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Twitter apologizes and says it's working to fix the blocking of #bisexual hashtag

The tech giant blames the error on a ‘technical issue’

Twitter apologizes and says it's working to fix the blocking of #bisexual hashtag
Freestocks.org | Public Domain
Twitter has apologized for the error

Twitter has apologized for blocking searches of certain hashtags relating to sexuality – including #bisexual and #bisexuality. It says it is working to rectify the error.

The blocking of particular hashtags took place at the end of last week. Twitter acted following complaints from users around harassment.

Complaints included a day of action in October by many women, prompted by the temporary suspension of actress Rose McGowan after she tweeted allegations about being sexually assaulted by producer Harvey Weinstein.

However, the sweeping block of terms used included ‘bisexual’ and ‘transsexual’, which was quickly picked up and criticized by LGBTI activists.

When users searched for tweets or images for #bisexual, they were given no search results but a message saying ‘You may have mistyped your term or your search settings could be protecting you from some potentially sensitive content.’

‘We’re working quickly to resolve & will update soon’

On Sunday, Twitter acknowledged the error, posting on its Twitter Open account: ‘We’ve identified an error with search results for certain terms. We apologize for this. We’re working quickly to resolve & will update soon.’

Today it has issued a further update, blaming the censorship of the terms on a ‘technical issue’.

In a series of Tweets on the Twitter Support account, it said:

‘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.

‘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.

‘One of the signals we use to identify sensitive media is a list of terms that frequently appear alongside adult content. Many of these words on the list are not inherently explicit, which is why they must be used alongside other signals to determine if content is sensitive.

‘The list was out of date’

‘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.

‘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.

‘We have audited the list and removed terms that should not have been included. We are making changes during the next 24 hours to correct this mistake. Once we are confident it is completely resolved, we’ll share an update here.’

At the time of going to press, the hashtags #bisexual and #transsexual were still not offering any photo, video or news content.

‘Twitter’s less than adequate apology bothers me greatly’

Lynnette McFadzen, President of BiNet USA, said the statement doesn’t go far enough.

‘Social media is our main vehicle for building, supporting, and reaching our community,’ she said in a statement to GSN.

‘Twitter’s less than adequate apology bothers me greatly. We warrant a direct and sincere apology to our community as well as the transsexual community.

‘Twitter says it was an old system that was incorrect. We have to wonder why our identity is questionable material in the first place. It is an example of the biphobia we still endure. We have alarming rates of mental disparities. Many felt triggered by past erasure. In that light we ask Twitter address our community directly.’

Jennie Kermode, Chair of Trans Media Watch, said the organization cautiously welcomed Twitter’s statements but agreed that lessons needed to be learned.

‘We are glad that action has been taken to resolve this but wonder why the automatically generated list of terms was not audited by a human being before being put to use. We would like to see Twitter commit to undertaking such an audit as part of any such process carried out in future.’


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