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Taylor Swift searches return to X after temporary block: 'We will continue to be vigilant'

Taylor Swift in a bejeweled blue and gold leotard flexing her left arm and holding a microphone in her right hand on a stage
Taylor Swift has not publicly addressed the explicit AI images that used her likeness. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Taylor Swift is finally out of the woods, at least when it comes to being searched on social media platform X.

X (formerly Twitter) lifted its temporary block on search results for the Grammy winner on Monday evening. The platform's block was part of its efforts to limit the further spread of explicit deepfake images of Swift after they went viral last week.

As of Tuesday morning, a search for "Taylor Swift" yields a list of tweets, social media accounts and other media as normal. Searches for the "Out of the Woods" singer may be back, but X's head of business operations Joe Benarroch said the platform will continue its moderation efforts.

“Search has been re-enabled and we will continue to be vigilant for any attempt to spread this content and will remove it if we find it,” Benarroch said in a statement.

Amid outcry from Swift's fans on social media, lawmakers and the actors' union SAG-AFTRA, X made the pop diva's name unsearchable on its platform over the weekend. As of Monday afternoon, searching Swift's name without quotes resulted in an error page that read: "Something went wrong. Try reloading."

Read more: Those explicit Taylor Swift deepfakes are 'sexual exploitation,' lawmakers say

"This is a temporary action and done with an abundance of caution as we prioritize safety on this issue," Benarroch said in a previous statement.

Last week, several explicit AI-generated images of the "Bejeweled" and "Cruel Summer" singer circulated on X. The doctored pictures were pornographic and referenced the 34-year-old's high-profile romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Hours after the images surfaced on Thursday, X’s safety team reminded users of its “zero-tolerance policy” on sharing “Non-Consensual Nudity (NCN) images.” The statement, which did not explicitly mention Swift, also said that users who posted the images would be held accountable.

“We’re closely monitoring the situation to ensure that any further violations are immediately addressed, and the content is removed,” X’s safety account added. “We’re committed to maintaining a safe and respectful environment for all users.”

X's new restricted search action wasn't without fault. As of Monday afternoon, searching Swift's full name in quotes or adding additional words at the end of the search phrase "Taylor Swift" conjured up posts, replies and images as usual — including graphic deepfakes of Swift.

Read more: Worried about AI? How California lawmakers plan to tackle the technology's risks in 2024

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who officially took over Twitter in October 2022, made cuts to the platform's moderation team, which was tasked to enforce rules against harmful content. The company announced Friday that it seeks to improve its "detection mechanisms to find more reportable content" and hire more moderating staff as part of its efforts to combat child sexual exploitation.

A representative for X did not immediately respond Monday to The Times' request for comment.

Swift has not yet publicly addressed the explicit images, but the controversy reignited conversations about artificial intelligence and the need for more oversight, especially as the creation of AI images continues to overwhelmingly affect women and children.

“The spread of AI-generated explicit images of Taylor Swift is appalling — and sadly, it’s happening to women everywhere, every day,” New York Rep. Joe Morelle said in a Thursday tweet.

Read more: Teen girls are being victimized by deepfake nudes. One family is pushing for more protections

“It’s sexual exploitation,” he added, before touting his proposed Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act, a bill that would make it illegal to share deepfake pornography without the consent of individuals being portrayed.

News of the Swift AI images raised concerns, as Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre separately addressed the controversy on Friday.

"This is very alarming. And so, we're going to do what we can to deal with this issue," Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing, according to Reuters. "So while social media companies make their own independent decisions about content management, we believe they have an important role to play in enforcing, enforcing their own rules to prevent the spread of misinformation, and nonconsensual, intimate imagery of real people."

SAG-AFTRA, which laid out terms concerning artificial intelligence in its 2023 contract, dubbed the AI images of Swift "upsetting, harmful, and deeply concerning."

"The development and dissemination of fake images — especially those of a lewd nature — without someone’s consent must be made illegal," the union said in a Friday statement. "As a society, we have it in our power to control these technologies, but we must act now before it is too late."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.