Like other social media companies, Twitter once again finds itself in a position similar to that of traditional newspaper editors, struggling to decide how much to show their audiences. While newspapers and magazines generally don’t let readers see actual pictures, they have some exceptions, as Jet magazine did in 1955 when it published a picture of Emmett Till opening a coffin , a 14-year-old black boy in Mississippi to illustrate the horrors of the Jim Crow-era South.
Unlike newspaper and magazine publishers, however, tech companies like Twitter must enforce their decisions at scale, policing millions of users through a combination of automated systems and human content moderators.
Other tech companies, such as Facebook parent Meta and YouTube parent Alphabet, have invested in large teams to reduce the spread of violent images on their platforms. Twitter, on the other hand, has scaled back content moderation since Musk bought the site in late October, firing full-time employees and contractors from the trust and safety team that manages content moderation. Mr Musk calls himself a “free speech absolutist”, explain In November, he will set up a “content moderation committee” to decide which posts should be kept and which should be deleted. He later reneged.
Twitter, Alphabet and Meta did not respond to requests for comment.
Twitter has never outright banned graphic content, not even before Mr Musk took over. For example, the platform allowed images of casualties in the Ukraine war, deeming them newsworthy and informative. The company sometimes places warning labels or pop-ups on sensitive content, asking users to choose to view images.
While many users explicitly spread images of the massacre, including dead attackers, for the purpose of shock, others retweeted the images to highlight the horror of gun violence. “NRA’s America,” read one tweet. “This isn’t going away,” said another. The New York Times did not link to the social media post containing the image.