How Twitter’s #bisexual ban perpetuates bi-erasure

Holly Matthies explores why the Twitter bisexual ban is about more than easy to use social media search tools


As of  November 6th, Twitter appears to be preventing any tweets using the hashtag #bisexual from turning up in searches for images or video. It’s also blocking #bisexual from its “news” and “latest” tabs.

Bi Twitter is not happy. @bisexualindex calls it “deliberate bisexual erasure,” and people are upset that their existence as bisexuals is being treated like a “fetish” or “offensive.” Twitter, never knowingly transparent or user-led in their updates, seem to be blocking “bisexual” as part of a ban on pornographic hashtags.

Some bis like me greet this news with a weary sigh, because we’ve been here before. Society’s insistence that bisexuality is an inherently salacious or adults-only word is a regular feature of bi erasure. Hell, there’s already an @EndTheBiBan twitter account from the last “bi ban” we dealt with (http://www.bimedia.org/3440/endthebiban-passes-10000-signatures/).

That started in 2013, when Google failed to follow its usual practice of autosuggesting search terms as you started to type “bisexual.” If you typed “gay” it’d suggest gay support, gay pride, gay marriage, etc, but if you typed “bisexual” it just sat there unhelpfully. A petition asked Google to change that practice and in 2015, the campaign declared victory as Google now treats “bisexual” like other search terms and will suggest bi groups, events and resources.

Twitter, never knowingly transparent or user-led in their updates, seem to be blocking “bisexual” as part of a ban on pornographic hashtags.

@EndTheBiBan is back with a new petition asking Twitter to end its bi ban (and the other inappropriately blocked search terms)

Being shut out of easy web searching may seem like a small problem compared to the serious issues affecitng bisexuals: we face higher rates of suicide and self-harm, of domestic abuse, of both mental and physical health problems than gay or straight people. We have lower incomes than gay or straight people, too, and less likelihood of being out to the people who matter in our lives than gay people.

Society’s insistence that bisexuality is an inherently salacious or adults-only word is a regular feature of bi erasure.

But most of those serious inequalities stem from exactly what Twitter is now taking part in: bi invisibility and bi erasure. The grim stats aren’t about anything inherent about liking more than one gender, they’re down to how we’re treated. Support we can access is crucial to improving all of those things, and while a few of us, like me, are lucky enough to live somewhere with good in-person peer support for bisexuals, that’s rare because there’s no money in it so almost everything has to be done by volunteers.

Most of those volunteers are bi themselves, and thus are as likely to be dealing with poor health, low incomes and all those other challenges I just listed! A community trying to lift itself up by its bootstraps needs all the help it can get. And some of that help is going to be online.

Any threat to that online support hits us hard—if you search the #bisexual tag now, you’ll mostly see bis outraged at it. Many of us can’t see this as just an unimportant techincal glitch on a website becaue we can’t see it in isolation: we see the accumulation of all the times our identity has been relegated to pornography to justify its exclusion, all the times we’ve been cut off from people who understand us, all the times that invisibility and erasure and exclusion have hurt us.

Bi spaces matter a lot to us. I’ve heard lots of bi people talk about the relief they feel in a room with other bisexuals, of the near-constant tension or effort that we can suddenly do without. Twitter should be part of that space too, and it should include our selfies, gifs, artwork, Pride photos—all the images and video that are one of the best ways we can fight bisexual invisibility.

Follow Holly on Twitter (@hollyamory)

Have your say!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s