Twitter Bans Sharing Photos of Private Individuals Without Their Consent

Twitter Bans Sharing Photos of Private Individuals Without Their Consent
Photo: Alastair Pike, Getty Images

As part of Twitter’s never-ending attempt to thwart the doxxers and trolls that seem to lurk in every corner of its platform, the company overhauled its private information policies on Monday to explicitly ban sharing pictures or videos of private individuals without their consent.

Even before this update, Twitter’s existing policies on the types of personal information that can and can’t be shared were already pretty robust. Until now, Twitter barred users from sharing information like a person’s home address, private phone numbers or emails, credit card numbers, or medical information. (Whether Twitter is good at enforcing its own policies is a different issue.) And the company’s had similar rules in place for banning revenge porn since early 2015. Now, the company’s extending user protections to all forms of filmed and photographed media — even if they’re not porn-related in the least.

“Sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm,” Twitter wrote in an announcement about the policy change. “The misuse of private media can affect everyone, but can have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”

In these sorts of cases, Twitter won’t proactively remove the offending pic or clip that was tweeted out. Instead, the company states that it needs a “first person report” to determine whether the media actually features some sort of imagery being shared without the victim’s permission. These reports can either come from the person being depicted in the offending post, or from some sort of legal representative, like a guardian or lawyer.

“When we are notified by individuals depicted, or by an authorised representative, that they did not consent to having their private image or video shared, we will remove it,” Twitter wrote. And while that sounds like a fine policy, it’s worth remembering that these sorts of policies cut both ways. Under the new rules, activists and ex-girlfriends who have their photos pasted online can demand Twitter take them down, but so can… anyone else. In cases where people use Twitter to circulate clips showing horrific examples of police brutality, for example, the cops in said clips could, theoretically, reach out to Twitter and demand they be taken down. But there’s always the argument that cops are public figures.

As for the accounts that run afoul of this new policy, Twitter notes that it will put a temporary lock on the profile until whoever’s behind it takes the media down.

There are two major exemptions to Twitter’s new update, though. First, these new policies don’t apply to media featuring public figures like political figures or celebrities — so you’re still free to tweet out pictures of Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian to your heart’s content. Second, the new policy doesn’t apply to pics or clips that are “shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

Ostensibly, a picture of some random person online wouldn’t be a boon for the public discourse, but what about the aforementioned cop clips, or any other example where media gets harnessed to increase accountability? Ultimately, “public interest” or “add[ed] value” are squishy phrases that Twitter will need to define for itself, depending on the media in question. We’ve reached out to the company to see if it can clarify what either of those phrases might actually mean. Until then, it’s worth being a bit wary of sharing any Faces on the platform, unless they’re already in the public eye.