Sequestered In Memphis 🔐

Discussing one of the most entertaining Twitter bugs in quite some time. Sometimes it doesn’t need to make sense for it to be hilarious.

(Joshua J. Cotten/Unsplash)

For a few hours yesterday, people were getting their accounts temporarily suspended left and right on Twitter because … for some bizarre reason, Twitter decided to treat the word Memphis as some sort of unpronounceable dirty word.

This was a problem for a few reasons. For one, it was Selection Sunday, and Memphis was a bubble team, so clearly basketball fans would be interested in discussing Memphis. (Alas, Memphis is likely NIT-bound.)

“Do you think I’m that stupid? Well, what the hell, I’ll tell the story again …” — The Hold Steady, “Sequestered in Memphis

Another thing—a high-profile rally against a major oil pipeline effort took place on Sunday, with former vice president (and noted climate change activist) Al Gore lending his voice to the protest. Assuredly, it must have been bad timing for the word “Memphis” to be banned on Twitter.

Additionally, rumors were flooding the social network that a well-known Dutch footballer, Memphis Depay, had decided to exercise the trademark on his name, which would be a problem, given the fact that no universe should exist where that’s possible.

Whatever it was, it was funny, and for some, a welcome reprieve. Man, I can’t wait until it happens again. My favorite part about the tale of Memphis was that it started trending on Hacker News, which led to Twitter bots posting about the Hacker News thread, which led the Hacker News bots to get suspended from Twitter. No amount of marbles, banana peels and roller skates could create slapstick that perfect in 2021.

In all seriousness, though, now is a great opportunity to talk about factors that can lead to false positives like this. Back in 2016, I referred to it as the “Scunthorpe Problem,” in which an AI blocks a profane term that shouldn’t be blocked because it’s not smart enough. (The piece I wrote about it features a particularly roundabout way to describe a certain profanity in the name of the city of Scunthorpe: “One of the harshest profanities in the English language, one generally associated with the hands-on directing style of David O. Russell.”)

Filters are often not very good, and that’s always been the case, though they’re getting better. Nonetheless, bad filters often cause problems for people doing legitimate things online.

And mainstream social networks just have not figured out how to manage the scale of people to properly ensure effective moderation without lots of automation, automation that too often gets it wrong.

Because of course it does. The human diaspora is made up of billions of people, and there’s no controlling us.

So, to finish off my point here: Memphis Memphis Memphis Memphis Memphis Memphis.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 8 minutes, 58 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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