X platform shut down all searches for Taylor Swift following viral AI-generated sexually explicit images of pop star

 January 30, 2024

Reports last week indicated that fake sexually explicit images of pop star Taylor Swift, likely generated by artificial intelligence, were circulating on various social media platforms but most prominently on X.

It was announced by X over the weekend that, out of an "abundance of caution," the platform had completely disabled and shut down all searches for Swift, according to The Hill.

The incident, which sparked fury among the pop sensation's devoted legion of fans and concerns among lawmakers and government officials, provided a glaring example of just one of the major drawbacks and negative consequences of the rapidly increasing ubiquity of AI-powered image generation.

Controversy erupts over fake AI-generated explicit images of Swift

The Associated Press reported last week on the discovery of the likely AI-generated sexually explicit fake images of Taylor Swift that went viral on multiple social media platforms and sparked an uproar among Swift's fans as well as in Washington D.C.

Swift's fans almost immediately launched a counter-campaign that included flooding the platforms with positive pictures of the pop star while mass-reporting the accounts that shared the fake images, and platforms like X and Facebook worked quickly to take the images down as fast as possible, albeit not before they were reportedly seen and shared by millions of users.

At the time, X said in a statement posted online, "Posting Non-Consensual Nudity (NCN) images is strictly prohibited on X and we have a zero-tolerance policy towards such content. Our teams are actively removing all identified images and taking appropriate actions against the accounts responsible for posting them."

"We're closely monitoring the situation to ensure that any further violations are immediately addressed, and the content is removed. We're committed to maintaining a safe and respectful environment for all users," the platform added.

All searches for Swift on X platform blocked

However, whether because of the intense outcry or because monitoring for and removing posts as they were found proved insufficient, X reportedly took things a step further and completely shut down the ability of users to search for anything related to Taylor Swift, according to Engadget.

Joe Benarroch, head of business operations for the platform, said in a statement on Saturday, "This is a temporary action and done with an abundance of caution as we prioritize safety on this issue."

As such, according to The Hill, if any user searches the platform for anything related to Swift, regardless of the associated topic, they will receive an error message that reads: "Something went wrong. Try reloading."

White House expresses alarm, calls for legislation to deal with problem

The AP noted that Democratic legislators who've already been calling for laws to address non-consensual sexually explicit so-called "deep fake" images online seized upon the moment as the perfect opportunity to reiterate their demands for a federal crackdown.

In that, they appear to have the support of President Joe Biden's White House, as indicated by press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during Friday's press briefing when she was asked to weigh in on the fake Taylor Swift explicit images situation.

"We are alarmed by the reports of the -- of the circulation of images that you just laid out -- false images, to be more exact, and it is alarming," she told reporters. "So, while social media companies make their own independent decisions about content management, we believe they have an important role to play in enforcing -- enforcing their own rules to prevent the spread of misinformation and nonconsensual, intimate imagery of real people."

After noting the efforts of the administration to reducing the risks posed by AI-generated images online, Jean-Pierre added in response to a question about possible legislation, "Of course, Congress should take -- should take legislative action. That’s how you deal with some of these issues, obviously. But, you know, it is alarming to us, and we’re going to continue to do what we can from the federal government."

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