The Web Hostess: The Not Safe For Work Edition

Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009; 1:00 PM

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners, and the next great meme.

This week, we discuss how to tell if something is NSFW.

Web Hostess chat archive.


Monica Hesse: Hey Everyone -- Thanks for stopping by. A few weeks ago, I labeled a video as Not Safe For Work in the chat, and later a chatter emailed me to ask what I considered NSFW. After a few years in my job, where almost anything could be research material (an amaaazing montage of babies dancing to Single Ladies, anyone?) I've lost all perspective of what's safe for most people's workplaces.

So I'm throwing the question out there. What do you feel comfortable watching at work? What's the ickiest thing you've ever witnessed a coworker watching? Did it involve two girls and one cup? Wait, don't answer that.

_______________________ The "Single Ladies" Babies Trend: Taking Over The World

Monica Hesse: And here are the babies doing Beyonce. I will now say goodbye to a certain percentage of the chatting audience (Mom?) who will click over and be unable to resist watching every single clip.


Arlington, Va.: Not quite on topic, but I hate when someone sends me a link to a video that begins playing right away, blaring out of my speakers and alerting all those around me "hey, I'm watching a video!"

Monica Hesse: Are you in a head phone-less office? Head phones drastically increase SFW potential.


Alexandria, VA: Best, but free, music listening sites?

Monica Hesse: is pretty amazing, so long as you know what type of music you're in the mood to listen to. But you might already know about that. Other suggestions?


Washington, D.C.: Ugh, I had completely forgotten about Two Girls and a Cup. Now I have to go bleach my brain again.

Monica Hesse: It's sort of like getting REO Speedwagon stuck in my head. I just really can't rest until others are thinking of it, too.


The guy who wrote you the question (VA): Monica, I would recommend that each person reviews their company policy, which is almost never read. Some of them actually say that IM and Chats are actually NSFW, in the sense that they are banned by company policy. Some government organizations banned Web MD because of the sexual advice. Other popular things that are banned at many work sites are gambling.

Monica Hesse: This is why I wanted to bring this up in a chat -- the banning of sites like Web MD seems completely ludicrous (then again, we did just nearly send a six-year-old to reform school for possession of a campting utensil), but I'd love to know if things like this are common policies.


Bethesda, Md.: What are the Post's rules? Couldn't you be looking at almost anything as "research"?

Monica Hesse: It really *is* all research. My Google history would be assigned at least 30 Hail Marys at most places. No raised eyebrows here...yet...


Babies: Has anyone ever attempted to design the perfect viral video? Something with babies and puppies dancing down the aisle at a wedding?

Monica Hesse: And at the end, a group of Filipino inmates would come on and do an elaborately choreographed Michael Jackson song. Love it. What else would be included in this mythic video?


Cont: Web MD: It is in the sense that its not Obscene, however in today's lawsuit happy world, is it that unrealistic to think someone walks by a screen that has sexual advice, or even a step by step picture of how to give yourself a home breast cancer check (and therefore pictures of breasts) and files a lawsuit. Its easier to just shut down the chance instead of leaving it up to good will. Also many of the firewall blacklists come from paid companies and are not reviewed by the administrator's themselves.

Monica Hesse: No, it's not unrealistic. I remember an old study (2004 or 2005, if I'm correct) said that something like 60% of all office workers had been offended by their coworkers Internet behavior.

Third grade teachers everywhere rolled their eyes and said, "eyes on your own papers, class."


NSFW, VA: I used to work for a legal publishing company, where we needed to be able to go to state government Web sites to download enacted legislation in order to update that state's printed statutes. Our nanny software once blocked our access to legislation relating to breast cancer awareness programs because they contained the word "breast." (This nanny software also blocked access to an page where a biography of the elder President Bush was being sold, because it contained the word "bush.")

And management could see nothing wrong with these results.

Monica Hesse: Reminds me a little of the Muslim search engine that came out last month, which blocked access to questionable search terms, with the best intentions and occasionally head-slapping results.


Alexandria, Va.: Free music: is pretty cool. Has anyone tried Spotify yet?

Monica Hesse: Free music seeker, here you go.


Downstate, IL: My former employer (The State of Illinois) had so many restrictions on viewing that I finally gave up ever going to the web while at work. The restriction was put in place to prevent staff from wasting work time watching non-work related videos but, as a curricula developer, it made it almost impossible for me to do my work. In my current job in a not-for-profit, we have no restrictions. While I appreciate the boss's confidence that workers won't abuse work-time, I see at least one co-worker doing it all the time. I'd say anything non-work related should be left for breaks, lunch or home. But maybe I'm just old fashioned.

Monica Hesse: Not old-fashioned. Just our collective conscience. Just curious -- what types of things were you prohibited from watching?


The dream viral video: And groomsmen jumping into their tuxedos.

Monica Hesse: Does a tuxedo-jump video exist somewhere? Please share!


Tysons Corner, VA: The Pomplamoose version of Single Ladies is much better than all the dancing babies. This is the kind of thing that makes me love the Internet:

Monica Hesse: Sorry for the delay there. I had to pause and watch a few seconds to assess this video's SFW-ness, and ended up watching the whole thing, falling in love with both of the musicians, and doing a brief Google-stalk.


Silver Spring, Md.: Some employers ban short aliases, like tinyurl. Can you get NSFW on a vanity license plate, or that banned, too?

Monica Hesse: I think I've seen some NSFW vanity plates. Depends on how creative you are and how deep in the gutter your mind is willing to go.


Free Music: Spinner has a "free CD listening party" where you can listen to whole CDs that are new each week. They also have a ton of free mp3s and music videos you can listen to/watch or download, but its mostly new/relatively unknown artists-not a lot of mainstream pop stuff.

Monica Hesse: More music!


Alexandria, Va.: If I had an employee that complained about another employee doing anything on WebMD, I'd tell them to grow up and go back to their office/cube.

Monica Hesse: I'm seeing this as an Office interaction between Angela and Jim.


Alexandria, VA: Keep a set of earbuds plugged into your computer all the time. When you accidentally get a noisy video, it's a teeny little noise.

Monica Hesse: Plus, you probably look super busy and focused.


Jumping into tuxedos: I haven't seen tuxedo jumping, but it's inspired by the jeans jumping video.

Monica Hesse: Yes! Jean/Tuxedo-jumping would definitely be a part of The Perfect Viral Video.


Alexandria, Va.: Spotify? Boo.

It's invite only.

Monica Hesse: Thanks...


Richmond, Va.: Hi -

Wanted to bring back up the Facebook as "happy-only" place from last week. I think that's a terrible idea since it's distorting. If everyone on Facebook broadcasts only the happy/positive side, it makes those feeling otherwise feel alienated, abnormal, etc. Sort of the emotional version of the white-out on TV where minorities are severely underrepresented. Distortion matters. You don't have to share details to provide balance; just admit to the non-happy thought or feeling and that's that; just like you would do at work.

Having an environment that treats normal emotions as breaches is only going to drive more people to prescription medicine than need it.

Monica Hesse: I see where you're coming from, but I wonder if Miss Manners would. There's always been a distinction between public behavior and private behavior. That's why, when an acquaintance at a work party asks how your day was, you don't respond with, "I have a really gross pimple on my back, but I've also been watching NSFW porn at my office all day." You say, "Fine."

That's not seen as distortion, it's seen as the etiquette we have decided it acceptable for social situations.

The question is, is Facebook a casual social situation, or is it a messy family reunion? How you perceive it might effect how "happy" a place you think it should be.


Downstate IL: I'm curious how many readers of this chat are doing it on work time...

Monica Hesse: None of us. Not even me. We're all supposed to be here.


Tysons Corner, VA: I had a colleague who was a trademark attorney. One client was a porn website, and part of his job was to police that site's mark. So for his job, he had to look at porn at work. He had to have a non-network printer though so if he printed websites and left the pages on the printer, they wouldn't end up causing a harassment case.

Monica Hesse: How hard did he have to work to perfect the withering stare in response to, "I wish MY job was like that."


Alex., VA: Once had a document (a proposal) nearly get out the door with a misspelled Virginia globally replaced by the correctly spelled Vagina.... that's NSFW!

Monica Hesse: We'll assume you don't work for a gynecologist.


Rockville, Md.: I don't know if I'm the only one with this problem, but I'm not able to see ANY polls on the Post done by, including the one on your discussion now! It doesn't seem to have anything to do with pop-ups. I just can't see the polls. Other than telling you, how do I let people know about this problem? A lot of Post blogs seem to use these polls (but not Weingarten, whose polls I can see!). Can you see it on twiigs? That's the first I've heard of this.

Monica Hesse: Help from Paul...


Downstate Illinois: You asked what I needed/wanted to access and couldn't. Here's one example. I was writing a curriculum on Child sexual abuse but our internet "nanny" banned me from any and all sites having to do with child sexual abuse including signs of abuse, characteristic of predators, etc.

Monica Hesse: Eesh. Reminds me of an article I read recently, written by a mom who wanted to know if her kids would be damaged by seeing her in the shower. But she was too paralyzed by the fear of Googling "children" and "naked" to continue the search.


Viral video also: The song in the video would need to be a duet with Susan Boyle and the Chocolate Rain guy

Monica Hesse: Could Susan Boyle jump into a pair of jeans?


Laurel, Md.: My workplace subscribes to Websense, that automatically blocks a lot of sites. Once, I couldn't link to a site about "sex discrimination" because category "sex" was blocked.

Although instances like that are just humorous, I do think there's some merit to the argument that some conservative opinions are being treated the same as hate speech. When doing searches on "diversity guidelines," I could link to almost all the pro- links that same up; but was blocked from the anti- ones.

Monica Hesse: Just posting...

But what does an "anti-diversity" link look like?


Woodbridge: So Muslim women don't get breast cancer? Therefore they can't do research on it?

Monica Hesse: Just did a quick "breast cancer" search on, and it comes back with a danger rating of 2 out of 3. Which basically translates to, "We'll still let you search for this, but proceed with caution." It's only 3 out of 3 that completely prevents searches.


Bad search times: Try finding information about the breed of rose called "Asian Beauty."

Monica Hesse: Or not.


twiigs problem person here: I appreciate the effort, but even when I put in the URL fabulous Paul provided directly in my browser ( I got a message saying it couldn't find the URL.

Is the Post using for most polls now? Is this a policy? If so, I guess I won't be able to participate, much less see them. :-( Now, we aren't supposed to -- it's just faster sometimes than the other service we use. (Don't tell anyone.) Good to know that some people can't see them, that's a kind of a deal breaker...

Monica Hesse: We're sorry. :(


NSFW license plates: here you go, courtesy of college football: THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE REASON TO HAVE A RIVAL'S LOGO ON YOUR CAR

Vanity License Plates: A Place To Tout Things You Like Wow. Also, possibly NSFW.

Monica Hesse: How good do you feel about that license plate choice after the glee of being naughty wears off?


NSFW: In bio class my freshman year of high school (in like '99) a bunch of us had our school network passwords revoked because the network software detected us looking at "unsavory" material. My offense was a very academic horticultural Web site that used technical terms for parts of plant that were similar to the technical terms for human body parts, but people got kicked off for all kinda of research for school assignments especially research on diseases. Seems so quaint compared to what kids can do on the internet now.

Monica Hesse: Awww.


Viral videos...: can I just complain about how folks who end up with really popular videos get slammed by other people's standards? The wedding-procession couple got -slammed- that their music was by Chris Brown, so started a whole website to offer the chance to donate to domestic abuse causes near their hometown. Seemed silly to me, the music was special to them, leave them alone!

Monica Hesse: At least it resulted in money for a good cause?


Washington DC: Youtube - SFW - SFW - SFW - SFW any .gov site - SFW - NSFW Porn - NSFW and finally - NSFW

Monica Hesse: Huh.


Viral video heaven: Could Susan Boyle jump into a pair of jeans?

I'm thinking the answer is "No." For a variety of reasons.

Monica Hesse: Oh I bet she could. If Tom Daschle can dance, Susan Boyle can jump into some jeans.


As Wally from Dilbert would say: I'm doing an Internet Bandwidth Test. My Internet works fine! Yours?

Monica Hesse: Ha!


Anonymous: I wish Facebook would go back to college.

I had to search for Internet images for a father-daughter dinner dance, we have no nanny software, and my eyes will never be the same.

Monica Hesse: McKenzie Phillips?


Perfect viral video: Weezer beat you to it with the video for Pork and Beans

Monica Hesse: And what a lovely way to end the chat. Thanks for stopping by. Talk with you next week!


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