Over the weekend, Twitter found itself under intense scrutiny from the queer community after the term “bisexual” was completely blocked from searches on the site. Now, several days later, Twitter finally has an answer as to why that happened. In a statement published by Twitter Support, the company revealed that terms “related to sexuality” were blocked due to the site’s porn filters.
Searches for words like “bisexual” came up with no results because of an internal list the site uses to moderate adult content, according to Twitter’s support account. Normally, Twitter uses these words along with “signals” that differentiate between explicit and non-explicit content. Then, after Twitter recognizes adult material, the site automatically “collapses” NSFW content, providing a link to images and videos with explicit material. The idea is simple enough and prevents an innocent search from turning into a porn fest.
1 / Late last week, we discovered a technical issue that affected search results: searches for certain words related to sexuality did not populate complete results. We apologize for anyone negatively impacted by this bug. It is not consistent with our values as a company.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 7, 2017
2 / As outlined in our media policy, media that may be considered sensitive is collapsed in places such as search results, meaning that images and videos would be presented as a link, not automatically populated. https://t.co/4KYjAPrnM5— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 7, 2017
But Twitter says the list itself was not maintained, and the site’s algorithm for removing adult material malfunctioned.
“Our implementation of this list in search allowed Tweets to be categorized based solely on text, w/out taking other signals into account,” Twitter explained. “Also, the list was out of date, had not been maintained and incorrectly included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.”
4 / Our implementation of this list in search allowed Tweets to be categorized based solely on text, w/out taking other signals into account. Also, the list was out of date, had not been maintained and incorrectly included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 7, 2017
5 / When all Tweets containing certain terms were incorrectly collapsed on the photos, video and news search tabs, the search results in those tabs returned an error message indicating that no content was available.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 7, 2017
So when tweets were improperly collapsed, the site’s search results displayed “an error message” barring all posts from coming up in searches. In other words, users that searched “bisexual” couldn’t see any content because Twitter thought everything coming up was porn and improperly shut it all down.
Going forward, Twitter has changed the system and removed some of the words. But LGBTQ Twitter users are still upset that the problem happened in the first place.
So gay and lesbian are A ok in the image search field yet bisexual is still filtered out? What gives twitter? Are bisexual people pornographic and gays not?— WholesomeSadist (@WholesomeSadist) November 7, 2017
In the meantime, Twitter users would like the site to deal with its lack of censorship when it comes to Nazis and the “alt-right.” Even the fact that President Donald Trump is allowed to tweet threats to foreign leaders has been criticized by many—so much so, lore has it that a Twitter employee purposely temporarily banned the president from posting on the site.