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Twitter’s algorithm didn’t understand #FeministsAreUgly

No, 'ugly feminists' aren't mad about the #FeministsAreUgly hashtag, Twitter.


EJ Dickson


Posted on Apr 27, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 11:44 pm CDT

Last Sunday, the hashtag #FeministsAreUgly started trending on Twitter. Although a quick search of the hashtag yielded a bunch of cute selfies from female users—many of them self-identified feminists mocking stereotypes about feminists being ugly and humorless—Twitter’s summary of the trending hashtag was surprisingly one-sided:

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To those unfamiliar with the history of the #FeministsAreUgly hashtag, Twitter’s description and its use of the term “ugly feminists” was wildly offensive. But anyone familiar with the hashtag knows that not only was Twitter’s description insensitive, it was also just plain inaccurate.

As the Daily Dot reported last August, when #FeministsAreUgly first started trending, the hashtag wasn’t started by misogynists perpetuating stereotypes about shrewish, unattractive feminists. It was started by Lily Boulourian and Christine Yang, two women who were using the hashtag ironically as a way to counteract offensive stereotypes about feminist women of color.

“I wanted to find a way to change the narrative on that and thought I could help inspire others to reclaim that narrative and define for ourselves what ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’ mean,” Boulourian told the Daily Dot at the time.

From its inception, the #FeministsAreUgly hashtag was wildly misunderstood by Twitter users who thought it was created in earnest. It also sparked a backlash among the audience for whom the hashtag was created: feminists, some of whom thought encouraging women to tweet cute selfies to counteract offensive stereotypes inadvertently reinforced the idea that women’s value lies solely in their physical appearance.

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But with Twitter’s latest summary, which appears to be lifted from a 2014 Inquistr story about the hashtag, #FeministsAreUgly has prompted a resurgence of the debate over the hashtag, as well as a new round of tweets from feminists criticizing it for inadvertently reinforcing Western standards of beauty.

So how did #FeministsAreUgly start trending again, and why did Twitter use such an off-the-mark headline to accompany the trending topic?

The most likely answer is that it was the result of an algorithmic failure. We’ve reached out to Twitter to find out more. In the meantime, it appears Twitter has heard users’ feedback loud and clear: The site has since swapped out the trending topic headline for something much less incendiary.

Update: A spokesperson for Twitter responded to the Daily Dot’s request for comment with the following statement:

“The descriptions you see as part of the new Trends experience are mainly retrieved from popular, relevant articles shared on Twitter. This is a new feature and we are constantly tweaking the system to improve the quality of the descriptions.”

The spokesperson also linked to a blog post about Twitter’s updated trends experience.

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Photo via Madison Lawrence/Twitter

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*First Published: Apr 27, 2015, 7:41 am CDT