Saturday, January 22

“So Lazy It Invites Abuse”: Twitter Discusses Controversial New Privacy Policy | Twitter

Twitter is reviewing a controversial policy that penalizes users who share images of other users without their consent.

In a statement, Twitter said Wednesday that the company was conducting an “internal review” of the policy after making several errors in the application.

“After this was implemented, we became aware of a significant number of malicious and coordinated reports and, unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several mistakes,” said Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy. “We have corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to ensure this policy is being used as intended – to curb the misuse of the media to harass or intimidate individuals.”

The policy was announced last week and is intended to protect users against doxxing and harassment, two frequent problems on the platform.

The platform now allows users to report other users who tweet “private media that is not available elsewhere online as a tool to harass, intimidate and reveal people’s identities.” If a review concludes that the complaint has merit and the image was not used for a journalistic or public interest purpose, those accounts are deactivated.

Activists were quick to warn that the policy as published would backfire. The policy was vague and had been crafted without much input from communities most vulnerable to harassment and doxxing, activists argued. They had little faith in Twitter’s complaints and appeals process, which they described as unreliable, automated, and allowing little discussion of policy enforcement.

And indeed, hours after the policy was made public, users affiliated with far-right movements like the Proud Boys and others who adhere to the QAnon conspiracies called out their followers, urging them to use the new rules as weapons to attack activists who had posted about them.

On December 1, for example, a member of the far-right group National Justice Party posted a list of some 40 Twitter accounts of anti-racist and anti-fascist activists investigating far-right groups. The member asked his more than 4,000 followers to report on his posts: “Due to the new privacy policy on Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor as we can end Antifa, [gay slur] doxxing pages more easily, ”the post read.

The effect was almost immediate. Twitter blocked the Miami Against Fascism account, which is run by a group of activists working to expose far-right extremists, after someone reported a July 14 retweet of an image of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio. The original image of Tarrio, who is serving a five-month sentence for two crimes including setting fire to a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a historically black church, was tweeted by a local journalist covering a school board meeting in the one Tarrio was demonstrating outside.

“Supposedly, the policy is that [reports] it can only come from individuals who report themselves, ”said Diego, one of the Miami Against Fascism members whom The Guardian only identifies by first name for fear of retaliation. “But I think people are doing it on behalf of other people. And I don’t think Twitter is verifying it. For example, Enrique Tarrio is in jail right now. You cannot report these tweets personally. “

Gwen Snyder, a Pittsburgh-based activist, was unable to access her account via a Twitter thread that identified a mayoral candidate and those attending the Capitol riot who had participated in a local Proud Boys rally. Screenshots Snyder shared with The Guardian show that Twitter gave him the option to delete the tweets and reset his account. But deleting the tweets would mean that she acknowledged that they had “violated Twitter’s rules.” Snyder, who had handled the Twitter appeal and support process in the past, had no faith in the process and decided to delete the tweets to gain access to his account.

“They gave the option to appeal,” Snyder said. “I didn’t, because I felt it was important to post about [the policy] timely. I’ve also had bad experiences with Twitter’s reporting and appeals process. “

“It’s really difficult to communicate with Twitter in any way without the press,” he said.

Twitter admitted that it had been a mistake to block Snyder’s account after reporters drew attention to his case. In an email to Snyder, the company wrote that it had reconsidered its judgment and that the tweets in question did not violate its new policy. The company did not indicate whether it was reinstating the tweets or changing the policy.

Another group of activists working to expose far-right extremists, the Collective of Comrades Anonymous, reported that their account was blocked by a tweet that was linked to a blog post that exposed the legal name of “Vic Mackey,” the host of the podcast Bowlcast, who ran a group of internet trolls called the “Bowl Patrol” and had threatened journalists. “Bowl,” the group said in an email to the Guardian, refers to the haircut worn by neo-Nazi shooter Dylann Roof.

“When we expose white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racists who wish to hide behind the Internet, we present sources that are publicly available, such as public posts on social media that are intended for public consumption,” the group wrote in an email. “The way the Twitter policy is written … makes the open media subject to arbitrary criteria. It requires that we obtain permission from a neo-Nazi to use a photo that would otherwise be available for anyone to see, which is absurd. “

“Twitter’s policy is written so vaguely that it invites abuse,” the Collective said in an email.

Social media platforms have long been plagued by issues like doxxing and harassment. Far-right groups have frequently used tactic of doxxing (posting private or identifying information of someone on the Internet) to target activists and journalists and even families of mass shooting victims as in Sandy Hook. Since then, anti-fascist and anti-racist activists have adopted some elements of that strategy by revealing the identities of members of far-right groups and individuals, particularly those accused of violence.

The response from Facebook and Twitter has historically been to remove content when it is reported for exposing private information about an individual. But activists say the broad nature of the new rules makes them ineffective and ripe for abuse against the most vulnerable groups.

“It’s really important to recognize that the people who are hit by mass harassment, and therefore the people who will be hit by the abuse of policies like this, are disproportionately women, people of color, trans people, and other marginalized groups.” Snyder said. .

Reporters and photographers have also expressed concern. The new policy explicitly states that Twitter will consider whether images are publicly available, covered by journalists, or added to public discourse (the three conditions that Snyder and Diego argue apply to their tweets).

Journalists have warned that leaving the decision of whether an image is newsworthy or adds to public discourse to Twitter’s discretion could be problematic. Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Association of Press Photographers, argued that with its new rules, Twitter did not appear to take into account that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces. Enforcing the policy, he said, would undermine “the ability to report newsworthy events by creating non-existent privacy rights.”

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