Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Duping Facebook with Shakespeare

Last week, when I asked my students why, during a discussion of Macbeth, they were using the awkward non-verb “to un-alive” to describe the action of regicide, they informed me that Facebook had trained them to it, with its flagging of the word “to kill.” “People,” I said. “This is Shakespeare seminar. We can do better than that.” Shakespeare offers us myriad terms to describe deading a person. Here are just a few: to “murther,” to cause to “dwell in solemn shades of endless night,” to send to the “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns,” to “unseam,” to render a “tongue . . . a stringless instrument,” to make one’s antagonist “food for worms.” The list goes on.

Later I went to Google to inquire about other Facebook-flagged words. A post from last year on HVMA Social Media warns advertisers that Facebook seeks “generally uplifting, growth-oriented content!,” and cautions that “using ad copy which directly speaks on weight, health, beauty, anxiety, loss, failure, underachieving, or other such negative self-implicating topics are almost always negated from the platform.” This type of thing poses communicative challenges which Shakespeare can help overcome.

References to weight: Here the Henry IV plays are useful. Shakespeare does not