Twitter and Reddit ban 'revenge porn,' but what took so long?

The First Amendment makes it difficult for U.S. states to crack down on inappropriate online content, but social media companies should shoulder more responsibility for the abuse that takes place on their sites.

twitt

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo

Credit: Mashable

Twitter this week changed its rules to ban the sharing of so-called "revenge porn." That's a good thing. But what took so long?

Revenge porn, or the posting of intimate pictures without a subject's consent, is just another part of the ugly, often misogynistic, dark side of social media. People are frequently bullied, shamed, intimated, and threatened by creeps who hide behind the Internet's curtain of anonymity. Sometimes revenge porn victims are famous, such as actress Jennifer Lawrence, but more often they're ordinary people who used bad judgment and let someone untrustworthy take or hold onto an intimate photo.

Very real First Amendment issues are at play here, which is one reason why states (California is an exception) have been hesitant to pass laws that punish people who post revenge porn or the sites that host it. Remember, however, that the First Amendment is directed at the government, and it says that government may not abridge free speech or the rights of the press. It does not mean that other entities don't have the rights to make rules about appropriate speech — or in this case, tweets.

If you, like some police officers in Ferguson, Mo., use your company email to write disparaging or racist comments about a colleague, you could be fired. But you couldn't be arrested; the act is not illegal.

When you take that into consideration, it's even more important for social media sites to enforce reasonable standards of conduct. Until this week, Twitter did nothing about revenge porn, even though its CEO, Dick Costolo, admitted that he knew his company had a serious problem. In an internal email leaked to The Verge, Costolo wrote, "We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we've sucked at it for years."

Here's the recent update to the company's "Twitter Rules:"

"You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent."

Reddit also banned revenge porn earlier this week with an update to its privacy policy, which now bans the posting of nude and sexual images without the consent of the subject.

The vast majority of social media users don't do horrible things online. Unfortunately, lecturing and deploring the bozos who do probably won't work, because they're beyond shaming. Social media companies have, quite literally, made fortunes for their founders. There is no reasonable reason why they should not protect their users by acting more responsibly.

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.