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The far-right is gaming Twitter’s new media policy to get tweets outing them taken down

Proud Boys and other far-right extremists are mass reporting accounts. Some have already been suspended.

 

Claire Goforth

Tech

Posted on Dec 3, 2021   Updated on Dec 3, 2021, 12:30 pm CST

On Tuesday, Twitter announced an expansive new privacy policy that prohibits posting photos and videos of private individuals without their consent. Now the far-right is using it to get the critics who expose them suspended from the platform.

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Twitter’s new policy states, “When we are notified by individuals depicted, or by an authorized representative, that they did not consent to having their private image or video shared, we will remove it.”

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“This policy 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.”

Twitter justifies its privacy policy by citing “growing concerns” about media and information being misused “to harass, intimidate, and reveal the identities of individuals.”

Critics, among them antifascist researchers and journalists, immediately said that the new ban on posting pictures and video is too expansive and unwieldy. They predicted it would also be difficult to determine who is a private versus public figure and what constitutes the public interest.

Where some saw red flags, the far-right saw an opportunity.

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Within a day of Twitter announcing the new policy, extremists had amassed a list of 54 accounts to mass report for violating the policy.

“Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor as we can take down Antifa f***** doxxing pages more easily,” wrote Tommy Hovater, who appears to have created the list. “Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts to deplatform.”

The list spread rapidly on their Telegram channels, the largest of which has 50,000 subscribers. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, Fashwave, and the Western Chauvinist are among those who shared the list of 54 accounts to target.

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News of the list’s existence quickly made its way to those on it. Outraged, many pointed to the list as evidence that Twitter’s new policy was going to wreak havoc on efforts to expose racists and dangerous far-right extremists.

Redoubt Antifascists tweeted, “This post, and the hateful, bigoted, language it uses, is proof that we must fight for our existence.”

But it does appear to have worked. A wave of suspensions ensued.

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@RockyMtnAntifa is on the list far-right groups are targeting to mass report RckyMtnAntifa/Twitter

Those who were suspended believe that the supposed violations are in the public interest and/or domain and/or of public figures.

One widely circulated example was Miami Against Fascism getting flagged and suspended for a quote tweet of a journalist’s picture of Proud Boy Tarrio outside a school board.

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Miami Against Fascism/Twitter

“Neither the reporter that was retweeted or the person photographed made a first person report to have this tweet from July taken down,” said @getsthegoods.

Miami Against Fascism told the Daily Dot via email that it received 30 rule violation notices within 48 hours of the list being posted by the far-right.

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Some of the tweets flagged included screenshots from a Spotify recording and an Instagram post, it said. It texted the Daily Dot screenshots of the notice, which said it’d violated the policy by posting the screenshot of a Spotify recording. The notice from Twitter said it’d violated “rules against posting private media of an individual with a recognized right to privacy law.”

Miami Against Fascism said it appealed on the grounds that the tweets were in the public domain, public interest, newsworthy, and of public figures.

“Obviously there’s no reasonable justification that these would be considered ‘private media’ and these are good examples of how the policy is predictably a green light for far-right extremists to organize mass reporting to evade our coverage and scrutiny of their political activity,” Miami Against Fascism said.

As of Friday morning, Miami Against Fascism had its account access restored. It said that Twitter did not send a notification or explanation of its decision-making process or whether its appeal was accepted.

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AntiFash Gordon told the Daily Dot that their account was also suspended for 12 hours over an old tweet that Twitter said violated the policy.

Via Twitter direct message, AntiFash Gordon said the tweet exposed “a Minnesota schoolteacher as a member of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group that participated in the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017.”

“It seems like that would be a matter of public interest to me, but Twitter denied my appeal and forced me to delete the tweet,” they said.

In a statement, Atlanta Antifascists said it was suspended on Wednesday over a 2018 tweet exposing the organizer of a “racist ‘White Student Union.'” It wrote that Twitter made it delete the tweet to have account access restored. It maintains that the tweet was “newsworthy and in the public interest.”

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Atlanta Antifascists believes that Twitter is protecting white supremacists.

“Twitter’s policy is an attempt to shield white power and far-right organizers from public scrutiny,” it said in a statement. “It is unacceptable, but unsurprising.”

Others on the list expressed similar sentiments. “Congrats to @TwitterSafety for putting a target on anti-fascist who are attempting to stop violent white supremacists from organizing,” Garfield but Anti-Fascist (@BlackMastAntifa) tweeted.

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Twitter didn’t respond to questions and a request for comment sent Friday morning.

Accounts on the list are now employing various strategies to protect themselves from getting suspended due to the far-right’s mass reporting campaign.

Redoubt Antifascists defended its use of an image in a tweet exposing a “Nazi,” writing that the woman “freely gave her info over, no [term of service] violation.”

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In another tweet, it tagged Twitter Safety and said “all info we post is public interest, gathered from what the individual posts online themselves thus implying their implicit approval to be public.”

Others are urging followers to go to their websites and those on the list to join alternative platforms such as Mastodon or create backup Twitter accounts.

Several accounts on the list have protected their tweets so non-followers can’t view them. It’s not known if this was done before or after the far-right targeted them for mass reporting privacy policy violations.

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Redoubt Antifascists said that to avoid violating the policy it wouldn’t post as much evidence on Twitter.

“There will need to be a level of trust with us and other anti fash researchers: when we say someone is a Nazi, they are a Nazi,” it tweeted.

New York City Antifa is taking a different approach.

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“This is an excellent Twitter follow list,” it tweeted. “Show some support and give these accounts targeted by Nazis some more eyeballs on their research.”


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*First Published: Dec 3, 2021, 11:55 am CST