ROTTERDAM, August 24 -- After news -- and footage -- of journalist James Foley's death began circulating on social media networks, tech firms immediately had to grapple with the question of how to handle the graphic images.
Twitter, arguably the fastest-moving and most public social network, opted to do something that it rarely does. The company scrubbed images of Foley's beheading from its network, and even temporarily blocked the account of journalist Zaid Benjamin, who appeared to be the first to report the news.
The policy, recently changed, outlines the guidelines Twitter follows to remove imagery of deceased individuals at the request of immediate family members -- a policy enacted after some Twitter users bullied the daughter of comedian Robin Williams off the network by sending her altered images supposedly depicting her father's corpse.
How does Twitter scrub its network of the offensive images, which tend to spread online very quickly? The process is actually low-tech. When a request is submitted, Twitter employees on the company's safety and legal teams look at the image that's been flagged, reviewing each one individually, and evaluating the public interest and newsworthiness of each message. That, for example, could explain why some images of Foley's death were taken down immediately, while others bore a warning: