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Why Did Twitter Censor This Innocuous Icicle Growing in My Window?

An investigation into "sensitive material."
Image: Caroline Haskins

Mother Nature can get a little cheeky, but luckily is here to protect the innocence of us all.

After spending a weekend away, I returned to my apartment to find an ice formation in my window. But this was no ordinary icicle.

I’m just a girl looking for answers. There’s no obvious water source between my windowpane and the screen, which makes this a bit strange.

The temperature in New York City dipped below 10℉ over the weekend, but it didn’t rain or snow. Honestly, I’m a bit stumped as to how this little miracle formed!


However, it didn’t take long before Twitter interrupted my journey to find answers about the mysterious phallic icicle. According to a reply from my editor Kate Lunau, my tweet was flagged for containing “sensitive content.”

I’ve never considered myself one of Twitter’s malignant pot-stirrers, but evidently, Twitter did not agree. It’s very possible that someone may have flagged my image as sensitive, and Twitter’s content moderation team agreed.

When I emailed Twitter and asked about my situation, a spokesperson responded with links to information about their sensitive media settings and media policy. The spokesperson also told me, “in terms of this specific photo, we're looking into it.”

Per Twitter’s media policy, some sensitive content containing “graphic violence and/or adult content” is tolerable, but only if it’s marked as “sensitive.” You can’t use images deemed sensitive in your profile or header images, but since I don’t plan on changing my profile image to a suggestively shaped icicle, I should be safe.

Read More: Why Tiny Ripples on Icicles Baffle Scientists

According to Twitter’s sensitive media settings, you can check a box in your Privacy and safety settings to show or hide sensitive media in tweets. Kate told me in a Slack DM that her box was not checked, and when I checked my own settings, the box was checked. A Twitter spokesperson told me in an email that sensitive media is hidden automatically, so I must have changed my settings at some point to display sensitive media.

Twitter isn’t alone in moderating eyebrow-raising pictures such as mine. Someone who works at a construction site in Canada found a suggestive icicle on the job last year. A Reddit post of the icicle to r/pics hides the image in the post preview, meaning that a moderator of r/pics or the submitter themselves marked it as “NSFW.”

In any event, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who felt disgusted and/or corrupted after viewing the image of the penisicle in my window. I assure you, I only wanted to understand it.