Twitter users are reporting a bug that exposes Circle tweets, which are intended for a select group, to an unintended audience on the algorithmically generated For You timeline. Users posting private content such as complaints about their job, gossip about their crush, or even nudes could face serious repercussions. While this bug has been present for months, it has now surfaced as a dangerous privacy concern. Twitter has revealed the source code behind its recommendation algorithm, and the bug is expected to be fixed soon, according to Twitter’s owner Elon Musk.
Several Twitter users have reported a bug that causes Circle tweets to appear on the For You timeline. Circle tweets are intended for a select group, similar to an Instagram Close Friends story, but they are now surfacing on the algorithmically generated For You timeline. This means that your supposedly private posts might breach containment to reach an unintended audience, which could quickly spark some uncomfortable situations.
I noticed this bug when a tweet from someone I follow appeared on my For You timeline. Still, the retweet button was disabled, despite the person’s account being public. When I clicked on the tweet, it disappeared. I asked the tweeter if that post was intended for their Circle, and they confirmed this was the case.
This bug can seriously affect users posting complaints about their job, gossiping about their crushes, or even nudes. TechCrunch has spoken to several users who have also experienced this glitch firsthand. Most often, it seems that Circle tweets are being surfaced in the For You timeline to users who follow the poster but are not in their Circle. Others have reported that their Circle tweets are reaching even further than those who follow them.
“Twitter seems to be outright failing to filter out private content before serving it to users,” Theo Browne, a creator, and former Twitch engineer told TechCrunch. Twitter recently revealed the source code behind its recommendation algorithm, which uses multiple models to source, rank, and filter tweets. Browne hypothesized that the sourcing model is surfacing private content, but these personal tweets are not adequately being filtered out.
“Our initial release of the so-called algorithm is going to be quite embarrassing, and people are going to find a lot of mistakes, but we’re going to fix them very quickly,” Twitter owner Elon Musk said in a Twitter Space. Unfortunately, it is not possible to ask Twitter for confirmation, since its public relations team was laid off, and now the press email auto-responds with a poop emoji. But based on Twitter’s track record under Musk’s ownership, it would be surprising if this bug were fixed sooner rather than later, and the “Chief Twit” seems to have focused his attention on other more pressing endeavors.
Twitter Circle has been buggy for months, but until now, there was no substantial evidence that private Circle posts were regularly breaching containment. As TechCrunch reported two months ago, Circle tweets often show up without the green banner that indicates they’re only shared with this select audience. Still, these tweets only showed up for people in the Circle, and you could figure out that they were Circle tweets since they would not be possible to retweet. While that bug was concerning in itself, this glitch that exposes private tweets is even more dangerous.
After laying off so many engineers, Twitter’s code has not been airtight. It’s possible, for instance, to see tweets from people who have blocked you, which poses yet another serious privacy concern.
We all know that we should be careful what we say on the internet. On Twitter, be extra careful – your private musings are no longer as private as you think.