Twitter has a confusing new policy on what images you can post. Here’s what you need to know.

3D printed Facebook and Twitter logos are placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration taken Jan. 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Twitter tweeted an update to its rules changing what users can and can’t share on the site. Starting now, if you share an image or video of someone without their consent, the company can take it down – unless it’s in the public interest to leave it up.

Speculation ran wild. Is it OK to share images of crowds at sporting events, people asked in replies to the announcement? What about videos of abusive behavior? And what exactly falls within the public interest?

The policy update, which detractors from both sides of the political aisle are calling vague and potentially discriminatory, comes during a tumultuous week for the social network. Twitter chief Jack Dorsey stepped down this week after years of decreasing involvement in the company’s day-to-day operations, according to insiders. New CEO Parag Agrawal will lead the company as it tests new products and policies.

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Historically, Twitter’s attempts to moderate what happens on its site have been met with pushback such as when the company banned President Donald Trump for his alleged role in inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol in January, while others claim the company doesn’t do enough to protect vulnerable people, including women, minorities and activists, from harassment. The latest expansion of Twitter’s private information policy – which prohibits posting private information such as phone numbers and addresses without permission – made some people angry. But mostly it just made everyone confused.

Zoey Sterling, a sex worker in Miami who uses a pseudonym to protect her identity, was left with questions after reading Twitter’s blog post and multiple follow-up explanations. Twitter could use the policy to take down videos of police brutality, as officers presumably would not consent to having their images shared, she said. She worried that people who draw attention to abuse or injustice would find themselves in trouble for posting images without consent, as well. And can sex workers and other vulnerable people report images of themselves without having to reveal their legal names?

“This policy is not very clear. We don’t know what is OK and what isn’t OK,” Sterling said. “This is clearly a test run that they’re doing, but it’s not a test run that they really thought out.”

Other replies said Twitter would apply the policy unequally to silence conservative media coverage of protests and property damage. Several pointed out that the FBI tweeted photos of participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot without their consent, and they called for those photos to be taken down.

The new policy was designed primarily with markets outside the United States in mind, according to Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy. He cited a few examples of content that would be deletable under the policy expansion, such as images of rape victims or, hypothetically, images of women in Afghanistan who face offline harm for going outside without a burqa.

Here’s what we know about the policy so far.

Q: Do I need explicit permission from anyone I share a photo or video of on Twitter?

A: No. In this case, consent will be implied unless that person or someone authorized to act on their behalf reports the photo or video, according to Twitter.

Q: When does Twitter say it will leave up photos and videos without the subject’s consent?

A: Twitter may decline to take down a reported image if it is publicly available elsewhere, is being covered by the media, “adds value to the public discourse, is being shared in public interest, or is relevant to the community,” the company says. It offered no further definition of “public discourse,” “public interest” or “community.”

Q: Will Twitter take down videos of police officers on duty?

A: Whenever a photo or video is reported as nonconsensual, a moderation team will review it, according to Twitter’s Kennedy. Each decision depends on the context of the post. But Kennedy said that because police officers are considered public figures and work in the public sector, it’s unlikely the moderation team would take action against videos of police officers on duty.

Q: Can I share images of abuse or harassment without the alleged perpetrator’s consent?

A: Kennedy said abuse and harassment are considered newsworthy, so images of alleged abusers or harassers would not be taken down.

Q: Can I share screenshots of private conversations?

A: Yes, unless they contain private information such as phone numbers, physical addresses or email addresses.

Q: Can I share images of protesters?

A: In a follow-up tweet to its original announcement, Twitter said images of large-scale protests generally do not fall under the policy. However, Kennedy noted that following a protester to their home or taking additional steps to verify and share their identity would be in violation of the policy.

Q: Is sharing someone’s contact information without their consent always against the rules?

A: No. If that information is available publicly online, Twitter no longer considers it private information. Physical addresses, biometric information, financial information and identification documents are exceptions to this, the company says.

Q: What happens to people who violate the policy?

A: Depending on the severity of the violation and the number of times they’ve broken the rules, Twitter could do anything from removing the offending tweet to permanently suspending the account. Kennedy said the goal is always for the consequence to fit the severity of the infraction and that anyone who feels they were wrongly punished can appeal the decision.

Q: How do I report a photo or video I don’t want to be shared?

A: You can report someone who is posting your private information using the form found at this address: https://help.twitter.com/en/forms/safety-and-sensitive-content/private-information

 

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