A Jefferson County Public School student was banned from mentioning the name of his website in a Search Engine Optimization class offered through the school’s online continuing education program.  His URL: www.olbastard.com.  His context: he sells bastard files.

He attempted to post comments to the online forum, but because his URL was the subject of his questions, his posts were blocked due to use of “profanity.”  NCAC sent a letter to the school, explaining:

While we sympathize with the goal of discouraging gratuitous profanity or disruptive comments in the classroom, removing “bad” words mechanically with no consideration of context or meaning itself disrupts the educational process. In this case it has caused serious harm to the student, preventing him from learning in the course. It has also displayed the imprecision of the web filter.

The filtering mechanism used by Ed2Go would not only eliminate any mention of an acclaimed book like Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, it would censor a conversation about architecture or gemstones. To arbitrarily delete or block comments due to a word, while disregarding its meaning as used in context, interferes with students’ abilities to have open conversations within the context of the learning objectives set by the instructor.

The school has agreed to refund his tuition for the course.  But what about the filters? Internet filters have traditionally blocked students’ access to information; it’s now clear that what students (adult students, at that) can post in the online classroom is also at risk.

UPDATE: The school is working with Ed2Go to improve the comment filtering system.