Twitter Bans Sharing Photos, Videos of "Private Individuals" Without Consent

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Twitter Bans Sharing Photos, Videos of "Private Individuals" Without Consent

Just one day after it was announced that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was stepping down from the position, the social media giant is causing a stir with some new announcements about an expansion of its privacy policy. Twitter announced today that its “private information policy” would be expanded to include media such as photos and videos, which effectively bans users from sharing photos or videos of private individuals without permission, at least in most cases. The company says this is a way to protect their users, as images or video of a person recorded and tweeted without their consent could potentially lead to harm against them, in addition to violating the user’s privacy.

The Twitter Safety team reasons in the announcement blog post that this change is simply an extension of the existing privacy policy, which already bans the sharing of private information about others, such as addresses or phone numbers. According to the team, the sharing of this information, including photos and video, “can have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents and members of minority communities,” in particular. Under the new system, material that is reported or flagged for violating the policy will be reviewed by Twitter and potentially removed. As always, Twitter can permanently suspend those who violate their policies.

Naturally, though, there are exceptions to the rules, and quite a lot of gray area that still needs to be figured out. The policy understandably does not extend to photos or videos of public figures, although the definition of who constitutes a “public figure” is hazy. Twitter says it will also allow images to remain if they “are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse,” which is an extremely vague way of saying that the policy doesn’t apply to newsworthy content. The obvious question, of course, is who the ultimate arbiter becomes in deciding what is and isn’t newsworthy, and when these policies should and shouldn’t be applied.

In particular, one has to wonder how the changes to the policy may affect breaking news as it occurs on Twitter, which is so often in the form of photos and videos taken via bystanders on the ground level. How might a video such as the police arrest and death of George Floyd be impacted by this sort of change the policy? Would the video be removed for the fact that it lacks the permission of those involved on screen? Or would that video “add value to public discourse,” and who makes the call? Much more information will likely be needed to determine whether such a change of policy is beneficial to Twitter’s users.