Pussy problems, part 2

As well as writing up [the problems with Stuart Jeffries’ factually incorrect G2 article](http://matthewman.net/2009/07/08/stuart-jeffries-mollie-sugden-twitter/) yesterday, I wrote to the letters page of the Guardian to complain.

They have chosen not to publish that letter, but instead have included some discussion of the matter in their regular [Corrections & Clarifications column](http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/jul/09/corrections-clarifications):

> A G2 article called the censorship from Twitter of the hashtag (equivalent to a subject line) “Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy” the worst outrage against freedom of expression ever. We should have noted the explanation provided by Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, for the problem users encountered searching for #MrsSlocombesPussy: a programming bug means that Twitter’s search function does not work on hashtagged words of more than 16 characters. MrsSlocombesPussy is 17 (The strange case of Mrs Slocombe’s vanishing pussy, 8 June, page 15).

Note the wording “We should have noted…”, which implies that mentioning Biz Stone’s comments in Jeffries’ column would have made everything alright. In truth, the whole premise of Jeffries’ piece is flawed, and consequently the whole piece ends up being a work of fiction. There was no intervention from Twitter, there is no censorship issue, and there never has been.

What’s more, currently [the article is _still_ online in its original form](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/twitter-mollie-sugden-mrs-slocombe): no mention is made of the correction. And links to the article are _still_ being cited on Twitter as an example of American prudery. _(see update 2 below)_

Hopefully that’s just an oversight, and Jeffries’ piece of nonsense will either be removed, or have a disclaimer placed on it that’s so large it makes it clear that the content can’t be trusted.

**Update:** The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson, [writing in today’s Technology section](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/hashtags-twitter-spam), gets it right.

**Update 2:** As of 10.30am on Thursday, July 9, [Jeffries’ article](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/twitter-mollie-sugden-mrs-slocombe) is now headed by the correction.

Stuart Jeffries’ pussy problems

The Guardian: The strange case of Mrs Slocombe's vanishing pussy

Stuart Jeffries’ book about television nostalgia, [Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy](http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mrs-Slocombes-Pussy-Growing-Front/dp/0006551750/ref=ed_oe_p), is a great read. And so it’s really disappointing when he gets it so, so wrong.

After the sad passing of Mollie Sugden, best known for her role as Mrs. Slocombe in 1970s TV sitcom _Are You Being Served?_, a number of people paid tribute on Twitter by adding a ‘hashtag’ of `#mrsslocombespussy` to their tweets. For the non Twitter-literate, a hashtag is a word preceded by a # symbol that, when clicked on, leads to a set of search results of all the public tweets mentioning that word.

Except, in this case, it didn’t. Follow the hashtag for [#mrsslocombespussy](http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23MrsSlocombesPussy) and you see “No results found”. As soon as people found out, they were up in arms. Those pesky Americans! Don’t they get our ribald, if mildly offensive, innuendo-laden 1970s humour?

Jeffries himself wrote a piece for today’s Guardian, which appears in the ‘Shortcuts’ section of the G2 supplement. It’s also online with the same headline as in print: [The strange case of Mrs Slocomobe’s vanishing pussy](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/twitter-mollie-sugden-mrs-slocombe).

> And then, suddenly, and totally unacceptably, the tweet-grieving, which had brought solace to so many, stopped. Click now on the hashtag now and Twitter replies, “No results.” …
>
> Twitter is run by Americans and those puritanical censors of British culture’s Rabelasian rudery don’t dig double entendres, especially when they relate to a woman’s genitals. As a result, they acted to silence the tweet-grieving.

Except, er, they didn’t. And it was pretty easy to find out why, to be honest. Only on Monday, a British newspaper had included in its media section a breakdown of what actually happened:

> But not everyone on Twitter got the joke, with bloggers immediately suspecting foul play. “An odd, vulgar hashtag has appeared [that] obviously doesn’t belong there and doesn’t lead to any actual Twitter conversations,” said a blogger on the social media site mashable.com. “Trending topics are a great way to find out what’s hot in the Twitterverse, but they’re also a haven for malicious hackers and spammers.”
>
> Yet when people tried to search for the topic #mrsslocombespussy on Twitter, it generated zero results, leading to suspicions that it had been censored or filtered out. Not so, said Twitter’s co-founder, Biz Stone, who blamed its disappearance on a bug. “We don’t filter out offensive content from search,” Stone told appscout.com. **”There’s a bug involving hashtagged words with more than 16 characters. If you search for the same word or phrase without the hashtag you would see it in results.”**
>
> So it was a cock-up rather than a conspiracy. Which was somehow entirely appropriate – Mrs Slocombe’s pussy falling foul of a cock-up. They could write that into a new show.

(My emphasis). And indeed, he’s right: If you search for [MrsSlocombesPussy](http://search.twitter.com/search?q=MrsSlocombesPussy) without the preceding hash symbol, all the results come up. Which, sadly, currently includes rather a lot of people complaining about censorship that doesn’t exist, as a result of being fired up by Stuart Jeffries’ inaccurate article.

If Jeffries — or his editor — had just read that piece including Stone’s comments, he could have been saved an awful lot of embarrassment. It shouldn’t have been too difficult: after all, Monday’s media piece appeared in — yes, you’ve guessed it — [the Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/06/lebedev-evening-standard-michael-jackson).

**Update: [Things have moved on — but not by much](http://matthewman.net/2009/07/09/pussy-problems-part-2/)**

**Update 2: [Another article from the Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/hashtags-twitter-spam)** — thankfully this one gets it right (by repeating Monday’s factually accurate version of events)