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Twitter makes videos more accessible with auto captioning

Twitter is introducing auto-generated video captions starting today. Deaf and hard-of-hearing users will benefit from this new feature. A wide variety of languages, including but not limited to English and Spanish will have automatic captions available on mobile devices in addition to desktop computers in more than 30 different countries around the world.

With Twitter’s new vertical feed, which the company began experimenting with last week, the captions may prove useful. One piece of algorithmically recommended content would be served at a time, including videos, on the Explore tab if the feed was made public. Captioned videos have become the norm on these feeds because they make it easier to scroll through feeds without headphones when you’re in a public location.

Instead of allowing users to edit the text in their video captions like TikTok and Instagram Reels do, Twitter won’t let them. As a result, the automated captions will not be able to be improved by users.

After Twitter finally established dedicated accessibility teams in September 2020, accessibility features like auto captions and image alt text have received more attention. In the summer of 2013, Twitter began testing a voice-tweeting feature that didn’t include auto-captioning, which sparked a backlash from users. Captioning is now available for both voice tweets and Spaces, Twitter’s Clubhouse competitor.

Captioning technology was already being used in Twitter’s live audio chatrooms, known as Twitter Spaces, prior to the introduction of video captioning.

A 30-day audio copy of a Space, complete with captions, is kept on file by the company in order to check for any potential violations of Twitter’s content guidelines. Those records will be kept by Twitter for an additional 90 days if a violation is found in a Space to give the speakers a chance to appeal their indiscretion.

For Twitter and its users, this process does not go far enough in addressing issues of abuse on its platform. A number of Twitter Spaces users have been served up blatantly harmful content, including Spaces with racist titles that remained on their feeds even after they were reported. According to Twitter’s community manager, Simon Balmain, the company is working to resolve this issue, but no specifics have been provided as to whether or how the system will expand beyond its current reporting capabilities and the retention of Space audio and captions’.

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