Future Tense

Should Autocorrect Save You From Using the N-Word?

Dan Pfeiffer Twitter typo

A bigger typo, Twitter has rarely seen.

Screenshot / Twitter

Dan Pfeiffer, deputy communications director for the White House, tweeted today that he was very pleased with an NBC News article that mentioned the role of cable and the Internet in political polarization. And then he tried to tweet that this was “a much bigger factor on the right” than on the left. One problem: The “b” key is right next to the “n” key.


The slip-up prompted an immediate apology from Pfeiffer and an interesting suggestion from a Gawker commenter: Should autocorrect or spell-check programs flag offensive slurs along with typos, especially on a public platform like Twitter?


Obviously this would get inconvenient if you were in the habit of tweeting about, say, the racial politics of Huckleberry Finn. For a lot of people, though, a quick algorithmic double-check of racially charged language might be a welcome safety mechanism. Gmail has a dialog box that asks, “Did you mean to attach files?” Maybe Twitter’s could say, “Did you mean to use one of the most inflammatory words in the English language?” It does seem a bit odd that spell-check and grammar-check programs give you a hard time about typing “it’s” where you might have meant “its” but blithely assume that you intended to type the n-word instead of “bigger.”