Twitter Road Paved with Tweety Intentions

December 20, 2021

It did not take long for this well-intended change to go sideways. The Guardian reports, “‘So Vague, It Invites Abuse’: Twitter Reviews Controversial New Privacy Policy.” The platform was trying to prevent the very real problems of harassing and doxxing by penalizing those who share images of others without consent. Twitter had been warned by activist groups that the policy, created with little input from communities often targeted by doxxing and harassment, would backfire. Besides the rushed implementation and vague wording, Twitter’s historically obtuse automated appeals process was a concern. Reporter Johana Bhuiyan writes:

“Hours after the policy became public, users affiliated with far-right movements like the Proud Boys and others espousing QAnon conspiracies put out calls to their followers, urging them to weaponize the new rules to target activists who had posted about them. On 1 December, for example, a member of the far-right group National Justice Party posted a list of about 40 Twitter accounts of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists who research far-right groups. The member called on his more than 4,000 followers to report their posts: ‘Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor as we can take down Antifa, [gay slur] doxxing pages more easily,’ the post read.”

It worked immediately—see the article for several examples of resulting penalties and appeal results. We also learn:

“Reporters and photographers, too, have expressed concern. The new policy explicitly states Twitter will take into account whether the images are publicly available, being covered by journalists or adding to the public discourse… . Journalists have warned that leaving the decision of whether an image is newsworthy or adds to the public discourse to Twitter’s discretion could be problematic.”

For example, as National Press Photographers Association general counsel Mickey Osterreicher observes, Twitter seems blind to the established principle that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces. At least the company has admitted it was wrong in at least some of these decisions and is conducting an internal review of the policy. We shall see where it leads, if anywhere.

Cynthia Murrell, December 20, 2021


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