Twitter Alters Policy To Honor Image Takedown Requests Of Deceased Family Members

Just hours after photos and videos showing what appears to be the horrifically disturbing beheading of James Foley spread across Twitter, the microblogging service posted a policy update that now allows family members to request the removal of images of the deceased. At the same time, Twitter left itself an opening by saying it may not be able to honor every request depending on public interest factors.

"In order to respect the wishes of loved ones, Twitter will remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances. 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," Twitter said. "When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request."

Image Source: Flickr (Rosaura Ochoa)

Twitter has also begun suspending accounts of users who continue to post images and video of Foley's beheading, though that's not the only reason for the policy update. The wheels of change were put into motion after online bullies essentially ran Robin Williams' daughter, Zelda Williams, off of the service by posting altered images of her father and tagging her so she would almost be forced to see them.

"We will not tolerate abuse of this nature on Twitter," Twitter VP of Trust and Safety Dell Harvey said in a statement. "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. This includes expanding our policies regarding self-harm and private information, and improving support for family members of deceased users."

Zelda Williams posted this photo to Instagram after her father's death. It's reminiscent of the butterfly scene in Patch Adams.

Twitter is home to 271 million users, and when you have a user base that large, trolls an Internet bullies are bound to rear their ugly heads whenever possible. While it's probably not possible to completely eliminate such behavior, Twitter deserves kudos for the policy change, albeit it's also been criticized for being slow to respond -- these aren't the first incidents of their kind.

As for issuing image removal requests, Twitter's policy outlines the rules for authorized people who aren't immediate family members. In order to do so, the person making the request must provide a copy of the deceased user's death certificate.