After users pointed out searches for LGBT terms like #bisexual and #gay failed to turn up any search results last week, Twitter is updating an outdated search algorithm designed to hide sensitive topics. On Monday, November 6, Twitter apologized for the error and said that the missing search results were part of a technical bug.
Twitter says that sensitive media is collapsed in the search results and when all the results are collapsed, the search will turn up a “no results” message. The search terms themselves were not meant to categorize a tweet as sensitive material, Twitter says, but only to alert the program to look for explicit content. A list of sensitive words, such as the LGBT terms that weren’t showing up in the search results, triggers a look into the tweet containing one of those words for explicit content, but the terms themselves do not automatically mark tweets as explicit, Twitter said.
“As outlined in our media policy,” the company said via a tweet series, “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 updated. 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.”
While the lists were not supposed to mark content as explicit based on those terms alone, Twitter says an error allowed the tweets to be categorized solely on the text on not the context of those tweets. One of the lists, Twitter says, was also outdated and “included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.”
The social media platform says that it has removed the terms that should not have been included on that list and is continuing to work on the issue to fully correct the bug.
Twitter is already revising its community guidelines with stricter policies on hate speech and harassment, changes sparked by the #WomenBoycotTwitter protest that will roll out over the next few months.
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