COVID is on the rise, but you won’t see that on ThreadsReading Time: 3 minutes
The words ‘coronavirus,’ ‘vaccines,’ and ‘vaccination’ are blocked on Threads search, according to The Washington Post.
I come bearing bad news that is, unfortunately, just so incredibly predictable I find myself digging my eyes out of the back of my skull from rolling them so hard.
It looks like Threads, Meta’s Twitter (now X) replacement, is blocking searches related to COVID and vaccines. Meanwhile, cases of COVID are on the rise, hospital admissions are increasing, new variants are appearing with abandon, and we’re approaching flu season. Nice work, everyone.
While Meta confirmed to The Washington Post that search terms are intentionally blocked, it did not say which terms. The Post‘s research showed that the words ‘sex,’ ‘nude,’ ‘gore,’ ‘porn,’ ‘coronavirus,’ ‘vaccines,’ and ‘vaccination’ are at least some of the blocked words.
‘We just began rolling out keyword search for Threads to additional countries last week,’ a Meta spokesperson said in an email to MediaDownloader. ‘The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content. People will be able to search for keywords such as ‘COVID’ in future updates once we are confident in the quality of the results.’
In a thread on X, technology reporter Taylor Lorenz, who first reported the limits of search on the Threads app, pointed out that ‘wholesale blocking searches to things like long covid is extremely irresponsible.’ Limiting search seems to be, as Engadget reported, an apparent attempt to stop the spread of controversial content — and potentially misinformation — from spreading on Threads. But blocking searches wholesale might not have been the best way to approach this. As Lorenz noted, many people use the search function to find scientists, doctors, journalists, and other experts who are disseminating reliable information about issues in real-time on social platforms. It is arguably one of the more helpful aspects of the social internet.
In response to Lorenz’s thread, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, tweeted: ‘I hear you, and we’re working to support more searches quickly. We’re trying to learn from last mistakes and believe it’s better to bias towards being careful as we roll out search.’
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise for anyone who’s been keeping up with Meta’s plan for Threads. When Meta first launched the app, The Verge editor Alex Heath posted on Threads noting that ‘Meta as a company has spent the past few years actively distancing itself from news and literally downranking it in FB and IG.’ This, he said, would go up against its ability to ‘be a real Twitter competitor,’ which would require Threads to ’embrace’ the news industry. In response, Mosseri wrote that his ‘goal isn’t to replace Twitter. The goal is to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter. Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads – they have on Instagram as well to some extent – but we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.’ Basically, Meta never wanted Threads to be a place for news — so of course it isn’t going to help spread information about a deadly illness.
The search function itself is actually pretty new to Threads. Famously, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, posted about the search update on Threads just two weeks ago with a GIF of Vin Diesel from the Fast and Furious franchise saying ‘I bet you gonna enjoy this.’
Mark, I’m not enjoying this!!!
This story has been updated with comment from Meta.
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