By Scott Hamilton
Senior Expert in Emerging Technology
I was surprised this week to find out about the latest update to Microsoft Office. Not only does Microsoft Word help you with spelling and grammar, but also with politically correct speech. We all love to utilize tools that make our lives easier, but where should we draw the line? The technology giant we have created by dependency on their products is beginning to grow out of our control. This latest move is, to me, just a little too much and I will be installing LibreOffice or one of the many other community-supported OpenSource Office suites.
The latest patches of Microsoft Office 365 enable a new feature. There are now three types of highlighting in Word, red underlining for spelling errors, blue for grammar errors and purple for potentially offensive speech. Who is it exactly that determines what qualifies as offensive speech? I would argue that it is not the common man. I regret to inform you that according to Word, that last sentence was offensive. It should have read, “I would argue that it is not the common person.”
This filtering also applies to e-mails and Microsoft Teams communications. Employers can enable supervision policies that trigger intervention when the company’s offensive language policies are violated in a communication. This allows an employer review board to establish a compliance center responsible for determining if a flagged message is non-compliant, or incorrectly flagged. The offensive language filters can be triggered by a number of perceived hate speech phrases. Primarily these are phrases related to sexuality, race, color, age, culture or ethnicity. One of my favorite examples is seeing historic quotes flagged for non-compliance. Welcome to the new world of speech police.
Some examples of flagged phrases are “whitelist” and “blacklist” to “accepted list” or “rejected list,” “postman” with “postal worker.” Microsoft hired “native speakers and linguistic experts” in twenty languages to determine the list of “inclusiveness critiques” which would be unwelcome in certain markets. This resulted in massive filters to “correct” the speech in written documents. Microsoft admits the filter may not be “suitable for all scenarios” and people are free to ignore the purple underline and move forward with their document. Historic quotes like “One giant leap for mankind” is now flagged as inappropriate speech.
Microsoft seems to hide behind the fact that these features can be disabled by the end user, regardless of the fact that they are buried deep within the configuration screens and are not easy to disable. The feature can be disabled in the paid version of Microsoft Office 365 installed locally on your computer, but access to the Editor configuration in the Online versions of Office 365 is not accessible and you are stuck with getting “woke” suggestions in all your documentation.
I am waiting to see other companies fall in line and begin to see these filters appear in places like Facebook Posts, LinkedIn Posts, and other online content. Just wait until you post a meme on Facebook and get an alert that “Inappropriate speech was detected in your post, please reword the post and try again.” Avoid words like “man, woman, male, female, black, white, master, slave, mankind, womankind, etc.”
If you want to avoid the speech police you may just have to go out and buy an old typewriter, considering that even OpenSource tools like git have begun to embrace the “woke” speech culture, eliminating phrases like “master branch” in favor of more politically correct phrases like “main branch.” It is just a matter of time before anything remotely offensive will be banned in society. It will eventually become impossible to speak freely in media. Just go ahead and try to quote 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in Microsoft Word; you might just be blinded by the purple lines. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to email@example.com or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.