Github Nukes Repository Over Use Of The Word 'Retard'

from the stupidity-ensues dept

There’s nothing censorious about a private company deciding what it does and doesn’t want littering its platform. Let’s just get that out of the way. However, things change a bit when you’re considered to be a central repository of open-source projects, like Github is. Open-source generally conjures visions of freedom and a more “hands-off” approach. On top of this, would it kill these services that suddenly decide to crack down on one person to at least be consistent in their actions? (h/t Andre)

Currently, there’s an all out gif-and-snark-war going on in this trainwreck of a thread over at Github, below a small change made in the fork of a repo. A change where the word “Retard” – “delay or hold back in terms of progress or development”- was removed and exchanged for the word “Git” – “an unpleasant or contemptible person”. Why? Github wants to remove the word “retard” from code.

[A word of caution: further text and images quite possibly NSFW, so scroll yourself accordingly.]

That’s “Dabitch‘ writing for Adland. The word “retard” has its legitimate uses, as noted above. It’s also used in a pejorative sense far more frequently. It’s insulting and terrible and generally Not Acceptable Usage, but it’s still deployed in code instructions for idiots while idiot-proofing software.

The word is problematic in this context. So are Github’s actions.

Github had already deleted the original repo, and suddenly all forks from this repo were affected, ie; also gone from public view and use on Github.

This is a problem because it affects more than the person who childishly decided to use the word “retard” in his/her code comments — comments, it must be noted, that would probably be read by others who would be unoffended by this usage. But Github became its own heckler’s veto. And in the laziest way — by deferring to its terms of service.

This was ultra-lazy because the takedown came first and the notification second. So, not only did Github tank the repo and its forks, but it couldn’t be bothered to ask nixxquality (the person behind the offensive code comments) to make the changes first before moving on to more drastic tactics.

Here’s the post-facto explanation that was given to nixxquality. (Which, it must be noted, only came into being because nixxquality demanded to know what happened to the project.)

We may, but have no obligation to, remove Content and Accounts containing Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, obscene or otherwise objectionable or violates any party’s intellectual property or these Terms of Service.

The content in question was the use of the words “retard” and “retarded.” We’d like to give you 24 hours to remove or change the content in your own repository.

This being said after said content was already disabled made inaccessible.

The email went on to state that the content would be re-enabled after these words were removed. This seems to be the sort of thing that could have remained up while it was sorted out, with Github’s email preceding the takedown, rather than vice versa.

So, nixxquality changed “retard” to “git.” As in “Github.” As in just another word for the sort of “retard” targeted by code notes meant to dissuade others from screwing things up.

Git is a mild pejorative with origins in British English for a silly, incompetent, stupid, annoying, senile, elderly or childish person. It is usually an insult, more severe than twit or idiot but less severe than wanker, arsehole or twat.

Github’s email makes it clear it can arbitrarily enforce its code Code. Good for it. But inconsistent policing looks like laziness or hypocrisy. At its very best, it only looks incompetent. So, Nixx’s “retard” was nixed (I apologize for nothing!) but hundreds of thousands of other occurrences live on — some of which are far, far more offensive than nixxquality’s.

The last one is part of an insult generator that pulls from the following list of words to ensure users are properly verbally smacked around.

Offensive/obscene/objectionable? You bet. And yet it lives on unaltered.

You want worse? Here are two more that I will only link to, rather than assault your eyeballs further. Search any offensive term you can think of and you’ll find thousands of hits hosted at Github.

This would be a nightmare to police. And it would be equally pointless. So, why target one use of “retard” when the rest of Github is littered with absolute filth? Even if this inconsistency is forgiven, why take down first and notify later? That just exacerbates the problems of an arbitrarily-applied “policy.” As it stands now, the only way anyone will truly know if they’ve run afoul of Github’s content guidelines is when their project disappears.

As was stated at the opening of this post, Github can police its site however it wants to. It can be strict but fair. Or it can do this sort of thing. Neither option is wholly incorrect, although one option is far more correct than the other. The public has options. If it doesn’t like Github’s cherry-picking of projects to dump, it can take its “business” elsewhere. Except, in cases like these, there’s sometimes not a lot of “elsewhere” available.

By doing this, Github risks alienating their core users, though at least one user in the trainwreck thread insists that they should all “shoo”. As in “You all lose. Just leave. Go form your own git hosting service that’ll wither and die. Shoo.”

Not quite as easy to do when a single service has become a large, centralized repository (with its users’ assistance, of course). When it comes time to talk or walk, the “walk” needs to be well-attended to be effective.

The thing is, the core users can literally do just that, and where would that leave Github the business? Will it be worth $2 billion after 224,477 repos are arbitrarily locked down or deleted?

This assumes Github will commit commercial suicide. It won’t. Its enforcement of this policy indicates it knows better than to apply the rules in anything more than a haphazard fashion. You can’t dump 224,000 repositories because they contain the word “retard.” The manpower spent to sort out the legitimate uses would provide no ROI. Very few people are going to stop using Github because it has “failed” to eradicate slurs and insults. But a greater number will abandon the site when they see the so-called rules are whimsically applied, and not in the way an eccentric uncle with a flair for the amusingly dramatic does.

The problem is that Github has also become indispensable for so many people. Given this power, it can deploy its rules stupidly and capriciously and still get away with it. That’s what pains users of large, centralized services the most. Smaller, agile platforms with multiple competitors need to carefully consider their terms of service and the consequences of arbitrary enforcement. Those with more power and market-share are far more likely to use supposedly strict rules as nothing more than guidelines subject to moderators’ moods and shifts in the ideological winds. In doing so, they allow hecklers to control the veto power… even when the heckling is coming from inside the house office.

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Companies: github

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Comments on “Github Nukes Repository Over Use Of The Word 'Retard'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“We’d like to give you 24 hours to remove or change the content in your own repository.”

You would? When? Very passive aggressive.

In the part of England where I am from saying ‘git’ to someone’s face is far more offensive than ‘retard’.

Why have ‘github’ chosen to offend all their users right from the git go? It is a horrible name and, being all polite and stuff as I am, I think it should be banned from use in front of children, maiden aunts and obsessively politically correct HR depts. I’m just waiting for some non-tech cube dweller to report that the software guys in the next cube are using swear words and offensive language all day, and for them to be reprimanded (I can think of a firm where this might actually happen).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s the latest invasion of political correctness into literally everywhere that it isn’t welcome.

Remember: the innertubes that all of these offended people use were built by nerds with weird senses of humor. Now they want those nerds banned, replaced by brogrammers and businessmen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There is nothing wrong with brogrammers or businessmen. The PC problem comes from overpaid incompetent marketing idiots who cant ignore the loud sjw’s.
Or from those who are paid to intentionally ruin things. More than a few big names have been caught false-flagging in the last few months. Paid “shills” spreading bullshit or pretending to belong to one group and making comments that they then use against them. Disgusting people.

Adrian Lopez says:


“There’s nothing censorious about a private company deciding what it does and doesn’t want littering its platform.”

There’s nothing illegal about a private company deciding what it does and doesn’t want littering its platform, but it’s still censorship. Sure, the first amendment only applies to the government, but “censorship” includes more than just government censorship (see Comics Code Authority).

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How dare people get offended that they arbitrarily screwed up many peoples work over a single word without even a poorly worded threat letter first.

As there are other examples of this word on their site, one has to assume that some jackass took a dislike to the original coder or one of the fork coders and is currently nursing a chubby over having “won” against the transgressor.

GitHub played their role of being an enforcer to deal with a squeaky wheel, and harmed their reputation. They will refuse to walk back on this, otherwise the outrage from the other side will overwhelm them (ignoring that those bitching have no fing clue what GitHub does nor use it, they just piled on because a FB post told them to). Once people figure out the word appears in more places, they will have to purge all the naughty words, a list of which will grow in scope until no words are allowed. While it is their playpen, the lack of any warning beforehand or any consideration of exactly how far their hasty action would spread shows a policy that they never bothered with before and they don’t know how to enforce the terms they got off of legalzoom.

Cutting off ones nose to spite ones face comes to mind.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

I find BitBucket a much superior alternative, so I haven’t hosted anything in GitHub for a while. It also allows closed repos, which, while not great for open-source, it’s great when I just want to put my grocery list in a repo for whatever reason.

But I can’t guarantee that it hasn’t, or won’t in the future do the same as the hub of gits and go Full Retard… crackdown mode policing.

Rekrul says:

Why exactly has Github become so popular? I thought that Sourceforge was an established and well-respected site for hosting projects?

To be honest, the few times I’ve looked at stuff on Github, the site was a mess. It’s like the author of any particular program took all their files and notes and just dumped them on the front page in a jumble.

As a user looking to occasionally download programs, I much prefer Sourceforge. It seems much better organized.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

SourceForge is for single projects; github is for developers. Say you’re a developer and you have a dozen different things you’re working on. SouceForge makes you combine them into one project, or make a separate project for each. Github allows you to have all your separate things separate, while still under your account. No need for front pages, no need for wikis (although you can still have one), just plain raw code dumps. Devs love it!

It’s also extremely easy to fork a project on github. Just click the button and you’re done. SourceForge is much harder for forking a project. Again, much more appealing to developers.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not to mention that there have been some issues with Sourceforge grabbing projects and replacing installers with crapware deluxe installers all while claiming its because no one responded to the notices they never actually sent.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Github allows you to have all your separate things separate, while still under your account. No need for front pages, no need for wikis (although you can still have one), just plain raw code dumps. Devs love it!

As a user occasionally following a link to try and find a usable, compiled binary version of a program, I hate it.

Randy says:

Censorship is censorship, and comments don't need titles.

“There’s nothing censorious about a private company deciding what it does and doesn’t want littering its platform.”

That’s re—- I mean that’s stupid, on its face, and you know it. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it isn’t censorious, and it doesn’t mean it can’t be made illegal if that private company starts being used as a utility.

As to this Git nonsense, we need to get away from the idea of centralized “services”, which run counter to the philosophy of the “inter”-net, and move toward decentralized protocols instead. If anyone is in charge, you’ve failed.

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