Elon Musk Uncovers Decade-Old, Thousand-Word Censorship List in Twitter's Algorithm

Elon Musk Uncovers Decade-Old, Thousand-Word Censorship List in Twitter's Algorithm
Twitter CEO Elon Musk speaks at the 'Twitter 2.0: From Conversations to Partnerships' marketing conference in Miami Beach, Fla., on April 18, 2023. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

In a recent interview with The Babylon Bee, Elon Musk, the current owner of Twitter, revealed the discovery of a decade-old line of code in Twitter's algorithms designed to suppress tweets containing certain keywords. This information was made public during Musk's conversation with The Babylon Bee, a satirical news outlet that had previously experienced censorship on Twitter.

During the interview, Kyle Mann, the editor-in-chief of The Babylon Bee, questioned Musk's decision to expose the problematic aspects of Twitter after acquiring the company. Mann asked, “Who takes over a company and then says, ‘Look, how horrible all this stuff is that’s going on’?”

Musk responded by emphasizing the importance of transparency for earning public trust. He said, “If we’re not going to expose the things that were done wrong, why should people believe us in the future? That’s why we’re trying to be as transparent as possible. Don’t take my word for it—literally look at the algorithm, you should be able to recreate the results that you see on Twitter using that algorithm.”

Musk explained that the goal is to reveal any hidden or obscured aspects of Twitter. He mentioned a recent discovery of a censorship mechanism coded into the platform in 2012. Although Musk acknowledged that "censorship" might not be the most accurate term for the code, he confirmed that Twitter had a list of words that, if included in a tweet, would result in the suppression of that tweet.

He also referred to this as a "relic of code" from 2012 and confirmed that it was still active until last week. He also stated that the code applied universally across all tweets. Around a thousand words were included in this list, and their presence in any tweet would lead to that tweet's suppression on the platform.

"For instance, a tweet containing the word 'suck' would not get amplified on the platform." Musk said. "Approximately a thousand words were included in this list, and their presence in any tweet would lead to suppression of that tweet on the platform."

Jeremy Boreing, co-founder and co-CEO of The Daily Wire, claimed that Twitter has canceled a deal with his organization. The deal was initially set to premiere a feature titled "What Is a Woman?" for free on the platform.

The cancellation is attributed to two instances of "misgendering" associated with the content.

Boreing expressed his disbelief at the situation in his tweet, stating, "I’m not kidding." The specifics of the alleged "misgendering" instances have not been disclosed, sparking conversations about content moderation and freedom of speech on social media platforms.

Elon Musk responded Boreing's tweet, saying: "This was a mistake by many people at Twitter. It is definitely allowed. Whether or not you agree with using someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is at most rude and certainly breaks no laws. I should note that I do personally use someone’s preferred pronouns, just as I use someone’s preferred name, simply from the standpoint of good manners. However, for the same reason, I object to rude behavior, ostracism, or threats of violence if the wrong pronoun or name is used."

In a separate incident, Alex Berenson, author and former New York Times reporter stated on Twitter that the platform's own lawyers believed they could not successfully defend its COVID vaccine censorship policies against his lawsuit.

Berenson was banned from Twitter in 2021 over his mRNA vaccine reporting. He alleges that internal documents, which he describes as "problematic" and "sensitive," show that Twitter's most senior executives disagreed over the decision to censor him. He further claims that these documents raise questions about whether Twitter banned him due to fear of government or corporate retribution.