This past weekend, searches for LGBT-related terms on Twitter like "#bisexual" and "#gay" simply stopped working. The hashtags yielded no results regardless of people's content settings, leading to accusations that the platform is deliberately silencing LGBT voices. Twitter, however, said it was an honest mistake, and now it has revealed more details about the issue, including why it happened and what it's doing to fix things.
The company said its system looks at a list of specific terms when identifying adult content, suggesting that the words "bisexual" and "gay" are included in it. However, the terms in the list are merely one of the signals they use: since the LGBT-related words affected by the error aren't inherently explicit, Twitter is supposed to look at them alongside other signals to determine if a post should be behind an adult filter.
Twitter has admitted that the list is out of date and still included terms primarily used in non-sensitive contexts. It was definitely a disaster waiting to happen when mixed with its shoddy search implementation. See, the social network allowed tweets with the terms in the list to be marked explicit based on text alone within the search function. So, even if the rest of the tweet that has the word "gay" in it is perfectly wholesome, the post will still get flagged on the results page.
According to the platform's policies, tweets marked as sensitive show up as collapsed link in search results. "When all Tweets containing certain terms were incorrectly collapsed on the photos, video and news search tabs," the company explained, "the search results in those tabs returned an error message indicating that no content was available." To fix its mistake, Twitter has already updated the list to remove terms that shouldn't have been included. It said it's also implementing changes to its system over the next 24 hours to make sure its website doesn't unnecessarily filter LGBT-related posts again.
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
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
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
6 / 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.— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 7, 2017