News & Events, Tech

Expert says Twitter’s photo ban will negatively effect memes

They can’t seem to win.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Jan 11, 2022

Twitter released a new privacy policy at the end of November in an effort to defend against harassment and intimidation. The policy bans the sharing of “private” photographs and videos without agreement.


The policy

The social media platform’s new privacy policy prohibits the sharing of personal information. Some experts, including Dr. Giulia Gentile, a data protection and digital human rights specialist, explains what implications this will have on popular memes, celebrity images, and journalism.


According to the blog post posted by Twitter, the policy states that:


“Sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm. The misuse of private media can affect everyone, but can have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities”  therefore it is banning “media of private individuals without the permission of the person(s) depicted.”


Users will be able to report other users who are sharing their photographs under the new policy, and complaints will be reviewed by Twitter-appointed moderators. The account that posted the item will be removed if the complaint is found to be valid and the content was not shared for journalistic or public interest purposes.


How this will affect social media

While the policy change is well-intentioned, its phrasing is ambiguous and leaves a lot up to Twitter’s interpretation. Dr. Giulia Gentile, a fellow in law at LSE law school and an expert in data protection and digital human rights, shared insight on how this could affect social media at large.


Gentile says that the new policy permits Twitter to decide what is newsworthy, citing occurrences such as George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 and the U.S. Capitol brawl last January, both of which gained widespread publicity on social media thanks to non-consensual videos. As a result, she claims, the platform may “disproportionately favor some interests over others” because it is a private firm.


She notes that the software will be able to carry two connected evaluations for memes, which are often generated at random from private photographs, she explains:


“First, how the memes contribute to the public debate, and, second, whether they may remain online or not, also taking into account the context in which these images are shared. These rules have an evident chilling effect on the publication and circulation of memes. […] Users may be potentially prevented from accessing news and thus information that contributes to the public debate as a result of Twitter’s decisions.”


Similarly, shared celebrity images will be assessed to see if they are of public interest or if they are designed to harass or threaten the person. The strategy could also be a preventative measure to avoid complying with privacy laws.


While the policy’s efficacy remains unknown, Gentile says that Twitter’s right to decide which content is allowed, who counts as a public figure, and what is newsworthy is a ​​“complicated assessment which goes at the core of democratic systems.” She also states that “It would be highly problematic to allow Twitter to conduct this evaluation,” going against this decision and inviting us to consider the repercussions of it.


Twitter implemented a feature to warn you about “bad vibes” in a discussion last year and also went full commit on crypto by hiring a full team for it.