Robin Williams Death Sparks Twitter Review

John Lister's picture

Twitter says it will remove some images of deceased people upon request from members of family. But the new policy has limitations and may not cover two high-profile situations that brought attention to the issue.

Following the death of Robin Williams last week, his daughter Zelda announced she would no longer use Twitter. She claims to have been abused by "Internet trolls" that produced digitally altered images of her father, and then posted them on Twitter, along with her name tagged in the post. It's believed the images depicted her father's death based on media reports of his suicide.

That was followed this week by users posting what appears to be real images and video of the death of American journalist James Foley, who is believed to have been brutally murdered in the Middle East. (Source:

Twitter has now announced a change to its policy on handling posts with images of deceased people, but the new rules have conditions.

'Newsworthy' Pictures May Be Exempt

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 email to 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.

The problem with the new rules is that, if followed to the letter, they wouldn't necessarily solve either the Williams or Foley cases. With Williams, the images were falsified, which appears to be a legal loophole. With Foley, Twitter could argue that the images and video were newsworthy. (Source:

Of course, Twitter does have the ability and right to remove images even if they fall outside the new rules on a technicality. The First Amendment and similar free speech rights don't override the rights of a private company such as Twitter to decide which content it does and does not publish.

Paperwork Requirements Could Be Deterrent

It may be a complicated process for family members to take advantage of the new rules. Twitter already has a system for relatives to ask for a deceased person's account to be deactivated, but they must fax or mail physical copies of their own government issued-ID, the user's death certificate, and proof that the deceased person operated the account.

If the same requirements apply to asking for a photo to be removed, it's possible grieving relatives may be put off by going to such lengths.

What's Your Opinion?

Should relatives have to ask for pictures of dying or dead people to be removed from Twitter, or should the site do it automatically? How should Twitter address cases where the manner of the death was a news story in itself? Should Twitter treat "Photoshopped" images in a different way to genuine ones?

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jsteedley2's picture

The solution is simpler, & more advantageous;
SUE the pants off the bast@rds!