Twitter’s Vine App Doesn’t Have a Porn Problem. It Has a Porn Discovery Problem.

Published on January 28, 2013
by Mike Isaac

vine_pixelatedTwitter’s problem of the week isn’t that there’s porn on one of its services. It’s that the porn is a cinch to find.

So, no, tweets haven’t become more lascivious than usual. Let me catch you up.

Twitter released a new video-sharing app, Vine, last week. It has blown up, rising fast to the top of Apple’s App Store. But over the weekend, users found it was entirely too easy to come across NSFW content — i.e. weird porno — using the app.

Funny, at first. But as The Verge first pointed out, that may be a problem for Apple, the famously conservative company that has been heavily promoting the app since its release. And more than just Apple, it could be a problem for Vine’s usability in the long run.

So Twitter faces two problems right now. First, is Vine going to become a haven for porn mini-vids (the latest Chatroulette)? And the more pressing question: How long will Apple put up with having the porny Vine app in the App Store?

From what I understand, Twitter is currently in violation of Apple ToS item 18.2: “Apps that contain user generated content that is frequently pornographic (ex “Chat Roulette” apps) will be rejected.”

So parse that language, paying special attention to the word “frequently.” Twitter doesn’t need to kill all the porn. It just needs to make porn a heck of a lot harder to find. In other words, porn appears only as “frequently” as you can sniff it out. Not easy to find? No longer a problem.

But fixing the discovery issue isn’t simple. As of Vine’s launch, it has been easy to go into Vine’s “Explore” menu, start typing something that begins with “P-E-N” or “P-O-R” and have the hashtag or search term pop up for the words “penis” or “porn,” complete with a healthy cache of hardcore porno to browse through. Part of that problem rests on the issue of the hashtag — the built-in mechanism for discovering lots of content associated along the lines of a single theme.

The other, I would guess, is the myriad ways that the degenerate human mind can figure out how to hash something pornographically by search term. (Just ask this guy how creative some people can be with their porn labels.)

The impetus now is for Vine to figure out how to nix those prevalently pornographic hash tags or search terms, and do it fast.

Right now, despite Twitter being in pretty clear violation of Apple’s bylaws, Apple seems to be cutting Twitter some slack. Apple opted not to deep-six the app from the App Store — as is the usual protocol for something in violation of Apple’s ToS — but instead has appeared to just cut Vine down from Apple’s list of “Editor’s Picks.” (It certainly pays to be buddy-buddy with a company like Apple, eh, Twitter?)

But however much slack Twitter has been given, I assume that the Vine team is still under the gun to get the whole ordeal smoothed over. It’s probably a strain, too, as Vine’s team consists of only a handful of engineers in New York. Tackling pornography has proved challenging to powerhouses as large as YouTube, staffed by hundreds of Googlers, much less a little startup in its first launch days.

“We’re in the process of changing how users find and view sensitive content,” a Twitter spokesperson told AllThingsD. “We’re experimenting with a number of approaches and will continue to iterate.”

Right now Twitter looks to be nixing the porny hashtags — like #porn, for instance — as a first step on the road to this.

“Yes, but!” you may argue, “there are workarounds! You can upload porn clips and label them with non-sexual hashtags!”

This is true. And I expect that Twitter will continue to argue for relying on user-side crowd control to report said content violations, or potentially draft a team member into working on this more intensely somehow. Perhaps the solution rests in some sort of combination of manual and automatic, computerized curation. I don’t know.

But as my friend Sam over at Gizmodo reminds us, trying to eliminate porn from the Web is a fool’s errand. You can’t get rid of it all.

You’ve just got to find a better way of hiding it.

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