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Twitter Abuse Continues, But Olympic GIFs Will Get You Banned

August 25, 2016, 11:33 PM UTC
Diving - Olympics: Day 4
Amin Mohammad Jamali — Getty Images

Twitter has had a long and torturous history with abuse and harassment on the service, most of it directed at users who are women and people of color. When users complain, they are often told that the abuse doesn’t violate the company’s terms of service enough for the company to shut down the offenders’ accounts.

One man recently discovered something that will get your account shut down in the blink of an eye, however, and that is posting GIFs of action from the Olympic Games in Brazil. Not long after he posted several images earlier this month, Jim Weber said he got a message that his account had been permanently banned.

Weber, who wrote about the incident on LinkedIn, said that he posted on Twitter three brief moving images from the Olympic Games: One was of gymnast Aly Raisman’s floor routine, another of a Japanese wrestler celebrating, and a of a diver whose performance won her a perfect 10.

A few days later, when he tried to post a message on Twitter, Weber said he got a notice that his account had been temporarily suspended because he had posted copyright-infringing material, in breach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

A letter that the International Olympic Committee sent to Twitter about the GIFs was included, and it gave the company a 10-minute window to remove the content. Weber says the company didn’t even wait that long—his account was suspended within minutes of the letter being sent, he said in his post.

After asking Twitter how long his account would be offline, Weber said he got a second notice that said his account had been permanently suspended for breaching the service’s terms and conditions.

After Weber’s LinkedIn post was circulated widely (including on Twitter, naturally) his account was suddenly restored, although the offending tweets had been removed. Twitter has refused to comment on the incident, saying it doesn’t publicly explain actions it takes involving specific user accounts.

As Techdirt editor-in-chief Mike Masnick pointed out, Twitter’s speedy removal of Weber’s tweets and suspension of his account is a sign of how seriously the company takes the DMCA, which requires quick takedown of copyright-infringing content.

The suspension may also have been related to a recent court decision that found Internet provider Cox liable because it didn’t ban infringers.

At the same time, however, many Twitter users—including some who have been targets of sustained abuse—couldn’t resist noting that the company is quick to act whenever copyright is involved, but seems much slower to respond (if it responds at all) when someone receives death threats or racist abuse.

Part of Twitter’s reluctance to take action in harassment cases appears to stem from its history of seeing itself as the self-described “free-speech wing of the free-speech party,” and protecting user’s rights to say whatever they wish.

In defense of those rights, the company has fought governments and courts. But the International Olympic Committee and the DMCA are apparently too much.