The Washington Post

The tyranny of Captcha

There is a memorable sequence in “The Elephant Man” when the hideous Elephant Man Joseph Merrick gets cornered by a mob and begins to shout “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being!”

Never do I feel more like Merrick than when confronted with one of those ubiquitous Captcha copy-this-text-into-this-box-to-prove-you’re-a-human sequences. It’s beyond me. There is nothing I can do to convince Captcha of my humanity. I try sending it thoughtful e-mails in verse, or typing into the box, “Hey I just got wounded in the heel, where I am vulnerable,” or even commenting repeatedly on how the trees are the right height. Even that has not done the trick. Convincing everyone of your humanity is harder than it looks. It has reached the point where I’m starting to worry that I’ve been a robot for years without knowing it. Weirder things have happened on cable.

I understand the theory behind it. The last thing you want is computers running everything and stealing all your money and accounts. But it is getting in the way. Lower-case Cs next to L’s look like D’s. In some cases, the word I see looks obscene or offensive, and I begin to worry that Captcha is tricking me and this is all some kind of set-up to make me permanently unemployable.

To illustrate, here is how the Captcha text that I am supposed to type into the the box always looks to me:

By a human. (Made in MS Paint.)
Show Comments
Washington Post Subscriptions

Get 2 months of digital access to The Washington Post for just 99¢.

A limited time offer for Apple Pay users.

Buy with
Cancel anytime

$9.99/month after the two month trial period. Sales tax may apply.
By subscribing you agree to our Terms of Service, Digital Products Terms of Sale & Privacy Policy.

Get 2 months of digital access to The Washington Post for just 99¢.

Most Read
Read stories based on reporting for “Trump Revealed,” a broad, comprehensive biography of the life of the president-elect.


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing