A German-speaking Twitter user had her account temporarily banned this week after a harmless internet joke was drastically misinterpreted.
Jana Herwig, who lives in Vienna, Austria, had her access temporality suspended after responding to a tweet referring to the phrase "OK boomer." The term has recently become a viral phenomenon after surfacing on the internet as a way for millennials and Gen Z-ers to clap back against older generations.
Herwig's tweet, which simply said, "the boomers" in German, ultimately led to a confusing saga — and a German grammar lesson for many social media users.
In German, "die Boomer" means "the boomer," as the German article "die" translates simply to "the." However, Twitter's monitoring algorithm apparently failed to understand that translation, instead processing Herwig's tweet in English, according to Deutsche Welle.
"What is happening?" Herwig wrote on Twitter in German, as the situation quickly went viral on social media.
Weil der deutsche Artikel "die" von englisch trainierten Algorithmen als "stirb" gelesen wird, kann es einem passieren, dass Twitter einen blockt, wenn man "die Boomer" schreibt.
12 Stunden Sperre für mich, weil Twitter spezielle Boomer-Schutzprogramme am laufen hat. pic.twitter.com/V2KagyFwBF
— Jana "Melitta" Herwig a.k.a. Plörre (@digiom) November 12, 2019
The issue is obvious to a native English speaker, as Twitter seemingly percieved Herwig's comment as a violent threat, rather than an innocuous German reply. She received her 12-hour suspension on Tuesday.
"12-hour lock [on my account], because Twitter is running special boomer protection programs," Herwig joked in a later tweet.
Herwig said Twitter did not contact her to say the account was suspended, however she did later receive an email apologizing for the mistake.
"After further review, we have unsuspended your account as it does not appear to be in violation of the Twitter Rules," the company wrote in an email obtained by In The Know.
Holger Kerstin, a communications director for Twitter, told Deutsche Welle that the company's security policies aim to "improve the culture of debate," adding that those rules can sometimes lead to mistakes.
"On our way to achieving this, we sometimes make mistakes in how we apply our rules. We are sorry for these occurrences. We, of course, analyze the mistakes in order to improve and further develop our approach in promoting a contrastive, public debate culture," Kerstin said.
Herwig's account is now fully reinstated, but the viral moment sparked a larger debate around the phrase "OK boomer," which many have criticized as a means of deepening the divide between older and younger generations.
Myrna Blyth, a senior vice president and editorial director for AARP, came under fire this week after she defended the older-skewing interest group by saying, "OK, millennials. But we're the people that actually have the money." Blyth later apologized for her comments.