Twitter is tightening its policies on harassment and graphic imagery following the deaths of Robin Williams and U.S. journalist James Foley, who was reportedly beheaded by jihadis in Syria. On Tuesday, the company stated it will now remove certain images of deceased individuals at the family’s request.
Twitter announced its clarified guidelines on images of deceased Twitter users soon after graphic images reportedly depicted Foley’s beheading by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria began circulating on the social media site. Twitter quickly deleted the images as they circulated and suspended many of accounts that were sharing them. Some of the accounts however, were reportedly reinstated.
Deleting images at the request of families is a conservative change for Twitter, which has proved a crucial tool for documenting and distributing news and information happening around the world. People regularly share graphic content and images, and the company suggests users mark media containing sensitive content to prevent it from automatically displaying in tweets.
Under the new guidelines, Twitter won’t delete just any image, however, and it makes it very clear in the updated policy that images can be removed in certain circumstances like immediately before and after death, but if images are newsworthy, they may not be scrubbed from social network.
In order to respect the wishes of loved ones, Twitter will remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances. Immediate family members and other authorized individuals may request the removal of images or video of deceased individuals, from when critical injury occurs to the moments before or after death, by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request.
The new policy also comes on the heels of Robin Williams’ death on Aug. 11. His daughter, Zelda Williams, received disturbing images and harassing comments following her father’s death that eventually led her to quit the social network.
In response, Twitter suspended the accounts that harassed her and Twitter promised to “evaluate its policies” around tragic events to prevent future behavior.
Lead image by Anthony Quintano