The Real Reason Twitter Is Banning Gruesome Images

It has been weeks since the disturbing video of James Foley which showed the beheading of the American journalist made rounds on Twitter. Not long after that, Twitter announced that they will be suspending the accounts that shared the gruesome photos and videos. Twitter users were left wondering what prompted the social network to do this.

The answer is Robin Williams. After the news broke that the actor committed suicide, Williams’ daughter, Zelda, announced that she’s quitting Twitter because some people sent her distressing Photoshopped images of her father. This prompted Twitter to announce a week after that they will be removing photos of the deceased in certain circumstances upon the request of their loved ones.

That was the day that the video of Foley started to surface across social networks. YouTube immediately removed the video but graphic images were already being tweeted left and right. Twitter soon started to suspend accounts of users and delete tweets that contain photos of the beheading.

The company’s decision was not met without questions, especially since Twitter has long been known as a powerful communication platform and because the company has not made a move to remove other offensive content such as racist tweets. Stated on Twitter’s media policy is for users to mark their media as containing sensitive content which allows the viewer to click through before viewing the media.

Twitter also says that they may not be able to grant all requests and that they will need to weigh the loved ones’ requests to remove such images due to “public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content”.

Twitter users use appreciate the openness of their communication platform so the company must take that into consideration or they “risk alienating their users”, according to an associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan. Twitter users are divided on the company’s decision to delete the photos of Foley’s death. Most users agree and supported the move. For them, it was what the ISIS wanted from the start – for the video to be shared and viewed by the public and they should not be given what they want.

While it’s hard to think of anyone who would have a good reason to share or view such gruesome footage, Twitter’s move contradicts their record of non-intervention. Some people also wonder where Twitter will draw the line. Twitter has been a vital platform for journalists and protesters who document the clashes with the police in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black male teenager was killed by a police.

Facebook’s policy allows its users to share gruesome videos such as beheading footage as long as they are being condemned and not celebrated. Other social networks, on the other hand, have stricter policies against sharing graphic content.

It remains important for Twitter to know where to draw the line because while grieving families appreciate their decision to remove images of their deceased loved ones, it can greatly impact activists and journalists who turn to the social media site to practice their freedom of speech.