
As it turned out, Rideshare employees were equally surprised that the software they were using—RideShark, which is based in Canada and bills itself as “the world’s ultimate ridesharing and ridematching system”—uses a censor program that bans
“The truth is, we just didn’t know the list was part of the system,” explained Morgan Marshall, program manager at Rideshare. “The word ‘turd’ is in there. There’s a lot of words in other languages that I don’t even know. The word ‘con.’ The word ‘darn.’ So you can see, this list is kind of ridiculous.”
Rideshare launched an online system to match potential carpoolers last February, and Marshall estimates they now have 1,600 registered users. Participants are asked to submit their name, employer, and home and destination addresses.
Armed with a better understanding of RideShark, Rideshare employees are working to evaluate which words to eliminate from the censor technology. “Gay” and “lesbian” have already been removed from the list.
In response to Monet’s complaint and Rideshare’s concern, RideShark will be removing the system’s automatic filter. Sharon Lewinson, president of RideShark, was quick to point out that the program has been running for six years, and this is the first complaint they’ve received about the word filter.
“The whole intent of the system is to be professional,” she said. “One word in itself might not be considered a bad word, but if you use words together they can become bad. You don’t want ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ used as a bad word.”
For her part, Monet’s satisfied with the way Rideshare handled the situation, acknowledging that she’s not, apparently, the only person who has been effected by the filter.
“Apparently they had some problems with a person named Dick,” she chuckled. “I wonder how many systems use filters like that in the world? It’s interesting.”