Twitter Is No Place for #NoHomo

10/03/2011 09:35 am ET | Updated Dec 03, 2011

When I logged on to Twitter Saturday morning, I was shocked to see that Twitter was featuring "#NoHomo" on its Trending Topics list in -- of all places -- New York, a city that prides itself on its tolerance.


I sent a tweet to @Twitter and @Jack Dorsey, suggesting that they remove the offensive expression from the Trending list, but received no response. I retweeted that request later in the day and even filed a report with Twitter's feedback system, but I got no response and, unfortunately, #NoHomo stayed put.

Twitter's Trending Topics are constantly updating lists that allow users to see the most popular topics or phrases being used on Twitter in real time in cities all around the world. Most Trending Topics reflect breaking news stories, such as earthquakes and international crises, or online conversations about live sports & entertainment events. The lists are a valuable feature and any kind of tinkering with the algorithm that determines what's trending can affect that value.

But some Trending Topics are more like online word games that encourage users to jump in and add the phrases to their own Tweets. Sometimes the trending phrases are humorous, sometimes they're provocative, and unfortunately, sometimes they're racist, religiously intolerant, misogynist, or homophobic.

While Twitter has no clear policy about offensive language, in the past it has removed phrases and "hashtags" perceived as racist from Trending Topics lists, most famously #thatsAfrican and #ThingsDarkiesSay.

Twitter needs address homophobic hate speech as well and acknowledge that by allowing it to be featured in Trending lists, they are in effect endorsing it, adding fuel to the fire, and implicitly inviting users to pile on and repeat the derogatory words or phrases.

That's bullying, pure and simple, and recent tragic suicides by bullied LGBT teenagers have made it abundantly clear that bullying can no longer be tolerated. Twitter needs to examine its role in amplifying intolerance by allowing homophobic speech on Trending Topics lists, taking a cue, perhaps, from Dan Savage's brilliant It Gets Better Project, which now counts MLB teams and President Obama among its supporters.

#NoHomo continued to trend all day Saturday, notwithstanding my tweets and those by other members of the Twitter community, including industry thought leader Jeff Pulver. I even reached out to someone whose bio indicated she worked at Twitter in the "Twitter Trust & Safety" department. Her response: a perfunctory "file a ticket."

On July 31, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, tweeted:

The trends are algorithmic, not chosen by us but we edit out any w/ obscenities & I'd like to see clearly offensive out too.

Excellent idea.

It's time for Twitter to take a more active role in determining their policy about hate speech in Trending Topics lists. Twitter should acknowledge that, the same way discriminatory language about race or religion is not to be tolerated, no discriminatory language should be tolerated. Period.