It’s Urban Dictionary’s turn to come under some corporate media scrutiny. Some of the definitions there – say, of Donald Trump – “aren’t entirely accurate,” Wired observes. And, to Wired, what was once a fun site, informative of the latest slang terms and trends – say, once before Donald Trump became president – has now become a toxic place filled with hate speech, apparently because it’s “open to anyone.”
It doesn’t say it explicitly, but this hit piece that digs into Urban Dictionary’s roots and role simply longs for some censorship and better and more gatekeeping.
Aaron Peckham founded Urban Dictionary in 1999 because, as he said in 2014, “A printed dictionary, which is updated rarely, tells you what thoughts are OK to have, what words are OK to say.”
But Wired wants him to rethink that, because after decades of being the open internet’s go-to reference for slang, the site has leaned into defining just any word or phrase, and often not for the sake of clarifying it to the uninitiated, but just to make a joke.
From that angle, Urban Dictionary can be described as a vast collection of word-only memes. Not something that is popular in some circles today.
Take for example the top definition of Donald Trump, with over 25k upvotes: “The man who got more obese women out to walk on his first day in office than Michelle Obama did in eight years.”
Is it “accurate”? There’s really no way of knowing. But it’s damn funny.
In the article, Urban Dictionary’s biggest weakness is seen in the fact it allows “anyone to post definitions” (but it’s unclear what the alternative would be on a crowdsourced site who’s motto is, “Urban Dictionary Is Written By You”? Redefining “you” as, “the selected, vetted few of you”?)
That’s also known as free speech, which is disturbingly all often nowadays equated with “hate speech”
And because “anyone” can contribute to a project like this, bad things are happening, the article claims. “Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and sexism currently serve as the basis for some of the most popular definitions on the site,” says Wired.
The website’s verdict is that Urban Dictionary has lost its sheen and even utility as a tool to understand slang and subculture, and isn’t even funny anymore. It is. And that it was a good democratizing idea once upon a time, but it has now “eaten itself.” It hasn’t.