Nazi and Alt-Right Imagery in GIF Search

Online platforms take different approaches to moderating — or not — the content that can be published or discovered through their platforms. I discovered today that some of the GIF search engines are censoring certain search terms. So I decided to poke a little more and see what is happening.

Nazi

When you search for ‘nazi’ on Giphy, you get this:

Giphy search for 'nazi', resulting in 'No GIFs found for nazi'
No Nazis!

In WhatsApp's gif search, powered by Tenor, you see:

WhatsApp GIF search for 'nazi', resulting in 'No Results'
Also no nazis.

It seems, though, that this filter is implemented by WhatsApp. Tenor's web site will happily return Nazi GIFs. No, I'm not going to provide a screenshot.

Pepe

Curiosity killed the frog, so I went farther. What do these search engines do with ‘pepe’, the green frog mascot of certain corners of the alt-right?

Giphy doesn't like the frog, but instead of no results, it return results related to soccer and a skunk I don't recognize:

Giphy search for 'pepe', with no green frog results
Relevant, but not the frog.

Neither WhatsApp nor Tenor do this filtering, though - a search for ‘pepe’ returns a plethora of images of the frog.

Interestingly, it looks like Giphy is employing image recognition for this filter instead of relying solely on tags to keep Pepe away. When I search for ‘frog’, I find a number of frogs, including everyone's favorite green frog, but no Pepe in the first several screens:

Giphy search for 'frog'
Frogs!

A Tenor search for ‘frog’ includes Pepe:

Tenor search for 'frog'
Frogs on Tenor

Conclusion

It looks to me like Giphy has made the decision that they do not want to be a source of GIFs for alt-right and neo-Nazi communication, and invested nontrivial effort to avoid it as evidenced by the fact that it appears their curation and filtering goes beyond keyword matching. I expect this has minimal impact on actual online communication — people who want to spread Pepe gifs will find them — but it removes one source of media resources & reduces the likelihood of Giphy being linked to such communication.

Tenor has not made this decision. WhatsApp is unclear: they may simply be deploying efforts to be compliant with German and French laws against dissemination of Nazi imagery worldwide. Twitter's GIF search seems to work the same as WhatsApp.