Well, that didn’t take very long.
Then, after less than a day had passed, Twitter announced a new policy about what people are allowed to post on Twitter — a change that proved quite controversial, and that left many users wondering if it would radically alter the utility of the social media platform.
Here’s what happened. In a post on its corporate blog Tuesday morning, Twitter announced that it was changing its “private information policy,” to reflect that users can no longer share “media of private individuals without the permission of the person(s) depicted.”
“Media” apparently means photos, videos — basically images of people who don’t want to be shared on Twitter.
As thousands of Twitter users pointed out, however, according to a strict interpretation of this new rule, many images that had gone viral on Twitter and even sparked significant social change over the past few years might well have been banned:
- “So what you’re saying is we won’t be able to share video online that might include circumstances like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd because it’s ‘private,’ but led to the arrest and conviction of the men who murdered them? Is that what you’re saying?” (@NYSnarkyMommie)
- “Sooo….. under this policy, the FBI would not have had the ability to search for January 6 people on here…. local law enforcement can’t post images of criminals they’re searching for… and missing children’s images can’t be posted to help find them… got it.” (@TimRunsHisMouth)
- “What does this even mean? You can’t share a meme? You can share a video of a car crash? You can’t reshare someone’s video with commentary without their ok? Insanity.” (@caroljsroth)
A few hours after the initial @TwitterSafety announcement, Twitter posted an additional five-tweet thread designed to “unpack” the new policy it had unveiled. Also, Twitter asked users to go and read the company’s entire 800-word blog post announcing the change.
Now, I’m a lawyer. I haven’t practiced law in a few years (writing is often more fun), but I’m still pretty good at reading dense legal documents, contracts, and terms of service, to try to figure out what they really mean.
One problem that I think might have hurt Twitter here is that its new policy uses the same word, “media,” to refer to two completely different things (albeit with different adjectives in front of it). Specifically, it’s used in these two contexts:
- “private media,” meaning images, photos, and videos; and
- “mainstream/traditional media,” such as “newspapers, TV channels [and] online news sites.”
This leads to the following confusing (but accurate) statement:
Under Twitter’s new rules, “mainstream/traditional media” users might be entitled to post some “private media” on Twitter that non-media users might not be allowed to post, unless that “private media” was also posted by “mainstream/traditional media” users.
Make sense? My head hurts a bit writing it.
But the good news is that based on my reading of the policy and Twitter’s “unpacking,” it appears that a lot of the things Twitter users are concerned about — “media” that, as Twitter puts it, might “add value to the public discourse” or “contain eyewitness accounts or on the ground reports from developing events” — would probably still be allowed.
Maybe. Probably. At least, I think so. There’s a lot of discretion for Twitter baked into the policy.
But since Twitter is a non-governmental entity that can arguably adopt whatever policies it wants with regard to content anyway (or no policies at all), I suppose it’s progress that there is now something written, which people can point to and argue about.
So, let’s bring this back to the “other” main point, which is that this is Day 2 of the Agrawal era at Twitter, and this is the 22nd paragraph of this article, and yet it’s only the second time the new CEO’s name has even come up–in a story that’s about the biggest daily kerfuffle at Twitter.
I think that probably tells us one of three things:
- First, maybe Agrawal decided to make a big policy splash with users right out of the gate, and then stood back afterward.
- Second, maybe he didn’t realize that the changes to the “private information policy” would spark such controversy.
- Or else, perhaps the people in charge of the policy just didn’t tell the new boss what they’d planned to announce today.
Any of these alternatives would be interesting. Even if today’s controversy disappears, and life doesn’t really change, and users wind up posting exactly what they would have before the new policy, it’s an intriguing way to take the helm of one of the most influential social media companies on the planet.
With that, let’s end by sharing the photo of Dorsey and Agrawal that Agrawal posted on Twitter yesterday, right around the time @TwitterSafety was making its announcements.
I’m pretty sure this one is allowed under the new policy.