Updated November 8, 2017
Twitter recently provoked public outcry due to its blocking of some uses of the #bisexual hashtag.
When users searched for the word “bisexual” or the #bisexual hashtag, a message saying “No results for bisexual” appeared when they tried to open the images, videos or news tabs of their search results.
This censorship resulted in widespread criticism from the online LGBT+ community.
— Revan Athame (@RevanAthame) November 4, 2017
If you search #bisexual and click on photos or news there are no results.
This is bi-erasure. @Twitter has done this. 😡😡😡
— Karen (@ManicMippisMum) November 5, 2017
Another term Twitter cracked down on is transsexual:
the words transsexual and transsexuality are disabled in twitter image search too.
— bi FTW (@BisexualFTW) November 3, 2017
Following these outcries, Twitter came out with a public message:
We’ve identified an error with search results for certain terms. We apologize for this. We’re working quickly to resolve & will update soon.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 5, 2017
But despite this apology, it was another two days before searches for #bisexual were uncensored by the social media giant.
Twitter Updates Rules
On Friday, November 3rd, Twitter put up a blog post titled “Clarifying The Twitter Rules”, in which the company attempted to clarify their standards for online behaviour as well as what could get users banned.
It was initially unclear if blocking #bisexual and searches was related to this update.
Every bi-activist knows the problems of trying to search for bi-content on the web and some public wifi systems block it altogether, even when it’s nothing to do with sex, because bisexual is seen as a dodgy word in itself
The company described how they are putting forward “a new version of the Twitter Rules to clarify our policies and how we enforce them.”
Twitter listed the following as areas where the most substantial changes have occurred: abusive behaviour, self-harm, spam, graphic violence and adult content.
Four days later, Twitter came forward and clarified that its blocking of the #bisexual hashtag was indeed related to its recent rules change. According to the company, the reason for the block was the use of an outdated list of terms it claims are frequently associated with adult content.
3 / 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.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 7, 2017
Twitter followed this announcement with a public apology.
As of November 8, Twitter has now unblocked all previous restrictions on the #bisexual hashtag.
Although Twitter has long been overdue to crack down on offensive material, blocking #bisexual searches, even for a limited amount of time, undoubtedly constitutes a dangerous form of erasure that feeds into damaging stereotypes about bisexual people.
Kate Harrad of The Bisexual Index reminds us that bisexual people have “historically been hypersexualised and associated with porn and promiscuity”.
“This is why Twitter needs to be very sensitive to any filtering that reduces access to bi content, and very aware of the problem of bisexual erasure.”
To read more about this story, see here.
*updated November 8, 2017: This post has been updated to reflect Twitter’s explanation on November 7, 2017 that the reason for the blocking of the #bisexual hashtag was the company’s use of an outdated use of terms it claims are frequently associated with adult content.
According to the most recent update, the implementation of this list in search allowed Tweets to be categorized based solely on text without taking other signals into account.
By Twitter’s own admission, “the list was out of date, had not been maintained and incorrectly included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.”
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