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Offensive words banned from use by Birmingham City Council

By Carl Jackson | Birmingham | Politics | Published:

Two words have been added to the list - with more expected

Birmingham city council

The words ‘bitch’ and ‘slag’ have been added to the list of words blocked by Birmingham City Council’s servers, it has been revealed.

And potentially less-offensive words included on the original list – such as orgasm – could be removed by the council.

The news comes following a meeting this week between Birmingham councillors Nicky Brennan and John Cotton and officers from the council.

The meeting was scheduled to discuss the list of offensive words banned by the council’s servers, recently revealed by a Freedom of Information request filed by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The full list of words includes a host of offensive, racist and sexist language. If any of the words are included in emails to the council or councillors, they are quarantined by the council’s servers.

The list also includes several anatomical words such as vagina, penis, foreskin, clitoris and testicles, as well as some ‘tamer’ words such as slapper and viagra.

Councillor Brennan had said that she felt the list needed to be looked over, stating that some of the words were outdated and needed updating to reflect today’s world.

And, speaking following her meeting, she announced that the council is now set to hold a quarterly review to decide what words are and are not included.

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“We basically discussed the fact that the list needed updating with different words, so we added some words on that were horrible about women,” she said.

“So we added the words ‘bitch’ and ‘slag’, and the officer said they’re going to start updating the list quarterly.

“I think he’s going to speak to Sharon Thompson and Paulette Hamilton as well, because I know they get abuse. So he’s going to have a conversation with them about whether or not they want anything added to the list.

“Apparently it wasn’t the council that drew up the list – it’s the council’s list, but it’s all sorted by another company. So we’re setting up a councillors’ working group to discuss the bad words on the list and what we could add to it.”

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Following the FoI earlier this year it was also revealed that very few ‘quarantined’ emails are ever read by a person, meaning that potentially threatening, abusive and intimidating emails are not being reported to the relevant authorities, such as police, regardless of their content.

The only time such emails are read is if the recipient specifically requests to see it, though even then there is no guarantee it will be forwarded on.

And councillor Brennan said that this is also set to change, with the council admitting that they have no right to keep offensive emails from their recipients if they wish to see them.

“The other thing the officer said is, when the emails get quarantined, sometimes if we ask for them they’ll say ‘no, you can’t have it’. Because it’ll be full of abuse or swear words or what have you.

“But they’re not supposed to do that. So they’re going to stop blocking the emails from us if we ask for them, because if we can’t have them back then we can’t report it to police. So if we want them we can have them now, which is good news.

“They’re also going to look at giving us more support, for when we get abuse through things like social media. So if we are getting abuse, how they can support councillors in that as well.

“We’ll see what else gets added [to the list]. They are a bit conscious of adding too many words, because you might say something in a different context, and it might not actually be abusive. And I think they might take some of the words, like orgasm, off the list, but I’m not sure.

“I think this working group, which will be cross-party, means we as councillors will have a little bit more say about what goes on the list. It’s not going to stop it happening, but it just feels better that now we’re going get more support.” 

By Tom Dare

Local Democracy Reporter

Carl Jackson

By Carl Jackson
@CarlJackson_LDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Birmingham City Council.

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