Twitter Alters Its Rules To Tackle Revenge Porn

Twitter has entered the battle against revenge porn, joining dozens of lawmakers, the FTC and Reddit. Twitter’s CEO admitted last month that his platform “sucks at dealing with abuse.” This has resulted in a policy tweak that forbids the posting of intimate photos without authorization and enables those on the receiving end of revenge porn/doxing/etc. to contact Twitter to have the tweets removed.

Posting another person’s private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter Rules.

Some examples of private and confidential information include:

  • credit card information
  • social security or other national identity numbers
  • addresses or locations that are considered and treated as private
  • non-public, personal phone numbers
  • non-public, personal email addresses
  • images or videos that are considered and treated as private under applicable laws
  • intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent

Like any law/policy, there will be exceptions. Twitter’s Rules go on to note that takedown requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis, rather than removing Tweets automatically when reported.

Keep in mind that although you may consider certain information to be private, not all postings of such information may be a violation of this policy. We may consider the context and nature of the information posted, local privacy laws, and other case-specific facts when determining if this policy has been violated. For example, if information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it may not be a violation of this policy.

Kashmir Hill, writing for Fusion, gathered more specifics from a Twitter employee:

I asked Twitter if there was a “Weiner exception.” How would this apply to a newsworthy intimate photo, such as the bulge-portrait then-Congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeted of himself which went viral and eventually led to his resignation from office? The Twitter employee said there will be a “newsworthiness exception.” So if your bulge or boobs are a front page story in the newspaper, Twitter may not take them down.

The policy also requires something that other sites (like Reddit) policing for revenge porn don’t: the takedown request must be made by the person whose personal photos/information are being disseminated without authorization. This will hopefully deter some potential abuse.

One catch is that you have to recognize yourself in the photo and report it; Twitter doesn’t want “body police” going through tweets and reporting every pornographic image they find. If an offending tweet is removed, all native retweets will disappear too, but you’ll have to report all manual RTs and any further postings of the photo or video.

Mary Anne Franks, the law prof currently engaged in crafting questionable revenge porn laws, says Twitter isn’t doing enough.

Franks, for one, thinks it’s problematic that bystanders can’t report the posting of explicit images of others. “Every minute private sexual material is available increases the number of people who can view it, download it, and forward it, so even if Twitter responds quickly to complaints, it may be too late to stop the material from going viral,” she said by email.

What Franks views as problematic is actually a practical safeguard. If you give removal power to everyone, it becomes a plaything for abusers.

Twitter will also try to determine whether the photos/info were actually posted without consent. However, at this point, the determination seems to largely rely on the takedown requester’s assertions. The statement won’t be legally binding or have any other repercussions other than possible suspension of the bogus requester’s account. And there appears to be no process in place for the accused to challenge revenge porn accusations.

On the whole, it’s not a terrible way to tackle revenge porn, even if it still leaves a lot to be desired. Certainly Twitter will be accused of censorship more frequently as this policy goes into effect, but as a private company, it can police user-generated content in any manner it sees fit. It’s up to those using the service to decide whether they want to coexist with the rule tweaks.

Twitter notes that it’s a work in progress. That, unfortunately, means the policy could possibly get much worse as Twitter “iterates” to fix “holes.” As much as some people (like Franks above) would prefer Twitter to take a more proactive approach to removing revenge porn, the highly-subjective nature requires a reactive stance. Any policy change will be abused by both sides of this equation, and what’s been implemented so far appears to be aimed at reducing collateral damage.

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