Why Won’t Twitter Display Photos With The Hashtag Bisexual? A Bug Has Users Furious
Millions of people use Twitter every day, and the search function can be a useful tool to see what people are talking about outside of your personal TL. This past weekend, however, people began to notice that Twitter didn't display photos, news, or video that had been tagged #bisexual, though Tweets were still visible. On Nov. 5, the social media service released a statement explaining that a bug had caused the outage on the Twitter support feed. "[S]earches for certain words related to sexuality did not populate complete results. We apologize for anyone negatively impacted by this bug," they tweeted. The thread continued,
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. Our implementation of this list in search allowed Tweets to be categorized based solely on text, without 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 Also, the list was out of date, had not been maintained and incorrectly included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.
As of Nov. 7, a "no results found" screen still came up when searching for the hashtag #bisexual on the photos, news, or videos tabs on Twitter. People can find tweets mentioning bisexuality, but no other kinds of content. And everyday users and advocates from within the LGBTQ community were furious at how this glitch appeared to play into harmful stereotypes about bisexuality — even though it was only a bug.
Bisexual People Still Face Harmful Myths About Their Sexuality
Bisexuality as a sexual identity is commonly, and erroneously, tied in with promiscuity, infidelity, and sexual taboos. In reality, all it means to be bisexual is that you are attracted to more than one gender, but myths about it continue to abound.
Kate Harrad of the Bisexual Index told the BBC that bisexuality has "historically been hypersexualized and associated with porn and promiscuity," a public image that is very different from the reality of being bi. Bisexuality is an orientation, and people who are bisexual are no more promiscuous, likely to cheat, 'up for it' or anything else than people of other orientations. But fascination with the idea of attraction to more than one gender as a titillating boundary-breaking act has meant that it's been painted in the modern era as highly sexualized — and framed as something for the consumption of others, not an individual identity.
It's for this reason as well that folks were mad that Twitter did not display media with the hashtag #bisexual, but appeared to display content tagged #gay and #lesbian. According to this bug, bisexuality isn't allowed a complex identity in this space; it can't comprise both sexuality and other things, like relationship photos, or Pride parade videos, or any other kind of non-sexual content.
Why Bi Erasure Matters
Twitter was not intentionally censoring content tagged #bisexual, per their statement. But the reason people were upset at the bug was that it was perceived to contribute to bi erasure, or the phenomenon that denies bisexual people visibility. According to GLAAD, 52 percent of the LGB community comprises bi people, but their sexuality is often miscategorized based on the gender of the person their dating, or otherwise invalidated because of the stereotypes outlined above. Visibility for the bi community, in particular, is crucial for breaking down stereotypes about the group.
The fact is, social media, for many young people, is a key way of understanding and exploring sexual identity in 2017, and it's also an important source of news and connection. Take away the ability to look at photos and videos of bisexual people or read news about them, because a bug erroneously classifies all that material as "sensitive" or "explicit," and you remove one of the pillars of identity research and validation. People who are looking for help, support or understanding as they come to know their identity need visibility.
Bi erasure, as it's called when bisexual people are not visible, is a wider problem; both among straight and queer communities, bisexual people often report feeling sidelined, unseen, disrespected, condescended to, or excluded from both the straight and LGBTQ communities. Despite the fact that B is right there in the LGBTQ acronym, bisexuality is perceived as less "real" than other kinds of sexualities by people outside the community. Heightening visibility of bisexual people who are just, well, people — with lives and hopes and cute pictures on social media of their cats — helps normalize the identity and makes it clear that it's not "sensitive" or "explicit." And this bug, even though it's accidental, others bisexual people even further.
As it stands, Twitter has not yet updated their statement that the issue has been resolved. As of Nov. 5, their statement on Twitter ended, "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." Hopefully, awareness of this error will lead to a more nuanced understanding of bisexual identity in the future.