Twitter recently adopted new rules for photos and videos on its platform with the aim of combating online harassment, but the result backfired, according to activists and experts who say that supporters of the American far-right are taking advantage of these changes to protect themselves and harass their opponents.
“We have become aware of a large number of malicious and coordinated reports, unfortunately our teams have made several mistakes,” Twitter told AFP.
“We have corrected these errors and are conducting an internal investigation to ensure these rules are being used in the appropriate manner,” the company added.
“Anyone with a Twitter account should report instances of doxing (the practice of disclosing private information about a person) for the following accounts,” the letter said, along with about a dozen account names on the network.
Pictures from 2019
The Twitter account of Philadelphia-based activist and researcher Gwen Snyder was banned this week following reports linked to a series of photos published in 2019 showing a local politician during a demonstration organized by the far-right group Proud Boys. Instead of appealing to Twitter, I preferred to delete the photos and speak out about what happened.
Snyder told AFP that “Twitter removing my work from its platform is very dangerous, and it will favor and encourage fascists.”
To justify its new policy, Twitter noted that “sharing personal content, such as photos or videos,” may “violate a person’s privacy and cause emotional or physical harm.”
But this rule does not apply to “public figures” or when “content associated with Tweets is shared in the public interest or in a way that adds value to public discussion.”
However, activist Chad Lauder’s account was banned in California, after reports linked to footage of an anti-vaccine rally and a confrontation outside the home of a former Vice reporter.
“Twitter says I have to delete my tweets that include pictures of people at a public event that the media has already followed, or I will never get my account back,” Lauder told AFP. He pointed out that this report was the third against his account within 48 hours.
“The extensive reporting by the far right constitutes the latest round of an ongoing and concerted effort to erase evidence of their crimes and wrongdoing,” he added.
It is noteworthy that Twitter announced its new policy the day after Parag Agrawal took over as president of the network, replacing Jack Dorsey, its co-founder.
Experts saw that these new rules are difficult to implement, despite the good intentions behind them. This is partly because the platform has become essential in identifying people associated with the far right, with Internet users turning themselves into investigators by publishing their names or identifying information.
Giving weapons to extremists
For his part, Michael Breen, head of Human Rights First, said, “Twitter has given extremists a new weapon to harm those most in need of protection and who highlight the danger.”
And Twitter announced Tuesday that it would allow users (with the exception of public figures) to request the removal of photos or videos in which they appear from the social network if they were published without their consent. But the network acknowledged Friday that implementing this procedure has encountered great difficulties.