Twitter says it’s not a media company, but it’s creating media anyway — and it’s not going so great.
Twitter retired its Discover tab a few weeks back, replacing it with a more detailed trends section where trending topics now include a short, computer-generated description.
And over the weekend, one of those descriptions was rather unfortunate and completely inappropriate: “Ugly Feminists Freak Out Over #FeministsAreUgly Hashtag.” The #FeministsAreUgly trend first kicked off in the fall, and resurfaced this weekend as a way for women to dispel stereotypes about what feminism looks like.
Unfortunately, Twitter’s algorithm didn’t understand the context.
“The descriptions you see as part of the new Trends experience are mainly retrieved from popular, relevant articles shared on Twitter,” a company spokesperson explained to Re/code. “This is a new feature, and we are constantly tweaking the system to improve the quality of the descriptions.”
The blunder was an example of the challenges faced by all media companies, including Twitter (despite its claims to the contrary). Creating content is hard, even (perhaps especially) short descriptions, and if readers and advertisers are important to these companies (which they are), they’ll find themselves having to shape and direct the content running through the system. And you can’t rely on algorithms.
There’s little doubt that Twitter will improve — this is still a new feature, after all. But it’s vital that it does. Twitter wants to be the “global town square” for important conversations like this one, and users (and advertisers) will expect Twitter to provide a safe environment along the way.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.