Bluesky allowed people to include the n-word in their usernames

The oversight highlighted an ongoing moderation issue at the platform.

Photo by Igor Bonifacic / Engadget

Before this week, Bluesky, the up-and-coming decentralized Twitter alternative, did not have a system in place to automatically prevent people from registering usernames that featured the n-word as part of their handle. On Wednesday, the company received multiple reports of someone who had the slur in their username. And while Bluesky eventually dealt with the issue, many are upset by the fact the startup did not seem to apologize for the oversight. Instead, on early Saturday morning, days after the incident occurred, Bluesky appeared to frame the event as a one-off that was swiftly addressed.

“On Wednesday, users reported an account that had a slur as its handle. This handle was in violation of our community guidelines, and it was our mistake that allowed it to be created,” the company said. “40 minutes after it was reported, the account was taken down, and the code that allowed this to occur was patched.”

Bluesky went on to claim it had in recent months “made significant investments” in its Trust and Safety team, and that it would continue to invest in “moderation, feedback, and support systems” that would scale with the platform’s growing user base. Bluesky did not immediately respond to Engadget’s comment request. Days before issuing a statement on the situation, the company, as caught by Hacker News, quietly added the n-word, and nearly four dozen other ethnic and racial slurs, to a list of “reserved” words.

Bluesky's statement, when it did come, appears to have been prompted by a viral LinkedIn post penned by Scott Hirleman, the host of the Data Mesh Radio podcast. Hirleman tagged the company’s executive team, including CEO Jay Graber, and accused Bluesky of failing to address an “incredibly bad anti-blackness problem” on its social network. “If you don’t want to run a social media platform, split the company in twain and go focus on the protocol and fund the platform with another team that cares,” Hirleman added. As of the writing of this article, the post has more than 700 reactions and about 50 comments.

No social media network is free from racists, but the fact that Bluesky didn’t already filter for something so basic as the n-word is surprising when you consider Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is one of the company’s backers. Under Dorsey’s leadership, Twitter was often ineffective with addressing white supremacy and could have frequently done more to protect Black people and other marginalized users.

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