By Nicole Lyn Pesce
The day after Jack Dorsey stepped down as CEO of Twitter and handed the reins to Parag Agrawal , the social media site updated its private information policy — which has raised a lot of questions among users.
Twitter Inc. tweeted its new private media policy on Tuesday morning, which noted that while sharing images is “an important part of folks’ experience on Twitter … People should have a choice in determining whether or not a photo is shared publicly.”
So beginning Tuesday, “we will not allow the sharing of private media, such as images or videos of private individuals without their consent,” the company tweeted, along with a link to the full private information policy.
The new policy has raised concerns about whether users would be able to tweet images from parades, protests or events filled with private individuals, as well as whether law enforcement, journalists or private citizens could share images of crimes or violent acts being committed — such as the death of George Floyd or the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — without getting the permission of the individuals featured in the videos or images.
In fact, the thread was soon retweeted and quote-tweeted more than 2,000 times, and drew more than 100 comments.
“Sooo….. under this policy, the FBI would not have had the ability to search for January 6 people on here…. local law enforcement can’t post images of criminals they’re searching for… and missing children’s images can’t be posted to help find them… got it,” wrote comedian and columnist Tim Young in the comments beneath Twitter’s post.
“What is a ‘private individual?’” asked another. “Are protesters in the street ‘private individuals’ and protected from filming? Or is this policy intended to cover non-public settings?”
“What about photos of us with our families or friends?” asked another confused user in the comments. “What if a random stranger is in the background?”
On a lighter note, private individuals that become the faces of memes could now have a stronger means for scrubbing their images from Twitter. Or, as one person in the comments mused, “the people featured in memes will be inundated with consent requests to allow the meme to be posted, even if they are famous.”
Several others worried about the impact the policy could have on local news coverage.
Twitter’s expanded private media policy does suggest that there will be exceptions made “when media and accompanying Tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse,” which could describe the videos of Floyd and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, or similar newsworthy events.
Twitter’s policy statement also reads, “We recognize that there are instances where account holders may share images or videos of private individuals in an effort to help someone involved in a crisis situation, such as in the aftermath of a violent event, or as part of a newsworthy event due to public interest value, and this might outweigh the safety risks to a person.”
And some in the comments noted that U.S. laws related to street photography deem any image taken in a public space, such as a parade or protest in a street or a park, as fair use; a photographer doesn’t need to get consent from the subjects, since there is no right to privacy in public . But taking a picture of someone in their home and posting it without their permission could be seen as violating their privacy.
“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” Twitter concluded. “For instance, we would take into consideration whether the image is publicly available and/or is being covered by mainstream/traditional media (newspapers, TV channels, online news sites), or if a particular image and the accompanying tweet text adds value to the public discourse, is being shared in public interest, or is relevant to the community.”