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Twitter reportedly suspended accounts by mistake after extremists abused new private media policy

Twitter reportedly suspended accounts by mistake after extremists abused new private media policy


Far-right activists attempted to use the policy to remove photos of themselves at hate rallies

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Illustration by Alex Castro

Twitter has reportedly suspended a number of accounts by mistake after far-right extremists began exploiting the platform’s new private media policy, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The platform has since launched an internal review of the matter and has made the necessary corrections, The Post notes. Twitter’s new policy, which allows individuals to request takedowns of photos or videos that contain them, has become the target of far-right activists who seek to remove pictures of them taken at hate rallies. The platform originally said that the rule was put in place to “curb the misuse of media to harass, intimate, and reveal the identities of private individuals,” which Twitter says disproportionately affects “women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”

As The Post notes, extremists began abusing Twitter’s new system shortly after it debuted. Far-right activists reportedly used services like Telegram and Gab to organize against anti-extremist accounts that work to expose and keep track of white supremacists at hate rallies — they sought to get these accounts suspended and have their personal photos removed (via The Washington Post).

As The Post points out, some extremist researchers learned that their accounts had been suspended for violating the platform's rules “against posting media of an individual from a country with a recognized right to privacy law” the same day that Twitter launched the policy.

“We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors,” Twitter spokeswoman Siobhan Murphy told The Verge. “We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended — to curb the misuse of media to harass or intimidate private individuals.”

Twitter has faced criticism over the vague wording of its new policy, specifically because of the ramifications it could have on journalists or other users who have a legitimate reason for posting others’ photos online. In a thread on the feature’s launch day, Twitter said that it “will take into consideration whether the image is publicly available and/or is being covered by journalists,” and that “images/videos that show people participating in public events (like large scale protests, sporting events, etc.) would generally not violate this policy.”

It remains unclear if Twitter plans on taking steps to clarify this policy, and whether it will specifically outline what types of personal photos are and aren’t allowed on the platform.

Update December 5th, 4:00PM ET: Updated to add a statement from a Twitter spokesperson.