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Netflix Reportedly Manipulated Search Algorithm to Hide ‘Cuties’ and ‘Minimize Press’ After Backlash

IndieWire logo IndieWire 10/27/2021 Zack Sharf
© Netflix

A detailed report from The Verge (via Variety) reveals how Netflix allegedly took deliberate measures to change its algorithm in order to suppress the PR crisis around the controversial French coming-of-age movie “Cuties.” The film, acclaimed out of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, became a national talking point after Netflix released a poster for it depicting its young child characters striking suggestive poses. Netflix apologized for the image, but by that point the film had become the target of nationwide criticisms that Netflix was sexualizing underage children. An online petition encouraging Netflix users to cancel their subscriptions because of “Cuties” garnered over 650,000 signatures.

As reported by The Verge: “Behind the scenes, Netflix scrambled to minimize public backlash by suppressing the film in search results prior to its release. It removed ‘Cuties’ from the ‘coming soon’ and ‘popular searches’ categories and excluded it from queries for ‘cute.’ It then adjusted its algorithm so searches for the film would not surface ‘steamy / sexual titles’ or kids’ movies.”

According to internal documents reviewed by The Verge, Netflix said in its own words that it was dealing with the “Cuties” backlash by “suppress[ing] promotion and related search queries.” The streamer’s goal was to “minimize press coverage” after backlash erupted over the movie’s poster and to “avoid looking like we have removed the film page from service, are moving release date and/or not launch the film” as “this could be seen as reactionary.”

The Verge report continues: “Netflix search results are controlled by what a user types into the search field, the country they’re in, and the titles available in that country. But the ‘Cuties’ documents reveal ways in which the company can take manual steps to hide a film from the platform. It removed the movie from the ‘coming soon,’ ‘more like this,’ ‘coming later,’ ‘extras,’ and ‘popular searches’ categories. It also excluded the film from search results for “cute.'”

Netflix only had this to say on the matter when tapped for comment: “Our recommendations help members find great titles to watch amidst all the choices on Netflix. Not every title gets promoted in the same way, just as every member’s homepage is different.”

According to The Verge, the manipulative reaction to “Cuties” is stirring up some internal drama with Netflix as it does not match the company’s reaction to the current blowback against Dave Chappelle’s comedy special “The Closer.” Chappelle’s transphobic jokes prompted an employee walkout orchestrated by the company’s trans staffers. Netflix allegedly has not suppressed search results for “The Closer” as it did for “Cuties.”

Head over to The Verge’s website to read more on the Netflix story.

Click here to read the full article.

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