Twitter glitch makes Gaza flotilla hashtag disappear

It’s easy to make fun of Twitter, but the microblogging service’s users take it pretty seriously. Earlier today, TechCrunch Europe blogger Mike Butcher reported the disappearance of #flotilla hashtags attached to tweets about the fatal fight between Israeli naval commandos and members of a six-ship flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli blockade. (You can watch handheld video from the flotilla, and the Israel Defense Forces video from a helicopter.)

Many Twitter users presumed it was an act of censorship. Now, a Twitter spokesperson has responded to Butcher to say the hashtags disappeared because of “a technical issue that caused search errors for a short period of time this morning.” It’s unclear whether the tweets were missing from Twitter, or only from search results, but Twitter’s wording implies the latter. One suggestion made by several commentators was that Twitter’s anti-spam filters may have mistakenly presumed “#flotilla” was a junk marketing campaign rather than a news item.

Twitter’s spokesperson said the company, like its users, takes the outage seriously. But here’s another way to look at it: Twitter has managed to grow beyond huge — in membership, in usage, and in multi-billion-dollar valuations by investors — despite high rates of downtime and frequent technical glitches. The company’s trajectory raises a question: Are other startups focusing too much on 100% reliability?

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