Vine’s porn problem won’t hurt Twitter

Washington Post tech blogger Hayley Tsukayama shows you the new video app from Vine and Twitter. Also, learn about Data Privacy Day and what you can do to keep your information safe online.
January 29, 2013

Vine’s recent “sex scandal” has certainly been a headache for parent company Twitter, which issued an apology after an adult video appeared in the app’s “Editor’s Picks” earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Twitter rushed to keep its younger users away from questionable content. Vine announced it had blocked searches for adult material, meaning hashtags like #sex and #porn no longer turn up results.

In the long run, said Max Wolff, a senior analyst at Greencrest Capital, even a hiccup of these headline-making, outrage-fanning proportions won’t impact Twitter’s bottom line — or its potential IPO.

“I don’t think this bump in the road is material,” Wolff said. “If it’s not fixed in three months, we have another conversation.”

For months, pundits and analysts — including Wolff himself — have predicted Twitter will go public within the next two years. Signs to that effect abound. Twitter made a number of management moves in December, naming Ali Rowghabi chief operating officer and hiring Mike Gupta as chief financial officer. The company sold an $80 million stake to BlackRock last week.

To top it off, the popular social network, currently valued at $9 billion, tuned up its photo capabilities to compete with Instagram and launched the new video service, Vine, on Jan. 24.

Vine lets users make and share six-second looped videos. But from the app’s premiere, some of its users turned it to less tasteful ends — a problem shoved in the spotlight on Monday, when Vine accidentally highlighted a video called “Dildoplay” in its Editor’s Picks.

More than a one-time accident, however, the error seemed to highlight a systemic flaw in the platform itself. While all Web services grapple with adult content — as Bloomberg’s Jared Keller riffed in a column on Monday — Twitter didn’t address that problem before releasing Vine. The app’s terms of service don’t ban porn, for instance, and users of any age can unwittingly find it in Vine’s “All Posts” section.

Twitter did not respond to several requests for comment, but confirmed the apology and the search restrictions to various news outlets. “A human error resulted in a video with adult content becoming one of the videos in Editor’s Picks, and upon realizing this mistake we removed the video immediately,” a Twitter spokesperson told Mashable. “We apologize to our users for the error.”

Despite the attention Vine’s alleged “porn problem” is getting now, investors shouldn’t worry, Wolff said.

The platform is young, after all — too young, Wolff argues, to pass judgment on “hiccups.”

Wolff also argues that porn on social media might not prove as scandalous as it does on first glance. There is already porn available on Twitter, he points out, and that hasn’t stopped adults or kids from using it.

“If anything, it’s a reminder that one of Twitter’s strengths is also its weakness,” he said. “When you have an open social network, you attract all kinds of participants. It’s like a free concert in the park — you won’t want to stand next to everyone.”

Wolff still predicts Twitter could go public in early 2014. And if it does go public, CNNMoney’s Paul La Monica has some ideas for a ticker symbol.

“For what it’s worth, $VINE is still available,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “So is $PORN though.”

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Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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