Over the weekend, Twitter's trending topics were once again the target of an attack, this time implemented by the members of the infamous image board 4chan, the site known for their internet memes and pranks. As with previous attempts to pollute the trends with nonsense, the hashtag pushed into the leaderboard was yet another inappropriate term. Last time this happened, we saw Twitter pull the offensive tags from the trends section, a move which prompted us to cheer: Twitter censoring trending topics? Isn't it about time?  Again, it seems the company has pulled the same move. By the time tech blogs picked up the story, the term had disappeared completely from the trends section.

But maybe "trends" like this have no business ever making "trend" status at all. We have to wonder if censorship after the fact is going to be good enough for Twitter going forward. As Twitter continues to grow, more and more people will want to get their keyword or hashtag featured in this popular section of the Twitter Search site. Perhaps Twitter should consider putting a human editor in charge of weeding through the supposed trends before they get posted.

Twitter Censoring Trends: Is it Enough?

At the end of the day, we agree with Twitter's decision to pull the obviously forced hashtag from the trends section just as they did the last time a bunch of folks thought they would have some fun by tweeting other offensive words and phrases. But these incidents have made us wonder: has Twitter trends outlived its ability to function properly as an entirely algorithm-based service? Given how many people rely on Twitter trends to track hot topics and breaking news, the section will be under constant attack from those who want to use the algorithm for their own purposes...and not necessarily good ones.

In some cases, like the latest 4chan move, the term-made-trend will be a somewhat offensive, but ultimately harmless prank. In other cases, the trends will be courtesy of some marketer pushing their hashtag up through the ranks thanks to their latest "tweet-to-win" contest. But do either of these cases represent an organic news-based trend that deserves the spotlight? Perhaps not.

Although censorship isn't something that most people would normally support, in these cases it would feel less like censorship than it would a simple act of filtering. It's easy to see that "trends" like these aren't really the sort of trends that the section was meant to highlight. However, by letting the algorithm do all the work, everyone with an evil plan to get their hashtag into the leaderboard has a shot at 15 minutes of fame. And on the real-time web, that's an eternity.

If, on the other hand, Twitter started pre-filtering the trends for relevance, there would long be a reason for hoaxsters, pranksters, and other trend-hogging marketers to attempt to game the system. Just by putting a human editor in charge of Twitter trends, "fake trends" like these could easily be avoided. Even if the company didn't want to go with full-on censorship, they could at the very least move the "other" trends off the main page by adding a link that said "More..."

Filtered Trends Could Delay Breaking News

But the drawback to a human-filtered trends section could be a delay in seeing breaking news make trend status - and that would be a disaster for a service that's all about immediacy. For some people, even the threat of a delay such as this would probably have them saying, "forget censorship and filtering - I want real-time trends, legit or not!"

But to those people, we ask: what about when Twitter becomes so uber-popular that the real-time trends section you crave becomes filled with junk trends thanks to internet memes and marketers' messages? Will you still prefer it then?

We're not sure if a human editor is the right solution for Twitter, but one day soon, something will have to be done. One commenter on a previous post mentioned some other ideas for filtering trends and hashtag spam, including having users tweet "#spam=hashtag" and suggesting Twitter adds a feature which would let us block hashtags from our streams. Another commenter suggested Outlook-like rules for hiding certain hashtags. If you have any ideas of your own about what Twitter should do, feel free to share them in the comments.