Twitter has announced a ban on nearly all pictures and videos containing people who haven’t given permission for that media to be posted. The new rule is an extension of the company’s privacy protection policy and is intended to uphold the human rights of its users and was put in place just a day after former CEO, Jack Dorsey, stepped down and announced Parag Agrawal, who joined Twitter in 2011 as an engineer and previously held the title as Chief Technology Officer, as his successor.
In a thread, posted to its @TwitterSafety account on November 30, Twitter said ‘Beginning today, we will not allow the sharing of private media, such as images or videos of private individuals without their consent’ and an additional Tweet states ‘Sharing images is an important part of folks’ experience on Twitter. People should have a choice in determining whether or not a photo is shared publicly. To that end we are expanding the scope of our Private Information Policy.’
Sharing images is an important part of folks’ experience on Twitter. People should have a choice in determining whether or not a photo is shared publicly. To that end we are expanding the scope of our Private Information Policy. ????
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) November 30, 2021
The blanket ban seems to imply that users may not post any content that includes people whose permission has not been sought first, though certain exceptions will be made. The blog post below states ‘This policy is not applicable to media featuring public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.’ If that exception feels vague, you’re not alone in thinking that. No guidance is offered to help users understand what is meant by ‘public interest’, ‘public discourse’ or ‘public figure’ and neither under what qualification these terms will be decided.
|Photograph by Damien Demolder|
Twitter says later in its statement that offending content won’t automatically be removed. Instead, Twitter will only step in once the subject—or someone acting on their legal behalf—makes Twitter aware of their lack of consent in having the image posted. When this happens, the poster’s account will be locked until the offending Tweet is removed. The new rule seems to ignore the right of anyone to take pictures in public places and to publish them in an editorial or artist context, and even those of people posting vacation pictures of famous sites that might include other members of the public.
|Photograph by Damien Demolder|
For street, travel and documentary photographers the rules are very concerning, as they suggest candid images can’t be used at all, and indeed any image that contains a third-party whose permission hasn’t been granted whether they appear in a landscape or an architectural view. For posed pictures, it isn’t clear whether having someone’s consent to take the picture is the same as having consent for that image to be posted on Twitter, or how recognizable someone needs to be in the picture or video in order for them to object.
More importantly, perhaps, is that the rule seems open to abuse by those seeking to avoid public scrutiny from independent journalists exposing corruption, crime and wrong doing, as they can just complain to Twitter and have posts, including screen shots, removed.
Instances of this have already appeared, according to social journalist Chad Loder, who pointed out that some journalists’ accounts are being locked after complaints by the people they have exposed for allegedly illegal activity. In theory, many of these posts could be covered by the exception ‘contains eyewitness accounts or on the ground reports from developing events;’ but the concern is who is making the judgement calls in these instances.
.@TwitterSafety just forced photojournalist Kelly Stuart (@SkySpider_) to remove a video under their new “private media” policy.
The video shows two right-wing extremists (in public) planning a criminal assault on reporter @emilymolli, documented here: https://t.co/o5Zjj26zN0
— Chad Loder (they/them) (@chadloder) December 1, 2021
As is often the case with new policies open to interpretation, only time will tell what impact this new policy will have on photographers and journalists alike. The privacy of non-consenting parties should certainly be corrected, but additional clarification from Twitter and its Safety team would help policy-abiding users better understand how their images, which are otherwise legal and taken within the means of the law, could impact their status on the social media platform.
For more information see the Twitter Safety account and the Twitter Blog.
Expanding our private information policy to include media
By Twitter Safety
As part of our ongoing efforts to build tools with privacy and security at the core, we’re updating our existing private information policy and expanding its scope to include “private media.” Under our existing policy, publishing other people’s private information, such as phone numbers, addresses, and IDs, is already not allowed on Twitter. This includes threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.
There are growing concerns about the misuse of media and information that is not available elsewhere online as a tool to harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals. Sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm. The misuse of private media can affect everyone, but can have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities. When we receive a report that a Tweet contains unauthorized private media, we will now take action in line with our range of enforcement options.
While our existing policies and Twitter Rules cover explicit instances of abusive behavior, this update will allow us to take action on media that is shared without any explicit abusive content, provided it’s posted without the consent of the person depicted. This is a part of our ongoing work to align our safety policies with human rights standards, and it will be enforced globally starting today.
What is in violation of this policy?
Under our private information policy, you can’t share the following types of private information or media, without the permission of the person who it belongs to:
- home address or physical location information, including street addresses, GPS coordinates or other identifying information related to locations that are considered private;
- identity documents, including government-issued IDs and social security or other national identity numbers – note: we may make limited exceptions in regions where this information is not considered to be private;
- contact information, including non-public personal phone numbers or email addresses;
- financial account information, including bank account and credit card details; and
- other private information, including biometric data or medical records.
- NEW: media of private individuals without the permission of the person(s) depicted.
The following behaviors are also not permitted:
- threatening to publicly expose someone’s private information;
- sharing information that would enable individuals to hack or gain access to someone’s private information without their consent,e.g., sharing sign-in credentials for online banking services;
- asking for or offering a bounty or financial reward in exchange for posting someone’s private information;
- asking for a bounty or financial reward in exchange for not posting someone’s private information, sometimes referred to as blackmail.
When private information or media has been shared on Twitter, we need a first-person report or a report from an authorized representative in order to make the determination that the image or video has been shared without their permission. Learn more about reporting on Twitter.
Sharing private media
When we are notified by individuals depicted, or by an authorized representative, that they did not consent to having their private image or video shared, we will remove it. This policy is not applicable to media featuring public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.
However, if the purpose of the dissemination of private images of public figures or individuals who are part of public conversations is to harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence them, we may remove the content in line with our policy against abusive behavior.. Similarly, private nude images of public individuals will continue to be actioned under our non-consensual nudity policy.
We recognize that there are instances where account holders may share images or videos of private individuals in an effort to help someone involved in a crisis situation, such as in the aftermath of a violent event, or as part of a newsworthy event due to public interest value, and this might outweigh the safety risks to a person.
We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service. For instance, we would take into consideration whether the image is publicly available and/or is being covered by mainstream/traditional media (newspapers, TV channels, online news sites), or if a particular image and the accompanying tweet text adds value to the public discourse, is being shared in public interest, or is relevant to the community.
Feeling safe on Twitter is different for everyone, and our teams are constantly working to understand and address these needs. We know our work will never be done, and we will continue to invest in making our product and policies more robust and transparent to continue to earn the trust of the people using our service.
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