Fascists Are Already Weaponizing Twitter’s New ‘Private Media’ Rule

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Fascists Are Already Weaponizing Twitter’s New ‘Private Media’ Rule
The Twitter logo.
The Twitter logo.
Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP (Getty Images)

Twitter’s new rule against posting “private media,” such as photographs and videos, depicting other people without their consent is already being exploited by fascists and white supremacists who are taking the opportunity to target anti-extremism researchers and activists.

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On Tuesday, Twitter announced that it would be adding “media of private individuals without the permission of the person(s) depicted” to the list of information, such as home addresses, identity documents, and contact or financial information, that cannot be shared without consent. The rule is ostensibly intended to protect Twitter users from harassment. Twitter specifically mentioned demographics such as “women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities,” as well as specified it is “not applicable to media featuring public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.” Other factors that it said it may take into account is whether the media involves a “newsworthy event” with “public interest value” or “is being covered by mainstream/traditional media.”

At the same time, the policy update raised some immediate red flags. Twitter is enforcing it retroactively, meaning that pretty much any user who has been around long enough could theoretically find themselves penalized. And not only is the Venn diagram of “newsworthy” and “information someone doesn’t want published” effectively a circle, but the neo-fascist movement also relies heavily on anonymity to avoid personal consequences for their public behavior. Journalists who write about extremism regularly rely on tips from people outside the media, including academic and non-profit researchers, to expose the identities and behavior of white supremacists and fascists. The reporting system also puts the onus on the reported account to justify why a piece of media was newsworthy or in the public interest after the fact. Twitter’s no doubt overburdened force of content moderators can’t possibly be expected to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the far-right, let alone the time to research each report extensively.

Twitter’s announcement thus immediately attracted the attention of far-right extremists who saw the opportunity to game the site’s moderation systems for revenge. According to Vice, one prominent neo-Nazi on messaging app Telegram told their followers, “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favour as we can take down Antifa doxxing pages more easily. Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts to deplatform.” The Washington Post reported that on white supremacist hub Gab, one user claimed to have filed over 50 reports with the comment, “It’s time to stay on the offensive.”