Illustration for article titled Twitter bans nonconsensual intimate photos, a.k.a. revenge porn

It has historically been a nightmare if nude or intimate photos of you made their way out onto the Internet. Beyond the sheer embarrassment of exposure, it was very, very hard to get those photos removed. If pleas to websites to take down revealing pics posted by vengeful exes or hackers didn't work, women — and occasionally men — resorted to creative legal threats, claiming copyright over scandalous selfies or filing lawsuits saying that the posting was an invasion of privacy. Websites, protected from liability for what their users posted, were often unsympathetic and legally in the clear. But the tide is starting to change around nonconsensual porn — also called "revenge porn" — with social media platforms making it easier for people to get pics they never wanted publicly exposed taken down. Last month, Reddit banned revenge porn. On Wednesday, Twitter followed suit.


Technically, Twitter added this clause to its rules: "You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject's consent." So if your vengeful ex decides to tweet a graphic present you bestowed upon him when you were dating, you'll now be able to report it and Twitter says it will take it down "in a timely manner." In a recent blog post, Twitter said it's tripled the size of its abuse response team, and responds to reports far more quickly now, though the company doesn't give out specific numbers.

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Since its founding, Twitter has been a company that privileges free speech over all else, historically wading into the tweet stream only to get rid of spam. But the Twitter bird is now changing its tune. Earlier this year, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo sent a memo out to company employees admitting the company "sucks at dealing with abuse." A Twitter employee involved in the roll-out of the revenge porn ban — who declined to be named because the company doesn't have any employees publicly commenting on the new policy — says the ban was in the works long before Costolo's email went out, and that it will be one of many updates the company is doing in the safety area.

Advocates were pleased by the move. "We think Twitter’s policy change is an excellent step forward, and we hope it is the sign of a positive trend for Silicon Valley tech companies," says Colette Vogele, a lawyer and founder of Without My Consent, a non-profit that helps people who have been the victims of nonconsensual porn posting. Mary Anne Franks of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative said by email, "Twitter is making it clear that private sexual information should be treated with at least as much respect as other forms of private information, e.g. home addresses or social security numbers."

So, how exactly will this thing work? I asked the employee just how intimate a photo needs to be for a person to take it down. Does it need to be X-rated or could it be a "nonconsensual" underwear bulge or side boob shot? He said that while there's no hard-and-fast rule on what counts as intimate, the company is trying to get at the 'range of horrendous behaviors that people engage in' including not just full frontals and lingerie shots, but up-skirt photos and perhaps even what Reddit likes to call "creep shots," revealing photos taken of unsuspecting women in public.

One catch is that you have to recognize yourself in the photo and report it; Twitter doesn't want "body police" going through tweets and reporting every pornographic image they find.  If an offending tweet is removed, all native retweets will disappear too, but you'll have to report all manual RTs and any further postings of the photo or video. Twitter does not yet have a technical way to block a given photo once it's been flagged as banned, though the company is working on it. Franks, for one, thinks it's problematic that bystanders can't report the posting of explicit images of others. "Every minute private sexual material is available increases the number of people who can view it, download it, and forward it, so even if Twitter responds quickly to complaints, it may be too late to stop the material from going viral," she said by email.


I asked Twitter if there was a "Weiner exception." How would this apply to a newsworthy intimate photo, such as the bulge-portrait then-Congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeted of himself which went viral and eventually led to his resignation from office? The Twitter employee said there will be a "newsworthiness exception." So if your bulge or boobs are a front page story in the newspaper, Twitter may not take them down.

Interestingly, in sharing this news with the press, Twitter circulated an email that answered questions Buzzfeed posed to Reddit after it banned revenge porn. Reddit's response to Buzzfeed's Charlie Warzel are in purple, while Twitter's are in yellow.


You have to admit the nude photo is yours:

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If you once made the nude photo public but now don't want it public anymore, you're out of luck:

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People who post nonconsensual porn get their accounts suspended until they delete it:

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You're going to have to police it every time you see your nude photo pop up again, at least for now:

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"We’ll see how it rolls out and how effective it is," said the Twitter employee. "And we’ll iterate as we see holes."

But ideally, on Twitter, with this change, you'll be seeing fewer holes that people don't want you to see.


Editor's note: This version of the story clarifies that the Twitter employee agreed to speak with us only on background.

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