The Polite Type is an initiative against cyberbullying. Technically created as an OpenType font file (OTF), it recognises a word library of either discriminative and/or offensive English-language words. The word library currently consists of more than 1,800 words and terms. After the word is typed, the font substitutes it with a more neutral, inoffensive word. The font can be installed on any computer and you can use it in text-editing software, such as Word or Outlook. As any other font, once installed, the font file does not require an online connection to work.
The Polite Type initiative does not aim to limit the anyone's self-expression but rather to encourage users to consider what they’re saying by reacting to offensive words. Words matter and cyberbullying is a serious issue affecting many children, youth and adults - so it is important to be mindful when choosing words and not to engage in cyberbullying by using offensive language.
The Polite Type utilizes a word library that has been compiled in close collaboration with a diverse team of experts, with wide-ranging backgrounds in anti-racism work, gender research and Diversity & Inclusion consulting. The first version of the font has been co-created with children and youth groups with diverse backgrounds. The meanings and contexts behind different words have been carefully considered to avoid offensive and hurtful terms. The offensiveness of a word can be context related – for example 'fat' in a cooking recipe is neutral, but offensive when used in a slur. Therefore, these types of words are included in the current vocabulary.
The font does not yet understand context. The font is currently a beta version when it comes to its technical functionality and word libraries. It cannot, for instance, correct any UPPERCASE words. As is the case with new and ever-evolving word libraries, we believe the next versions of the font will be even more complete. As an OpenType font file (OTF), it is not a complete software but a font using its capabilities in a new way. With the help of the community and new partners, it is possible to develop it further, correct current slurs and words and add new ones, and bring onboard new languages.
The Polite Type itself will not solve hate speech and we alone cannot erase discrimination. However, the initiative is a way to raise discussion on this important topic and to make people think about the language they use in a very concrete way. We want to inspire other companies and individuals to take steps to collaborate on the topic and help create new innovations addressing cyberbullying and hate speech.