Twitter Circle tweets are not that private anymore

PSA: Do not post your deepest darkest secrets on your Twitter Circle.

Numerous Twitter users are reporting a bug in which Circle tweets — which are supposed to reach a select group, like an Instagram Close Friends story — are surfacing on the algorithmically generated For You timeline. That means that your supposedly private posts might breach containment to reach an unintended audience, which could quickly spark some uncomfortable situations.

I observed this bug when a tweet from someone I follow appeared on my For You timeline, but 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 — which I am not in — and they confirmed this was the case.

In this instance, their tweet was not a big deal — they posted about feeling left out for not watching “Succession” (honestly, same). But for users posting complaints about their job, gossip about their crush or even nudes, this bug can have serious repercussions.

TechCrunch has spoken to multiple users who have also experienced this glitch firsthand; many more have reported the glitch in their tweets. 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 private 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 not 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 quite 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.