Last week, Twitter users were surprised to find that all marijuana-related search terms were being blocked by the service's search engine. Over the weekend, marijuana activist Tom Angell and his advocacy group Marijuana Majority responded by launching a petition on change.org asking Twitter to stop censoring pot-related searches. And by Tuesday morning, searches for marijuana were re-enabled as quickly – and quietly – as they were blocked.
The sudden censorship of marijuana seems to be connected to the rollout of a new “sensitive content filter” intended to reduce harassment over the service. This filter was enabled with no notification to users, and is turned on by default. In addition to marijuana, users found that sex-related terms like “porn,” “BDSM,” “kink,” and “nsfw” were also being blocked.
Journalists soon discovered that while terms relating to marijuana and LSD were being blocked, searches for opioids were not. Christopher Ingraham from the Washington Post tweeted that “@Twitter is censoring real-time results for "cannabis," but not for sketchy businesses purporting to sell opioids without a prescription.”
Cannabis journalist Amanda Chicago Lewis noticed that “the marijuana column was missing” from her tweetdeck over the weekend. “I figured it was just me, but then Tom Angell tweeted about it and I realized it was not just me,” she said. “Tom put together the petition, I merely tweeted about it, he is a tireless activist who seems to be responsible, if anyone is, for getting this changed back."
“Twitter is a platform that many activists use to spread information about important policy issues like marijuana legalization and medical cannabis,” the petition reads. “Censoring marijuana-related searches prevents serious people from communicating about one of the most prominent policy issues of our time.”
The petition collected over 500 signatures, and as of Tuesday morning, searches for marijuana and related keywords are turning up plentiful results.
Wow! It appears that Marijuana Majority’s petition worked and Twitter removed “marijuana” & “cannabis” from the sensitive content filter!— Tom Angell (@tomangell) March 28, 2017