Twitter says an error saw removal of LGBTQ content from search results

6 Nov 2017

Twitter said it is working to fix an error that saw some LGBTQ search results marked as empty. Image: Jiri Flogel

Twitter has recently unveiled a calendar of updates to combat harassment and abuse, but an error has caused outcry among some users.

Twitter is a company that has been plagued with a massive harassment problem, one which it is currently working to resolve with the implementation of new regulations. This includes changes to its media policies covering adult content and graphic violence.

Yesterday (5 November), it emerged that users searching for the term ‘bisexual’ in photos, news or videos were met with an empty results page, while other search terms such as ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’ yielded results.

This caused some consternation among activists, with one group saying that this event showed how the wider world associated bisexual identity with pornography and adult themes. People said that the removal of the term was a form of discrimination, particularly if it was purposely banning people to search for items relating to ‘bisexual’.

Accusations of bisexual erasure

Campaigner Kate Harrad told BBC Newsbeat that bisexual people have historically been hyper-sexualised and associated with porn and promiscuity.

“Every bi-activist knows the problems of trying to search for bi content on the web and some public Wi-Fi systems block it altogether, even when it’s nothing to do with sex, because bisexual is seen as a dodgy word in itself.

“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.”

Twitter is fixing the error

Many users speculated that the removal was in relation to Twitter’s automatic filtering of so-called ‘pornographic content’, and Twitter itself said in a tweet from its support account that it had identified an error with search results for certain terms, which the team was now working to remedy.

The persistence of the issue many hours after users first flagged it to Twitter suggests that this problem is a lot more technically finicky than simply removing certain search terms from a master list.

TechCrunch also noted that other possibly offensive terms (used in certain context) such as ‘Hitler’ and ‘Nazi’ were fully searchable on the site.

This is by far the least of Twitter’s current woes, as it continues to answer questions around allegations that Russian operatives exploited the site to interfere in the US presidential election in 2016.

The company is also dealing with the repercussions of the suspension of US president Donald Trump’s account by a third-party contractor, not a Twitter employee as the company originally stated.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects