No, Your iPhone Won’t Autocorrect to a Racial Slur

Can your iPhone autocorrect to the N-word without you knowing? No.
Image: (Shutterstock)

In the past two weeks, there’s been a rash of white men blaming the slurs they let slip onto social media on typos and, by implication, autocorrect.

xFirst, it was Charlotte Hornets’ play-by-play guy John Focke, who was subsequently suspended by the team, who let this fly on Twitter:

“Shot making in this Jazz-[N-word] game is awesome!”

In his apology, Focke blamed the whole thing on his bad typing, saying he “mistyped:”

Illustration for article titled No, Your iPhone Wont Autocorrect to a Racial Slur

Screenshot: Twitter

This week, Darren McKee of 104.3 The Drive in Denver, did the same thing — also tweeting out the n-word in place of “Nuggets” in a tweet.

McKee didn’t specifically blame it on a typo, saying he had “accidentally posted” the n-word.

Though McKee was absent from his regular show on Monday, his station has not commented on any discipline they may have meted out.

Both men were immediately defended by their fans and colleagues, with plenty of speculation that “autocorrect” was to blame, implying that fat fingers got in the way of typing “Nuggets” and then somehow auto-correct took over and inadvertently posted a racial slur. As our Donovan Dooley pointed out, it’s maybe kinda plausible?

“It seems wild that his phone would autocorrect to use that word if it hasn’t been typed before. Yet, ‘I’ is right next to ‘U’ on the mobile keyboard, the same thing goes for ‘R’ and ‘T’.”

So is it possible to get halfway to a racial slur by mistake and have the iPhone finish it up for you?

Deadspin reached out to the former principal engineer of iPhone software, Ken Kocienda, who literally invented the device’s autocorrect, to find out if it was even possible for an iPhone to be openly racist.

Though Kocienda left Apple in 2017, he was adamant that during his time with the company, certain words were flagged within iPhone’s software so that it was impossible for autocorrect to suggest them, including racial slurs like the n-word. “In other words,” Kocienda told us, “an iPhone will never, ever help you type that word.” Without getting too technical about it, Kocienda assured Deadspin that iPhones have a specific feature that blocks autocorrect from suggesting “hateful” language. “If you type the exact word exactly, the iPhone won’t intervene to correct it away, but it has to be exact.”

But what if a user types a “hateful” racial slur repeatedly? Can an iPhone “learn” to be racist?

Deadspin confirmed that Apple continues to code against offensive words since Kocienda’s departure, including racial slurs, across their devices. Meaning? No, your iPhone is not going to autocorrect to a racial slur you partially typed by mistake, though a person could technically get around the coding by adding a racial slur to their contacts. Apple devices, however, make sure a “hateful” word never surfaces in autocorrect.

Both Focke and McKee sent the tweets in question from iPhones, so I gave it a shot on my son’s iPhone (I have an Android), just to see what happened. Typing in the letters “n” followed by “igg” only got me suggestions to change the partial word to “nigh.” And no matter how quickly and carelessly I tried to type out “nuggets,” allowing my thumbs to land wherever, I couldn’t seem to make the very particular mistake that both Focke and McKee did.

In the end, making windows into men’s souls via deleted tweets, in and of itself, is problematic. Though, at least in McKee’s case, he has a history of racially insensitive tweets:

Illustration for article titled No, Your iPhone Wont Autocorrect to a Racial Slur

Screenshot: Twitter

Illustration for article titled No, Your iPhone Wont Autocorrect to a Racial Slur

Screenshot: Twitter

It seems disingenuous for McKee to make jokes about Colin Kaepernick’s being assassinated and then tell the world he’s “devastated” about tweeting out the N-word, especially when he seems perfectly comfortable doing it with a couple of letters removed.

Perhaps it’s equally likely that, among a certain set, it’s habit to call the Denver Nuggets the “Denver N-Words,” and two people got caught doing so within two weeks of each other. There’s no real evidence either way, and, as a frequent offender of including sometimes awful typos in my tweets, I’m not one to judge. But it’s interesting that so many were so quick to place the blame on technology, rather than consider that racism might be more pervasive in society than they believed.

Now that we know Apple’s technology isn’t to blame, what will be the excuse next time?

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