After boycott, Twitter targets 'creep shots,' hate symbols

Twitter emails its Trust and Safety Council about how the company will tackle abusive behavior after a protest prompted the CEO to promise change.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
7 min read

Twitter is providing more details about revisions to its harassment policies, following a high-profile protest of the platform and a series of tweets by CEO Jack Dorsey, who said changes were on the way.

The company on Tuesday updated its Trust and Safety Council on changes it made to its content policies. The modifications include giving users who've received unwanted sexual advances on the social network the power to report them. Twitter is also prohibiting "Creep shots" and hidden camera content under the category of "non-consensual nudity." 


Twitter gave its Trust and Safety Council a list of new rules it plans to enforce to curb abuse. 


The company intends to hide hate symbols behind a "sensitive image" warning, but it hasn't said what qualifies as a hate symbol. 

In its email to the Trust and Safety Council, Twitter said it also will take unspecified actions against "organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause." 

The update comes four days after Dorsey tweeted that the social network would be rolling out changes to how it monitors content and protects its 328 million users from online bullying and harassment. Dorsey's tweets came in response to Friday's #WomenBoycottTwitter protest, which urged people to forgo tweeting for a day to pressure Twitter into improving how it vets content.

Twitter said in a statement Tuesday it's acting fast to make the changes.

"We hope our approach and upcoming changes, as well as our collaboration with the Trust and Safety Council, show how seriously we are rethinking our rules and how quickly we're moving to update our policies and how we enforce them," the company said.

The Anti-Defamation League, which is working with Twitter and other tech companies to combat the abuse, praised the moves. 

"We are pleased to see Twitter is responding with new concrete actions, including aggressive enforcement of their rules and hiding hate symbols," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. "Given the seriousness of the threat, there is much more to do."

Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, a member of Twitter's Trust and Safety Council, said Tuesday he was impressed by the changes. He said he plans to ask the council, a group of more than 60 organizations and experts working to prevent abuse, to meet and review the changes "sooner rather than later." 

"This is just another indication of the company maturing," Balkam said. "I would love to have a full and robust discussion about the changes and what else needs to be done."

Dorsey said in his tweets Friday that the changes would go into effect in "the next few weeks." On Wednesday, Dorsey tweeted that the company will publicly release a calendar on Thursday specifying the dates certain changes will take effect. 

"This makes us feel uncomfortable because it's a work in progress & rough," he said, "but it's the right thing to do: we believe showing our thinking and work in real-time will help build trust." 

Abusive behavior has been a blight on the social network for years. Some particularly ugly episodes occurred last year, including a hate mob attacking Leslie Jones, a star of last summer's "Ghostbusters" movie.

Robin Williams' death in 2015 led some Twitter users to send vicious messages to his daughter, prompting her to delete the app from her phone. That same month, Anita Sarkeesian, an academic highlighting how women are portrayed in video games, was so disturbed by the tweets she received that she fled her home, fearing for her safety.

Here's Tuesday's email in full:

Dear Trust & Safety Council members,

I'd like to follow up on Jack's Friday night Tweetstorm about upcoming policy and enforcement changes.  Some of these have already been discussed with you via previous conversations about the Twitter Rules update. Others are the result of internal conversations that we had throughout last week.

Here's some more information about the policies Jack mentioned as well as a few other updates that we'll be rolling out in the weeks ahead.

Non-consensual nudity

Current approach

--We treat people who are the original, malicious posters of non-consensual nudity the same as we do people who may unknowingly Tweet the content. In both instances, people are required to delete the Tweet(s) in question and are temporarily locked out of their accounts. They are permanently suspended if they post non-consensual nudity again.

Updated approach

--We will immediately and permanently suspend any account we identify as the original poster/source of non-consensual nudity and/or if a user makes it clear they are intentionally posting said content to harass their target.

--We will do a full account review whenever we receive a Tweet-level report about non-consensual nudity. If the account appears to be dedicated to posting non-consensual nudity then we will suspend the entire account immediately.

--Our definition of "non-consensual nudity" is expanding to more broadly include content like upskirt imagery, "creep shots," and hidden camera content. Given that people appearing in this content often do not know the material exists, we will not require a report from a target in order to remove it. While we recognize there's an entire genre of pornography dedicated to this type of content, it's nearly impossible for us to distinguish when this content may/may not have been produced and distributed consensually. We would rather error on the side of protecting victims and removing this type of content when we become aware of it.

Unwanted sexual advances

Current approach

--Pornographic content is generally permitted on Twitter, and it's challenging to know whether or not sexually charged conversations and/or the exchange of sexual media may be wanted. To help infer whether or not a conversation is consensual, we currently rely on and take enforcement action only if/when we receive a report from a participant in the conversation.

Updated approach

--We are going to update the Twitter Rules to make it clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable. We will continue taking enforcement action when we receive a report from someone directly involved in the conversation. Once our improvements to bystander reporting go live, we will also leverage past interaction signals (eg things like block, mute, etc) to help determine whether something may be unwanted and action the content accordingly.

Hate symbols and imagery (new)

--We are still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy. At a high level, hateful imagery, hate symbols, etc will now be considered sensitive media (similar to how we handle and enforce adult content and graphic violence).

--More details to come.

Violent groups (new)

--We are still defining the exact scope of what will be covered by this policy. At a high level, we will take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause.

--More details to come here as well (including insight into the factors we will consider to identify such groups).

Tweets that glorify violence (new)

--We already take enforcement action against direct violent threats ("I'm going to kill you"), vague violent threats ("Someone should kill you") and wishes/hopes of serious physical harm, death, or disease ("I hope someone kills you"). Moving forward, we will also take action against content that glorifies ("Praise be to <terrorist name> for shooting up <event>. He's a hero!") and/or condones ("Murdering <x group of people> makes sense. That way they won't be a drain on social services").

--More details to come.

We realize that a more aggressive policy and enforcement approach will result in the removal of more content from our service. We are comfortable making this decision, assuming that we will only be removing abusive content that violates our Rules. To help ensure this is the case, our product and operational teams will be investing heavily in improving our appeals process and turnaround times for their reviews.

In addition to launching new policies, updating enforcement processes and improving our appeals process, we have to do a better job explaining our policies and setting expectations for acceptable behavior on our service. In the coming weeks, we will be:

--updating the Twitter Rules as we previously discussed (+ adding in these new policies)

--updating the Twitter media policy to explain what we consider to be adult content, graphic violence, and hate symbols.

--launching a standalone Help Center page to explain the factors we consider when making enforcement decisions and describe our range of enforcement options

--launching new policy-specific Help Center pages to describe each policy in greater detail, provide examples of what crosses the line, and set expectations for enforcement consequences

--updating outbound language to people who violate our policies (what we say when accounts are locked, suspended, appealed, etc).

We have a lot of work ahead of us and will definitely be turning to you all for guidance in the weeks ahead. We will do our best to keep you looped in on our progress.

All the best,
Head of Safety Policy

CNET's Steven Musil contributed to this report.

First published Oct. 17, 4:04 p.m. PT.
Update, Oct 18 at 4:16 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

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