Twitter U-Turns on Censoring Searches For ‘Cannabis’

by Abbie Llewelyn

Popular social media platform Twitter is now censoring searches for topics deemed ‘sensitive’. This means that searches containing words like ‘sexual health’ and even ‘balls’ will yield zero results under all search tabs, except the ‘top’ search option.

This appears to be due to the introduction of a ‘sensitive content filter’ that Twitter has rolled out without warning. The ‘sensitive content filter’ is automatically activated for many users and the settings to turn it off are not accessible from the Twitter app or Tweetdeck, but can be found on the web version’s search results page (via an icon that looks like three vertical dots).

For the first few days of this new filter, words censored included drugs like ‘cannabis’, ‘LSD’ and ‘MDMA’, but it appears Twitter have made a quick U-turn after facing backlash against this. Some have credited a petition started by Marijuana Majority for Twitter deciding to remove ‘cannabis’ and other drugs from their list of sensitive words, but it is so far unknown why this has happened.

The words chosen to be filtered appear to be somewhat arbitrary. For example, search results for ‘opioids’ and ‘amphetamines’ were never touched. And whilst many of these drug-related searches are now uncensored, certain sex-related and anatomical searches are still blocked.

Twitter have been contacted to find out why this filter was introduced with no announcement, why certain words were chosen but not others, and why they have appeared to have changed their minds on ‘cannabis’ and others. They have yet to respond.

Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation told VolteFace:

“I absolutely believe that this threatens freedom of expression. I’ll start by saying that I do believe individuals and parents should be able to have access to tools to filter out the kind of content they don’t wish to see. The problem lies in the fact that these companies (Twitter, as well as YouTube recently) are deciding for us what is “sensitive” – in other words, corporations are making value judgements about that they believe children or others shouldn’t see.

Another problem is such tools have been used for broader censorship – Microsoft’s Bing turns safe search on the default for dozens of countries, with no option to turn it off.”

Words by Abbie Llewelyn. Tweets @Abbiemunch.

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