Vermeer's "Girl With a Pear Earring" enforcing Twitter's new policy. (edit by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

Yesterday, Twitter announced a momentous new policy that is poised to change the way users share content on the platform. Moving forward, the social network will not allow the sharing of “private media, such as images or videos of private individuals” without the consent of the person depicted.

The move is an update to Twitter’s existing private information policy, which already banned users from posting personal information such as phone numbers, addresses, and IDs. Now, the list also includes media that could potentially violate a person’s privacy and lead to abuse. (A separate non-consensual nudity policy has been in place since 2019.)

“This policy update will help curb the misuse of media to harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of private individuals, which disproportionately impacts women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities,” Twitter said.

The guidelines are specifically meant to combat a form of online harassment known as doxing, which involves posting private or identifying information about an individual with malicious intent, Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy told the Washington Post.

What does this mean in practice? If their images are posted without their permission, users can flag the relevant tweet using this online dropbox and the platform’s trust and safety team will take down the content. There are some exceptions: the policy is not applicable in the case of “public figures or individuals” when a tweet is shared “in the public interest or add[s] value to public discourse,” or in instances where the images are meant help someone in crisis — such as in the aftermath of an accident or violent event. For instance, media documenting official misconduct, such as police abuse, might be kept on the site, according to the Post.

However, if the private media shared is meant to “harass, intimidate, or use fear to silence them,” Twitter may remove it in line with its policy against abusive behavior, which bans all targeted harassment.

The decision immediately followed the announcement of a new CEO for Twitter, former Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal, who is succeeding the company’s founder, Jack Dorsey. The leadership shift may be an opportunity to reassess Twitter’s strategies for dealing with harmful online behavior after Dorsey faced criticism for failing to address hate speech on the platform.

But some worry Twitter’s new guidelines will hinder social media’s ability to expose abuse, not just police misconduct but daily instances of violence or discrimination involving private citizens. The policy will require Twitter’s safety team to review each instance of private unauthorized content and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Twitter has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for additional information on how the policy will be enforced, including whether the company plans to hire additional or specialized staff to make these determinations.

The policy update comes in the wake of mounting allegations against another social media behemoth, Facebook (newly rebranded as Meta), related to the way users share and engage with content on the platform — such as Instagram’s impact on children and teenagers. In October, a former Facebook employee told US authorities that the social network’s efforts to remove child abuse material were “inadequate” and “under-resourced.”

Earlier this year, a federal judge approved a $650 million settlement in a privacy lawsuit against the company for its use of facial recognition software.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the Post that Twitter’s announcement was “long overdue.” The new policy, he added, will “hopefully will curtail the unimaginable harassment that people have gone through over the past decade and a half, where unauthorized use of the their [sic] images and personal information have been allowed to fester online and to do people harm.”

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...