If a user publishes the coordinates of another person without his permission, Twitter gives him a warning and removes the information. If that user relapses, it will be the last time they do so: their account will be permanently suspended. Until Tuesday, the company considered a violation of its community rules to share the address, location, ID, telephone number or bank account of a third party without their consent (as long as it had not been published on another platform or website before ), but the same was not the case with images and videos. This week, Twitter has updated its policy on private information to include audiovisual content and now users who share images or videos without the consent of those who appear in them face temporary suspension until the content is removed. The move was announced just one day after the company announced the handover of CEO Jack Dorsey – the company’s 2006 founder – by Indian engineer Parag Agrawal.
The reason given by Twitter for taking this decision is to protect above all “women, activists, dissidents and members of minorities”, who may be adversely affected emotionally and even physically in a disproportionate way compared to the rest of the population (although anyone can be affected). In its official blog, Twitter explains that “ there is a growing concern about the misuse of images, videos and information not available anywhere else on the network and that it is used to harass, intimidate or expose identity of individuals ”, and insists: ” This will allow us to take measures with audiovisual content that is not expressly abusive, when it is published without the consent of the person who appears represented. ”
The company also establishes that the norm “is not applicable to audiovisual material referring to public figures when the image and the accompanying text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.” If the objective of that publication were to harass, intimidate or silence such characters through fear, the content would be removed due to the abusive behavior policy.
Nor would the policy apply to the media, given the public interest of its contents and the right to inform that protects them. In fact, one of the two criteria that the platform highlights for maintaining a publication and not destroying it is precisely that the image or video has already been published by a medium. The other assumption is that it was circulating on the internet before the user shared it. Twitter defends that it will always assess the context and may decide to keep an image rather than delete it. In any case, the affected party will be required to make a statement about the photo or video in question to evaluate each specific case before taking any action.
We will take into consideration whether the image is publicly available and/or is being covered by journalists—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.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) November 30, 2021
Some users have expressed their reluctance about the change in policy: ” This is horrible. The images include those of random people, whether or not they are in the background of the photo, who you cannot take and ask them if they care if you post a photo that you just took, ” @itsblrose has raised. This and other comments have led to the debate on memes, which on many occasions have turned unknown individuals into celebrities. The question that arises is that, although Twitter does not intend to eliminate any image taken without consent (such as those of public figures or those that already circulated on the internet), what happens if a user is the first to upload a potential meme? ” Since most of the memes and gifs concern private individuals who have not given their permission to use their photo or video for that purpose, is Twitter going to ban memes and gifs from now on? ”, asked @russish.
The case of graphic humor may be anecdotal, but recordings or captures of human rights violations, such as the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, are of greater concern. Thanks to its publication, it gained a notoriety that greatly empowered the Black Lives Matter movement and triggered massive protests around the world to demand justice. What would have happened in that case with this new policy? Would the user who uploaded the video to the network be forced to delete it if, for example, the policeman convicted of his murder, Dereck Chauvin, had declared to Twitter that he had not been consulted at any time? The company clarifies it in its statement: ” We know that there are cases in which images or videos are shared with the intention of helping someone who is going through a critical situation (…) or as part of a news event of public interest , that can make security weigh more. ”
Journalism guru Jeff Jarvis has also expressed on the platform itself his doubts regarding the policy change, although he has gone further: “I am very confused. Does this mean that if I take a photo, for example, in Central Park, I need the permission of everyone who appears? ” Although Twitter has clarified: “Images or videos that show people participating in public events, such as protests or sports events, generally would not violate this policy.”
I am SO confused. Does this mean that if I take a picture of, say, a concert in Central Park, I need the permission of everyone in it? We diminish the sense of the public to the detriment of the public. https://t.co/z8OJGxPDFc
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) November 30, 2021
Instagram already had a form for those who wanted to request the removal of an image that they did not want to be on the platform, although the company recommends, first of all, ask the person who uploaded the photograph directly to delete it. Facebook, for its part, warns: ” If you are bothered by a photo in which you have been tagged, you can remove the tag. Facebook can’t get people to delete photos if they don’t violate our terms of service. ” The duty to request consent when uploading an image in which a second person appears continues to raise doubts. Some experts believe that when someone poses for a photograph, they are giving tacit consent, but for others, that is not a sufficient signal to indicate permission to publish, only agreement to appear in the image would be taken for granted. Twitter’s policy is more oriented to images taken without any kind of permission, so it does not seem that a selfie could cause problems for users.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.