Chinese netizens mock Microsoft's 'woke' language feature, calling it as 'political correctness' checker
Published: Jan 18, 2022 03:29 PM
Microsoft Photo: VCG

Microsoft Photo: VCG

A "woke" feature provided in Microsoft Word has been mocked by many Chinese netizens who have been calling it a "political correctness" checker. Experts said the "inclusive language feature" might be suspected of violating users' right to privacy as the company could use it to detect and target certain people.  

According to a report from Russian Today, this "inclusive language feature" can identify words with a "derogatory" connotation, while providing relatively "appropriate" alternatives to avoid users offending others with inappropriate language on sensitive topics. For example, it recommends using "principal" instead of "headmaster" and "workforce" in place of "manpower."

Some Chinese netizens took to social media to voice their opposition, comparing the function to a "speech crime" or "literary inquisition," in which a ruler deliberately extracts words or phrases from an intellectual's writings and arbitrarily accuses them in order to persecute them. 

"This is like a literary inquisition from the US, and Microsoft might use it to detect some people like spies through big data," one Chinese netizen commented on China' s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

Many netizens overseas also took to Twitter to criticize the feature.

"This is truly unacceptable, and a step on the way to automating mandatory political correctness. For shame…" one netizen wrote on Twitter. 

"This is a function developed with a strong sense of political sensitivity," Ma Dongjun, a law expert specializing in privacy rights in Southwest China's Guizhou Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the function may violate a user's right to privacy.

"Microsoft could use the so-called 'inclusive language feature' to detect certain groups, and this would violate a users' right to privacy," he said.

According to a statement issued by Microsoft: the function is "completely optional" and can be used or not used at will as "not every Editor suggestion may be suitable for all users and all scenarios."

Li Wei, an expert on national security at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the new function cannot truly resolve online problems such as verbal abuse or cyberbullying, but is rather a type of hypocrisy. 

"This feature is not helping to build a healthy internet environment, but helping cover the users' real thoughts. Only by teaching users about morality, regulations and laws about using online words can we create a real civilized online environment," he said and warned that if this function is widely promoted on the internet, the network will not be able to reflect real society, which "will be a disaster."

This is not the first time that Microsoft has been the object of "woke" criticism. In November 2021, Microsoft was mocked over footage from its virtual conference Ignite 2021, which opened with senior managers introducing themselves by using their gender pronouns, according to Russian Today.