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Twitter to Delete Images of Dead People at Families’ Request

Twitter headquarters, San Francisco (Matthew Keys)

Twitter headquarters, San Francisco (Matthew Keys)

Twitter has announced it will remove photos and videos of critically injured or dead people if their relatives request such deletions.

“In order to respect the wishes of loved ones, Twitter will remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances,” the San Francisco-based company said in a statement reported by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

“Immediate family members and other authorized individuals may request the removal of images or video of deceased individuals, from when critical injury occurs to the moments before or after death, by sending an e-mail to privacy@twitter.com,” the statement continued.

“When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factory such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request,” it added.

Last week, Mashable reported that Zelda Williams, daughter of recently deceased acting and comedy icon Robin Williams, was quitting Twitter and Instagram after viewing disturbing and insensitive images and comments about her father.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve risen above. Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye,” tweeted Williams, 25.

At least two Twitter accounts were suspended after the offensive tweets and images were posted. One of them reportedly showed a man with strangulation marks on his neck.

“We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one,” Del Harvey, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, told Sky News.

“This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users,” added Harvey.

The Wall Street Journal reports Twitter does not allow obscene images to be posted, but the company doesn’t actively monitor user tweets for offensive or otherwise inappropriate content regarding gory or otherwise disturbing or offensive images. Twitter relies upon community and self-policing, and users who see questionable content are encouraged to flag it for review by site administrators.

The subject of inappropriate images on Twitter made headlines again on Tuesday after the White House asked the company and other social media networks to delete videos of the gruesome beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS Islamist militants.

White House National Security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the Obama administration requested social media companies to “take appropriate action consistent with their stated usage policies” to ensure that the beheading images are deleted.

The State Department and the Pentagon also asked social media sites to remove the horrific images.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted that his company “is actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery.”

Not everyone supports what critics claim amounts to a form of censorship. Some observers argue that even the most shocking imagery can often have important news value.

“You can imagine that if you’re a family member of this person, by all means you would want the horrific photos of their moment of death taken offline,” Andrew McLaughlin, former public policy chief at Google, told the Washington Post.

“But … the photos are obviously newsworthy,” McLaughlin continued. “It’s awful that these photos were taken, and it’s awful that this moment happened, but their very existence is news. It’s the sort of thing that moves history.”

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