Damakant Jayshi

Citing privacy and security concerns, Twitter this week announced a ban on sharing people’s photos and videos without their permission – with exceptions related to ‘public’ figures and matters of public interest.

This ban adds to the social media platform’s existing policy of not allowing sharing of private information, “such as phone numbers, addresses, and IDs,” officials said.

The announcement comes a day after Twitter’s Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal became the company’s chief executive. Jack Dorsey announced his resignation on Monday.

“There are growing concerns about the misuse of media and information that is not available elsewhere online as a tool to harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals,” said Twitter Safety, in a blog post on Tuesday. “Sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”

There are exceptions, though.

“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 company said. “However, if the purpose of the 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, we may remove the content in line with our policy against abusive behavior. Similarly, private nude images of public individuals will continue to be actioned under our non-consensual nudity policy.”

Other exceptions include sharing images during crisis with the motive to help or get assistance to those in need, images that are publicly available or shared by traditional media, or are considered in the public’s interest.

Abusive behavior on social media platforms such as Facebook (now Meta), Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter has been widespread. According to a Plan International report in 2020, such abuses “are most common on Facebook, where 39% say they have suffered harassment, but occur on every platform included in the global study including Instagram (23%), WhatsApp (14%), Snapchat (10%), Twitter (9%) and TikTok (6%).”

This research was based on a survey of 14,000 girls aged 15-25 in 22 countries, including the U.S., India and Brazil.

Abuse and harassment are also rampant across the globe and target women and minorities in particular, sometimes with explicit and implicit encouragement of governments in countries where rule of law is selectively enforced or near absent. Authoritarian governments and their apologists have taken to abuse, harass and threaten dissidents.

Twitter acknowledged such harassment.

“The misuse of private media can affect everyone, but can have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities,” company officials said. “When we receive a report that a Tweet contains unauthorized private media, we will now take action in line with our range of enforcement options.

While Facebook (Meta) has so far not announced such direct intervention for abusive behavior, the company has a policy regarding sharing “intimate images” without consent. The social media giant has outlined steps to get such content removed their images removed under ‘Not Without My Consent’ policy.

Facebook officials say if a person wants to report images being shared elsewhere on the web, they can use the online removal guide created by Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.