INTERNET

The Slack Phrase That Accidentally Sent My Coworkers Porn

I learned the hard way that stumbling upon the wrong Giphy tag can bombard Slack with explicit GIFs

INTERNET
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Sep 01, 2016 at 10:25 AM ET

It all started innocently enough. I was chatting with coworkers on Slack, the super popular messaging platform, and wanted to crack a joke about a silly video we once watched during a company-mandated sexual harassment seminar. It had featured a very awkward scene where one colleague was giving another colleague a massage. So I did what I do many times a day: typed the Slack shortcut that pulls up a GIF and followed it with the phrase that most closely described that scene: “interracial massage.”

What popped up was an insanely graphic GIF of two men having sex. I hit delete as fast as I could — but it couldn’t be unseen.

Slack, the 3.8 billion dollar company, has been taking over office communications like wildfire since it launched in 2013, changing the way many workplaces interact. Giphy, the massive online GIF database, is one of its most fun integrations. Users type “/giphy” into Slack followed by any keyword, and the service pulls forth and shares a GIF it thinks is relevant. It’s a feature that’s designed to add a little joy into otherwise potentially mind-numbing chats about reports or schedules.

Giphy has always been a little bit of a gamble — sometimes spot-on with its choices, sometimes not. And that’s half the fun, the chance you’ll get a truly weird or wonderful surprise. But my “interracial massage” query led to a truly explicit result, the likes of which I had never seen before. So I began to do more research (ie: bombarding an unsuspecting friend with more porn).

It turns out that if you combine “interracial” with any other word, Giphy served up porn. (“Interracial goodbye.” Nope. “Interracial dork.” Bad idea. “Interracial hr.” Uh-oh. “Interracial rhino poop.” NSFW!) I’m not the only one who’s felt the heart-stopping terror of accidentally slacking someone porn at work. A quick search of Twitter revealed that others have felt a similar panic:

I spoke to both users about their experiences, and fortunately, their coworkers weren’t offended and laughed it off. But what if you were, say, trying to crack a joke with your super serious boss that went very, very wrong?

The people behind Slack and Giphy thought of this, of course. Giphy lets anyone upload and tag GIFs, which can be shared on a variety of platforms (in addition to Slack, the service works with Twitter and text messages). Like any online platform, both have measures in place to weed out porn. Slack lets the administrator for any group set a rating level (PG, PG-13, etc. just like at the movies) that will filter out GIFs above that level. And Giphy itself also does its best to delete the nasty stuff.

“We don’t tolerate any content that promotes racism, sexism, inequality, or hate of any kind,” a Giphy spokesperson told Vocativ. “We also don’t allow pornography of any kind on the platform. Giphy goes a long way and pours tons of resources into vetting content and ensuring stuff like this doesn’t surface, however, every now and then, something does slip through the cracks.”

And that seems to be the case here. For whatever reason, #interracial is an obscure and outdated enough term — but enough of a fetish signifier in the porn world — that it skated through undetected. And boy did it ever. A search for the word on Giphy’s site returned a page full of porn thumbnails. (That’s all over now, at least when it comes to “interracial” GIFs. After asking Giphy about this quirk, it quickly identified the error and pulled all the offending material down.)

Sorry if you were hoping to use this trick to troll one of your Slack frenemies. I’ve ruined the fun for everyone— including my coworkers. But on the bright side, a repeat search for “interracial massage” at my office now yields this extremely adorable result: