Twitter mistakenly suspended users after extremists abused its private image policy

The company was flooded with bogus reports.

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NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2020/10/14: A man wearing a face mask walks past a Twitter logo outside their New York City headquarters.
Facebook and Twitter took steps to limit the spread of a controversial New York Post article critical of Joe Biden, sparking outrage among conservatives and stoking debate over how social media platforms should tackle misinformation ahead of the US election. (Photo by John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you were worried people might abuse Twitter's new policy banning non-consensual image sharing, your fears were well-founded. The social network told The Washington Post it suspended the accounts of 12 journalists and anti-extremism researchers by mistake after far-right activists and white supremacists sent a "coordinated and malicious" flurry of bogus reports attempting to silence critics. It wasn't clear how many reports had been sent beyond a "significant amount."

The company said it was already reversing bans and had begun an internal review to make sure the policy was used "as intended." More data on the volume of false accusations would come later. Some of the extremists' targets were still banned as of the Post's story.

The rule bars users from sharing private photos and videos without the subject's permission. It also forbids people from threatening to share that content or spurring others to leak it. There are exceptions for posts where the media might offer "value to public discourse." At least one of the banned targets was merely sharing public photos of known figures, however.

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This misuse doesn't come as a complete shock. Critics were already concerned the measure was too vaguely worded to prevent misuse. It might stifle amateur investigators sifting through readily available data, for instance. While Twitter might not want to overhaul its policy, it wouldn't be surprising if there were clarifications or tweaks to limit potential abuses going forward.

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