Promoting Inclusivity Through Language

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Modern language associations may take on a different meaning today, yet they can still carry a heavy series of connotations behind them. Instead of normalizing these connotations in our platform, we have decided to use new descriptive terms across our platform that uphold our values of integrity, respect, and inclusivity for our customers.

TL;DR – In some of our settings pages, we used the terms ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’. We have changed those terms to ‘blocklist’ and ‘safelist’. We have also changed the ‘owner’ attribute to ‘connected to’ or ‘assigned to’ based on the context. We believe these changes in our language are an important shift toward inclusivity–and against racism. Words are powerful, and we want to be mindful of the ways we use them.

Recently, we’ve been revising our language practices on the 4Degrees platform. The technology industry utilizes a number of terms that are generally understood across the community, but that can perpetuate harmful stereotypes. As a company that is focused on authentic relationship development, we want our language to reflect the integrity and respect with which we view our relationships. As a result, we have been evaluating the language used across our platform in order to instate more inclusive, diverse language practices.

Like many fields, Technology suffers from a lack of diverse representation — particularly in positions that are capable of shaping the way the tech industry operates. Over the past decade, a burgeoning diversity and inclusion movement has risen to address this disparity, spurring entirely new practices that are more compassionate and mindful of the different identities and perspectives of those who engage with technology. The practice of developing with accessibility in mind, for example (or, as it’s often referred to in the tech field: “a11y”), has helped create a more equitable landscape for anyone who wishes to engage with technology. The way with which we deliver technology can certainly change lives for the better, but it is also capable of causing harm, too.

Technology is not exempt from causing harm through language. In fact, it’s one of the biggest perpetuators in our modern world. Terms like “master branch” or “slave process” are commonly used, and although some technology corporations have already taken steps to eliminate harmful language from their processes, these terms are still used liberally in technology infrastructure. The idea that “blacklist” describes undesirable domains, and “whitelist” describes domains that are safe and acceptable is problematic, given that these are racially encoded terms. Even though their meaning in the context of technology may seem innocuous, these can entrench the associations between words that further enforce harmful stereotypes. As a result, we have decided to rename these terms to blocklist and safelist, respectively. These terms more accurately reflect the nature of the service we want to provide to our users, while doing so in a more inclusive way.

Another language shift we have made is changing “owner” to “connected to” or “assigned to” based on the context in which it’s used. Traditionally, referring to a “contact owner” in 4Degrees describes an individual who is associated with another individual, and references the relationship between a specific team member and a group of contacts with whom they are connected to. The concept of “ownership,” especially when pertaining to people, harkens back to slavery and the deplorable practice of treating other humans as property.

Just because modern language associations may take on a different meaning today, they can still carry a heavy series of connotations behind them. Instead of normalizing these connotations in our platform, we have decided to use new descriptive terms across our platform that uphold our values of integrity, respect, and inclusivity for our customers.

We strive to design and build our platform with these values in mind; and create a thoughtful, inclusive platform for our users. We welcome any input on ways we can improve upon our language, and encourage our users and readers to share their thoughts by reaching out!

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