Is Twitter's picture policy problematic?
The Twitterverse shouts that the sky is falling
The big discussion on Tuesday has been about a new Twitter policy that prohibits the sharing of pictures or videos of private individuals without consent. Many online voices are calling the new policy an attack on free speech and an excuse to ban more users. At this point, there are a lot of questions about the new policy, but personally, I doubt the alarmist predictions.
The policy was announced in the Tweet below, which says that the platform will “not allow the sharing of private media, such as images or videos of private individuals without their consent.” The tweet goes on to note that “publishing people’s private info” and threats are also prohibited.
The link in the tweet goes to a Twitter blog page. This blog entry notes that the new portion of Twitter’s terms of service makes it a violation to share the “media of private individuals without the permission of the person(s) depicted.” The question is what this means and how Twitter intends to enforce the policy.
It’s easy to see that most of the people holding forth on social media about the policy have not read the blog post. Reading a little further, Twitter offers an explanation of the new policy:
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.
The post goes on to add that the policy does not apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.” In other words, the policy is not going to be used to ban people who post pictures of say, Joe Biden, without his consent. The exception to this exception is “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.”
Some people are concerned that the policy is an attempt to kill memes, those amusing little editorial pictures that we all know and love. Would it be a violation of the Twitter policy to post a meme since you don’t have the consent of the person in the picture?
Well, let’s think about it. Most memes are public figures or stock images. Public figures are not included in the policy and people in stock photos gave their consent for the use of their image. Further, Twitter says that the policy will be enforced when they are notified of a violation of the policy. Would people in stock photos complain if their image is used when they’ve signed a release? Not likely.
There are areas where you might run into trouble, however. For instance, if you take a picture of someone on the street and turn them into a meme that could be a violation, but you’d probably only get into trouble if they saw it and complained. Likewise, if you take a video of someone having a public meltdown and throwing a hissy fit in a store, posting it to Twitter without consent would be a violation.
Two points are important here. The first is that Twitter is a private organization and has the right to set the rules for its forum. I’ve made this point many times before. If you don’t like the house rules, you should seek an alternative.
The second point is that there is zero evidence that Twitter’s new policy is about political suppression. The image policy seems aimed at the prevention of harassment and intimidation of people who are not in the public eye. It’s a policy against cyberbullying that is aimed at stopping things like online shaming and revenge porn.
An example of what would fall under the new rule is if an online troll copied your profile picture or a picture of your family and used it to insult or harass you. Maybe they’d tweet the picture and make fun of your appearance.
Twitter is not going to have an algorithm that will scour the platform, searching for violations either. If someone misuses your picture, you will be responsible for notifying Twitter and asking them to take action.
As far as I can tell, about 99 percent of the people talking about the new policy online didn’t bother to read the details of Twitter’s new rule. It’s much easier to just fire from the hip based on the 280 characters that you can read without clicking the link. It’s also easier to whip your followers into a frenzy if you construct a straw man rather than worrying about debating the actual details of the issue.
The idea of social media companies as censors is itself a meme. I don’t mean the humorous images, but the traditional definition of the word as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from one person to another in a culture.”
Who cares if Twitter isn’t really attacking political speech with the new policy? It fits our image of what we think Twitter is doing. To a certain extent, assuming the worst about social media companies regardless of the facts is something familiar and comfortable for certain segments of the American political spectrum. It’s an article of faith.
Maybe Twitter will use the policy to start deleting right-wing memes from the platform. It’s possible, but I’ll bet they won’t.
And when they don’t, you won’t hear the alarmists admitting that they were wrong. Instead, they’ll point to any banned user they can find as evidence that they were right all along.
Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” With the current crowd and their contrived crises, the operative principle is that you never admit that it wasn’t really a crisis in the first place.
If you want outrage and alarmism, read a tweet. If you want information, find a reliable source. In this case, that’s Twitter itself.
Also today, a book by Mark Meadows revealed that Donald Trump tested positive for COVID three days before his 2020 debate with Joe Biden. Molly Jong Fast tweets the details here.
Additionally, the Supreme Court hears arguments today in the Mississippi abortion case. We covered the details of the law back in May. Personally, I think we will see a split decision that leaves everyone unhappy.
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