BBC NEWS: Yahoo ‘Censored’ Flickr Comments

BBC NEWS:  Yahoo 'Censored' Flickr Comments

[I’m CEO of Zooomr]

BBC NEWS | Technology | Yahoo ‘censored’ Flickr comments More news on the recent censorship by Yahoo of Rebekka Gudleifsdóttir from the BBC.

It is interesting to see the BBC use the word "Censorship" with regards to this recent case with Flickr. I say interesting because the first official response from Flickr was to deny that this could be considered censorship.

Heather Champ:

"In joining Flickr, all of our members agree to abide by the Yahoo! Terms of Service and our Community Guidelines. Actions taken by the team to ensure that any content or activity on the site resides within these boundaries is not and cannot be viewed as censorship." (my emphasis)

Two months ago when I raised a different matter of censorship by Flickr Stewart Butterfield responded to me that I he thought I didn’t know what censorship meant linking to wikipedia and trying to dismiss that censorship couldn’t happen at Flickr.

Although Flickr has now "apologized" for this "mistake" (smart, given the backlash that they’ve received on the internet over this this week at places like digg, reddit, Slashdot, and now the BBC), the fact of the matter is that censorship has been quite rampant at Flickr and it’s unfortunate that it took such a high profile case to have the matter seriously addressed.

I have been censored by Flickr staff. My first response regarding this censorship was to contact Flickr privately which received no response. Since then I’ve asked about my own case of being censored many, many times publicly.

The only official response I’ve ever been able to get from Flickr came from Flickr staff member Eric Costello who wrote regarding my own censorship issue: "obviously I cannot comment on that case TH."

Many other individuals have also come out of the woodwork recently commenting about their own censorship that has taken place at Flickr.

"flickr did the same thing to me too – no explaqination and deleted my paid membership. sorry rebekka. i feel for you," wrote one flickr user.

The sad thing about this whole affair is that while Flickr claims to care about censorship, many of us are being censored there. What’s more, Flickr has promised to take steps to ensure what happened to Rebekka doens’t happen again and yet still refuses to outline what those steps exactly will be.

Perhaps most ironic of all, is that the thread dealing with this entire messy matter for Flickr on censorship has now been locked by Flickr staff. Convenient.

Thanks for the head’s up urban penguin.

On digg here.

Update: Down in the comments Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield challenges me to write that child porn would be ok into Zooomr’s TOS. Rather than more rhetoric and PR spin Stewart should answer my question as to why Flickr censored me and offer an outline of what steps Flickr plans to take to ensure that less censorship happens there in the future. Here’s another blog post as well from LAist pointing out more ludicrous censorship on Flickr’s part. Like most higher profile cases though Flickr once again apologizes and would like us to move on.

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38 Comments

  1. Ade says:

    It is interesting to see the BBC use the word “Censorship” with regards to this recent case with Flickr.

    Yeah, but their placing of the word in quotes implies that it is someone else’s opinion, not the BBC’s, that it was censorship. Maybe it’s just covering their backs legally, but they tend not to express opinions wihout the journalist saying “in my opinion”.

    For the record, I’d say it did appear to be censorship, though I never saw the comments under the photo that got removed (due to “…the direction the comments had gone…”), so I cannot say whether I think it was an understandable move or not.

    However, I imagine that Flickr is legally accountable in the capacity as publisher for what is written in its forums and comment threads.

    To play devil’s advocate, surely there are limits to what should be left online? Death threats for example?

    A friend of mine was taken to court for litigious comments left about a company, by a user of a website he used to run. In the end he had to close the website.

  2. tinou says:

    Throwing around the word “censorship” is troubling. China has censorship. The Taliban censors. Flickr is a non-governmental entity. They are censoring no more than a restaurant saying, “no shoes, no shirt, no service.” Users are free to not use Flickr, to criticize Yahoo (Flickr’s parent company), as Thomas Hawk and others have on their personal blogs. But when you bandy the word censorship you are implying a freedom of speech issue, that somehow Flickr is infringing on your Constitutional right as a citizen to express yourself.

  3. tinou says:

    BTW, Thomas, somebody else commented that Zooomr deleted his comments on his Zooomr photo page. Can you confirm or deny this?

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    BTW, Thomas, somebody else commented that Zooomr deleted his comments on his Zooomr photo page. Can you confirm or deny this?

    tinou, I don’t know anything about this. I’ve never censored anyones comments on any photos and to the best of my knowledge Kristopher has not either and it’s just the two of us. I can imagine a scenario where maybe someone *thought* that they left a comment and then didn’t or where another user might have deleted comments off of one of their photos (users can do this on Zooomr just like on Flickr) but it certainly never came from me if this is the case.

  5. Raoul says:

    I’m really disappointed that Flickr chose to delete Rebekkah’s image and the comments that went along with it. Regardless of whether or not it was within or without the terms of the service, they were the platform where she posted the photos, and Flickr’s reputation grew along with Rebekkah’s. Because she chose to continue to post her work at Flickr, Flickr benefitted from this, and derived revenue from it, because I’m sure additional people signed up for accounts after seeing Rebekkah’s work, along with the work of other prominent photographers like you.

    For a service like Flickr, that derives its money from the users and exists solely because the users choose to use it — a service that owes as much to Rebbekah and other photographers as they owe to Flickr, because it’s a symbiotic relationship — to delete one of her photos is completely uncalled for. After all, it was through the Flickr platform that Rebbekah’s photos were stolen.

    What they should have done was to help her in her hour of need, not add insult to injury, then offer some pathetic, half-baked, hollow apology.

  6. I agree with what Thomas says here: Flickr has for the length of time I’ve known it (which pretty much co-incided with the Yahoo takeover) behaved like this, consistently. It’s my biggest gripe over the site, frankly.

    This also seems to be an attitude imported from Yahoo, too, since Yahoo has always had the attitude of being quick to delete user accounts without provided explanation, and in general acting very high-handedly.

    One issue I have is that Flickr staff appear to not explain themselves or Flickr’s actions. There’s a circle-the-wagons mentality, a ‘we won’t say anything because covering our asses legally is more important than customer service’ mentality. They won’t even explain actions to the user concerned.

    A lot of the things Flickr will take action over are very subjective interpretations of their terms of service. However, Flickr will in my experience never explain what the corporate or individual subjective interpretation of those terms is. The attitude seems to be that it’s the subscriber’s job to keep so far away from anything prohibited that there’s no grey area at all.

    I also think there’s a big difference between deleting the account of a user – who didn’t pay for the service – and that of a subscriber. Flickr has shown themselves to be just as ready to censure or delete paying customers, with no recourse, no explanation, no advance warning and little customer service. If someone’s paid, I think they deserve better than that, and they often aren’t getting that.

    Flickr has the legal right, I’m sure, to treat its paying customers crappily, but it’s very poor customer service and very poor policy.

  7. Anonymous says:

    just ditch them them, as if we didn’t see this coming when they got bought out by Yahoo. As soon as a company pulls a single stunt like this, it’s time to ditch it for a better one. it’s the only way to send ’em a message they’re going to listen to. Hit them where it hurts, in the bank balance.

  8. namtastic says:

    Thomas, for someone who runs his own photo site, you certainly spend a lot of time complaining about Flickr — and using Flickr itself to post those complaints, too.

    I can’t see why you simply don’t take the things you don’t like about Flickr, apply them to Zooomr policies, and build a userbase.

    Frankly, the fact that your dissent — actually, entire threads of dissent — about Flickr remains on the site is a good sign that “captial-C” Censorship — is not happening on Flickr. What is happening there is likely just arguable decisions of moderation in light of the Terms of Conditions of the service.

    Again, if those ToCs are so bad, make better ones for Zooomr, and publicize that fact. To keep hammering at Flickr is pretty lame.

    Make something better if you believe it needs to be better.

  9. Anonymous says:

    yes, i found that the attitude of the flickr staff in the above mentioned thread concerning rebekka’s case, was very… hostile toward the members who are voicing displeasure.

    very confrontational, and combatitive.

    what ever happened to the flickr i once loved? sigh…

  10. Kara says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I think that if a person’s account is deleted or if a photo is censored there is probably a good reason for doing so. As a staff member of a photo hosting site I know that we do not go around arbitrarily deleting photos and accounts. If content is flagged then someone has to make a judgement call. Questionable content or content that clearly violates TOS will be removed. Flickr is a business. Not the government. Anyone who doesn’t like their policies has the option of moving their content to another site. This reminds me of the recent MySpace/Photobucket controversy. Many people were up in arms because the videos were blocked. But they were blocked because they violated TOS (if I recall correctly).

    Bottom line – Flickr has the right to remove any content they find questionable. Period.

    However, I do think that if the photo comments were getting out of control they could have explored a way to remove the comments or temporarily restricted the ability to comment on the photos without actually removing the photos themselves. This situation was probably not something they were prepared for. It is too bad for Rebekka (who is the real victim in all of this). But I’m sure they will work towards a better solution for these types of situations in the future. Let’s give them a break. We are all human, after all.

  11. Anonymous says:

    namtastic, you’re missing the point: it’s a few days before a new zoomr launch. This is their marketing strategy. Look back through the archives. There’s a flickr-bashing blog post and digg campaign before every zoomr launch. It’s gross, but most people are gullible and Thomas has a big reach. It’s how he chooses to run his company.. without the Flickr comparisons, no-one would have heard of zooomr.

  12. dew says:

    It’s locked because they responded to the question and apologized as well. Get over it.

  13. Joe says:

    Can you Americans quit parroting the absurd American ideology that “censorship” per se exists only if a U.S. government entity perpetrates it against a U.S. citizen?

  14. stewart says:

    Re:
    “… offer some pathetic, half-baked, hollow apology.”

    “One issue I have is that Flickr staff appear to not explain themselves or Flickr’s actions. There’s a circle-the-wagons mentality, a ‘we won’t say anything because covering our asses legally is more important than customer service’ mentality. They won’t even explain actions to the user concerned.”

    “yes, i found that the attitude of the flickr staff in the above mentioned thread concerning rebekka’s case, was very… hostile toward the members who are voicing displeasure.

    very confrontational, and combatitive.”

    As the one who got the task of writing the “official” apology (after others on the team had already said that we were wrong and apologized), I found these comments really surprising. I thought it would be worth having the full text here as well, for the record, so people can make up their own minds:

    [originally posted in the Flickr forums]
    [I’m one of the co-founders of Flickr, and am the general manager with overall responsibility for all things Flickr.]

    I have to be a little quicker than I’d like because I’m writing this on a Treo in a car in the desert, coming back from a vacation (I’m not driving – no worries). I’ve gotten the whole back story from the team and have read the forums, various Flickr groups topics and blog posts on this topic (as of a few hours ago), so I have a pretty good idea that we screwed up — and for that I take full responsibility (actually, several team members are fighting to take responsibility).

    There are several policies which will be changing as a direct result of this incident and the goal is that nothing like this ever happens again. Any errors from now on should be on the side of caution.

    It’s important to be clear why the photo was deleted: it had nothing to do with a desire to silence Rebekka from calling attention to the outfit which had reportedly sold copies of her photos without knowledge or permission and without compensating her (in fact, even before her photo was deleted, we were investigating ways in which we could help Rebekka in this situation and prevent it from happening to others).

    This had nothing to do with fear of a lawsuit, but with deeply held beliefs about the kind of place we want Flickr to be. Unfortunately, those beliefs were misapplied in this case, but we still hold the general principle to be true.

    We spend huge amounts of time an energy to prevent unauthorized use of Flickr members’ photos through technical, policy and legal avenues: the whole team that manages Flickr, from technical operations and engineering to design, customer care and community management are acutely aware of the issues and do their best on a daily basis to balance rights issues and copyright protection with a sharing environment that is as open and dynamic possible and let members make their own choices about how they want to play.

    The photo was deleted — again, mistakenly — because of the direction the comments had gone, which included posting the personal information of the infringing company’s owner and suggestions for how best to exact revenge. It is an emotional issue and most people were there to support Rebekka in a positive way, but some of the angry mob behavior crossed the line.

    Flickr is not a venue that we will allow to be used to harass, intimidate, threaten incite hatred against people — even if those people have done something wrong. We strive to be free and open, but just like laws against crying “fire!” in a crowded theater, a desire to promote free speech has it’s limits.

    We get challenging situations on Flickr all the time: ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, ex-husbands and wives, disputes between business partners or landlords and tenants, posting photos and text with the intent of hurting someone else. These can be quite tricky to deal with morally and legally, and almost all of the time we make the right choice.

    Having said that, this time, we made the wrong choice. The person who made the call is not, as has been suggested, stupid, incompetent, underpaid, under qualified, inexperienced or mean. They just made a big mistake (and feel inconsolably awful about it, by the way). We also did not have the right policies in place to prevent it from happening or rectifying it afterward. And that’s entirely the responsibility of the Flickr leadership team, and myself in particular.

    So, to Rebekka: Our apologies. I’m sure you did not intend to bring on the firestorm to the extent it developed, you were not in the wrong and it was our fault to suggest that you were. (I will write to her directly as well).

    We’re taking our well-deserved lumps on this one, but have learned a painful lesson and are doubly committed to being better stewards of this wonderful thing called Flickr. Thank you for bearing with us and we’re sorry.

  15. stuartzero says:

    Thomas ..
    Rudi Giuliani wants to hire you to create negative ad campaigns for the 2008 election.

  16. kareem says:

    dude if you don’t like their policies, take your business elsewhere.

    sometimes a community manager has to remove undesirable people from their community to make things better for the whole group.

    obviously this isn’t what happened in Rebekkah’s case, but stewart has provided a genuine apology (more genuine than what 99.99999% of other businesses would make.)

  17. Pillowfight says:

    I’m with tinou on this one…he made some very good points above about the real nature of censorship. And it seems pretty obvious to me that Stewart’s apology is sincere (and it looks like he went to a lot of trouble to make sure we heard it, too).

  18. Thomas Hawk says:

    As the one who got the task of writing the “official” apology (after others on the team had already said that we were wrong and apologized), I found these comments really surprising.

    Hi Stewart, nice to see you and nice to have you on my blog again. How about answering the question if it was a “mistake” when flickr censored me. I think we both know the case in question as it’s been brought up several times in forums where you’ve been involved. Eric says he can’t comment. It seems like such an easy question, or are only the Rebekkas of the world entitled to being told that Flickr made a “mistake” when they were censored.

  19. Thomas Hawk says:

    Thomas ..
    Rudi Giuliani wants to hire you to create negative ad campaigns for the 2008 election.

    Yorkie, I’m sorry but I think I’m supporting Mike Gravel at this point. He wants to do away with the income tax and legalize pot, both of which I’m in favor of. I’m going to have to decline on the Rudi Giuliani offer, thanks for thinking of me though 🙂

  20. Anonymous says:

    Censorship does not have to be a governemental action to be called censorship. Of course, we like to associate the practice with totalitarian regime, which gives the practice a bad name.

    The flickr yahoo terms of service pretend to conveniently rename “consoring” to “taking action to make sure content fits the guideline” which is vague enough to not particularily evoke censoring.

    But in the facts, deleting user posted comments or kicking users out is censorship. That’s the definition of it.

    censor (from answer.com)

    1. To examine (material) and remove parts considered harmful or improper for publication or transmission: bowdlerize, expurgate, screen. See include/exclude, show/hide.
    2. To keep from being published or transmitted: ban, black out, hush (up), stifle, suppress. Idioms: keep/put a lid on. See show/hide.

    Flickr used to be great. Unfortunately it has already peaked. Also, Welcome to Yahoo. The biggest bureaucracy on Earth.

  21. boiler says:

    Ok Thomas I enjoy your photography but not this overkill on censorship. As has been stated before, Flickr is a business and photo sharing sites including yours retain the RIGHT to “censor” photos on their servers. Sure they may lose customers which is their loss and the bad publicity doesn’t help, but they still are doing nothing illegal under US law. If you think I’m wrong, sue Flickr. As I’m sure you know their lack of comment to your about your situation is just pratical PR. If they respond directly about your situation, they will just extend the debate and bad PR. If they don’t, you and the blogsphere will continue to debate this. They lose either way from a PR perspective. And since Zooomr is a competitor, why bother giving you more publicity?

  22. Jeremy says:

    Hi Tomas please don’t think bad of me but you did remove a comment I posted a few months ago, my comment might not have been the most constructive comment but you did remove… – Jeremy

    tinou, I don’t know anything about this. I’ve never censored anyones comments on any photos and to the best of my knowledge Kristopher has not either and it’s just the two of us.

  23. Thomas Hawk says:

    but you did remove a comment I posted a few months ago, my comment might not have been the most constructive comment but you did remove… – Jeremy

    Jeremy, I’m sorry to say I have no freaking idea what you are talking about. Are you talking about on my blog? On Zooomr? On Flickr? Do you have a link or some kind of proof?

    What was the comment and where did you leave it?

  24. Pillowfight says:

    Ah, I get it now. This isn’t really about Rebbekah’s “censorship” at all. It’s about yours.

  25. alfons says:

    Sober up.
    I’d say it’s an objectionable and unfortunate deletion, well within the legal bounds of Flickr’s Terms Of Service.

  26. stewart says:

    Thomas: I think you have a radically different definition of the word censorship than I do. If all deletions are acts of censorship, then, according to your wacky definition, I am pro-censorship.

    But how about you put your money where your mouth is and make it an official Zooomr policy, posted on the blog and in the TOS, permanently available, that nothing a user uploads to Zooomr will ever be deleted regardless of legality or impact on your community? Spam, child pornography, neo-nazi propaganda, photos posted by abusive ex-husbands to humiliate their estranged wives, all cherished by Zooomr as examples of their valiant protection of free speech.

    And if you’re not willing to do that, think about how empty and hypocritical your position is. We have very tough decisions to make all the time, and make the right decision in almost every instance. This time we didn’t, but the motivation was certainly not to prevent Rebekka from being heard at all (which would be required for a reasonable definition of censorship, IMO) but to prevent the mob from getting out of control. It was the right motivation, wrong action.

    So, let’s see that pledge (and corresponding action) from Zooomr. Without it, your words don’t have much force.

  27. Thomas Hawk says:

    Stewart, is this really nothing more than just a PR exercise for you?

    You and I both know that I’ve never claimed flickr didn’t have the right to censor users. Flickr does have this right as does Zooomr. Do I believe child porn should be censored, yes, actually, that’s the law. Do I believe people ripping off other people and posting their work as their own should be censored? Yes, here again too.

    My issue has not been that Flickr shouldn’t censor as you well know. I am engaging you openly and honestly but you’d rather try to whip up spin about me allowing an illegal free for all on zooomr or I’m a hyprocrite. That’s just bullshit.

    What I’m saying is that Flickr should take censorship more seriously than it has in the past. In your well crafted PR apology that you and Yahoo whipped up you say that you guys are deservedly taking your lumps. So either you deserve this or not.

    Let me be even more direct with you. Was it a mistake when Yahoo censored me with my photo of Michael Crook? Was it a mistake when Yahoo censored Kris Krug by taking down his cease and desist letter in the Kevin Corazza incident. No doubt you are intimately aware of both of these cases.

    Rather than whip up more rhetoric and spin and some absurd statement like unless I’m willing to have Zooomr allow child porn that I’m a hyprocrite here how about simply answering the question on whether it was a mistake for Flickr to censor me or not.

    I think that’s a fair question.

    My point is not that Flickr should not be allowed to censor. My point is it’s bullshit for you to hide behind some posturing that censorship can only be political and Yahoo can’t censor, while at the same time allowing low level employees the ability to willy nilly delete poeple’s photos and in my case dozens of comments without really any review or opportunity to object to having your stuff permanently wipped out.

    Stewart, I’m all for having an intelligent debate here about how Flickr has handled censorship in the past and how they ought to handle it in the future. That’s productive. Whipping up more PR spin from Yahoo and saying things like unless Zooomr allows child porn then I’m not allowed to point out clear flaws in your current policies that have affected me personally, well, people can see right through that.

    How about this. If you’re not willing to answer the question as to whether or not Flickr’s censoring me was a mistake, how about an honest answer on why you can’t answer that question.

  28. boiler says:

    You and Stewart should go to your corners and relax. Instead of attacking each other how about moving on, run your businesses. If the way Stewart runs flickr is unacceptable, then people will leave as customers. Likewise for Zooomr. The market will decide. Who’s to say that was really Stewart in that last comment anyway. And please don’t get on your high horse about PR when we all know the more this is stirred up the more PR BOTH of your businesses get. Intended or not, what you have been doing has gotten Zooomr more publicity recently especially with Mark III about to release.

  29. stewart says:

    Thomas, if you wanted to have an intelligent debate, you wouldn’t have started with the equation “flickr = censorship”. You also wouldn’t state your conjecture as fact (a “low level employee”, “willy nilly” deletions, “no review”, “In your well crafted PR apology that you and Yahoo whipped up” — I wrote an apology and explanation as soon as I found out, with no review by Yahoo! PR or any other employee — “yet still refuses to outline what those steps exactly will be”, etc.) Intelligent debate requires having an open mind and being able to admit the validity of other points of view.

    With respect to your posting of the TV screengrab, I don’t think it was a mistake to delete it, but I do think it was (and is) a mistake to not have a mechanism to restore that kind of deletion. (In that case, however, I wouldn’t have asked to have had it restored, since I don’t think posting video stills from TV shows that you didn’t create is what Flickr’s about.)

    My point about hypocrisy wasn’t that you need to allow child porn, but if there is *anything* you are willing to delete, you are going to run into very subtle, complex, difficult, nuanced and challenging situations. And once you do, you will not always make the right choices — no one is perfect.

    To the contention that this is “PR spin” on my part: I think responding in the comments on your blog (aside from being something I promised myself I would never do again) doesn’t really count as “whipping up” anything. Very few people will read this far down. They’ll read your headlines and your Digg posts, none of which are written in the spirit of openness, honesty or intelligent debate. If we wanted to reach out to reporters, we would.

    Finally, I understand now how you use “censorship” (same as the way I use the word “deletion” — I don’t think, for example, that the spam filters “censor” my email) but you have to understand that for most people, intent counts: even the person who made this deletion — again, emphatically, an error of judgment, a mistake, something which is deeply regretted — was not motivated by a desire to silence Rebekka, but to prevent a mob from getting out of hand. If we wanted to censor, in the sense that I (and I think most people) understand the term, we would delete her post re-explaining the situation and criticizing us. If the forums were censored, we’d delete the posts about censorship. And so on.

  30. Thomas Hawk says:

    Stewart, Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    With respect to your posting of the TV screengrab, I don’t think it was a mistake to delete it, but I do think it was (and is) a mistake to not have a mechanism to restore that kind of deletion. (In that case, however, I wouldn’t have asked to have had it restored, since I don’t think posting video stills from TV shows that you didn’t create is what Flickr’s about.)

    So let’s start first with why my image was deleted in the first place. Are you saying that Flickr deleted it because Flickr is “not about” posting screengrabs? That by my posting this I violated some bigger picture of what Flickr is about and as such this made this an appropriate image to delete off the site?

    Do a tag search for screenshot and you get over 88,000 of them. But forget about that. Just look at the last two images that your own employee Cal Henderson has uploaded to his stream. They are screen grabs as well. So could one also say that Cal posting video screen grabs of software that he did not create is also not what flickr is about? Or here’s a screengrab image from your own photostream.

    Now neither Cal, yours or my photostreams are largely about screen grabs. As you know I post far, far, far, more photographs than screen grabs. But every now and then if I have something to say I’ll use a screen grab to illustrate it. I really don’t see how this is “not what Flickr is about,” any less than the screengrabs that you and Cal have used.

    It would be better for you just to say that it was a mistake for you guys to delete my screen grab than to hold this position.

    Secondly, Stewart you say that Flickr will do better in the future with regards to what I call censorship and you refer to as “deletion”. You also say that it was a mistake to delete things permanently. How about outlining exactly how flickr plans to handle these censorship matters in the future?

    If we wanted to reach out to reporters, we would.

    And if I wanted to I could elevate our whole debate here to a blog post and it just might end up on digg and God knows where else all over again. Power to the people and all that. More publicity over this is the last thing you want right now. The last thing that you want is for attention to be drawn to the fact that a top flickr user had their work ripped off. Central to Flickr working is a sense that this is not going to happen to people. Somehow Only-Dremmin gallery got high res versions of Rebekka’s photos and we both know how high res versions of photos might have been procured from a Flickr users account in the past, despite a Flickr user not allowing high res downloads. But it’s not productive to get into that.

    The apology by the way, was extremely well written. It was in fact perfect in every respect of the word — and quite effective. If you wrote it without any help from Yahoo PR at all I’m especially impressed. My compliments.

    But the fact of the matter is that as beautiful as the apology was it still did not substantively address or outline how or if Flickr will change their practices in the future. I’d love to see this.

    Stewart, censorship is an issue at Flickr. You guys in the past have taken down many photos and permanently erased comments. A simple Google search for the words censor flickr pulls up 1,290,000 results.

    But you know what, Stewart. Here’s the thing. This thing has been blown up way too much. I’m done pushing it. I’m much more interested at this point in just seeing Flickr really follow through on your desire to err on the side of caution with regards to censorship. I don’t like getting sideways with you Stewart, I like you. You know, one of my best memories about Flickr was the first time you and I met. You borrowed my tripod to take a photo of a flag. I thought this is really cool. Here’s this guy who *runs* flickr and just *has* to get this photo of a flag so much that he’d ask me, a stranger for his tripod. I know you’re busy, but one of these days we’ll have to have lunch.

    I love photography Stewart, and photosharing almost as much.

    Let’s just give this censorship thing the attention that it deserves and quit this asinine and silly arguing on both our parts.

    Kumbaya my brother.

  31. stewart says:

    Well, thank you Thomas – very nearly gracious 😉

    “If you wrote it without any help from Yahoo PR at all I’m especially impressed.”

    Dude, this is me. It’s always me. I don’t co-write anything with PR. That’s what you don’t understand: there is no abstract entity called “Yahoo!” that cruises around the office making decisions. It’s a bunch of human beings.

    And here’s the other difference in perspective: you see this as a arbitrary pattern of willy nilly deletions of innocent Flickr members photos. I see it as a tiny (regrettable, unfortunate – but still tiny) fringe on a large body of properly handled community management, customer care, image review, legal reviews, etc.

    And it is human beings making the decisions. We employ some algorithmic approaches to abuse detection, but that just alerts people. Over 8.3m accounts have been created and we have more than 28m unique visitors a month: the volume and variety of complaints against individual members or photos, abuse reports, review queues, etc., has to be experienced to be understood. Almost every single one is handled properly. Almost all spam is gone before you see it. Almost all real cases of harassment are resolved appropriately. Almost all disputes are handled fairly.

    Almost. But given the human factor and the intractability of the problem to strict, always-applicable, never-ambiguous rules, human error does creep in. And this is despite daily policy discussions, debates (often heated and passionate), training programs, opinion sharing on individual cases, principles continually refined and tested in the real world.

    But it can always be better. Of course, a few hours after hearing about this without a chance to thoroughly discuss it with the team (and typing on a tiny handheld) I’m not going to have all the answers. We might post about specific changes in the future, or we might not, but changes we’re considering include a system which requires two people to sign off on any deletions other than a small set of clear cut cases, and we will be building “reversible delete” functionality.

    We absolutely take the issue seriously, just like we take *everything* about Flickr and the job we do seriously. Otherwise there’s no point doing it. And we work our asses off. Mostly we do a great job (which is why millions of people love Flickr). We also make mistakes.

  32. Thomas Hawk says:

    And here’s the other difference in perspective: you see this as a arbitrary pattern of willy nilly deletions of innocent Flickr members photos. I see it as a tiny (regrettable, unfortunate – but still tiny) fringe on a large body of properly handled community management, customer care, image review, legal reviews, etc.

    But Stewart, regrettably it has happened to me. And even when it’s happened to me you say that it was not a mistake because Flickr’s not about screengrabs while you and Cal and thousands of other people on the site get to have screen grabs up no problem. That worries me when I’m censored and you say it wasn’t a mistake.

    Can you provide me a little more color on that?

    I like both of those steps that ou are considering. The double review and making sure deletions are not permanent. One other thing you might also consider is giving the censored person a 48 hour opportunity to formally reject and then have a 3rd more senior person on staff review it. I suspect that most people won’t object. But the ones that do object, and especially for valid reasons, probably deserve an answer.

  33. Kara says:

    “allowing low level employees the ability to willy nilly delete poeple’s photos.” – Hawk

    This is a bit silly. Obviously Stewart cannot police the entire site himself. And to be frank, if I was the CEO of a photo sharing site and you were causing me this much of a headache (as a PR stunt), I wouldn’t just yank your silly screengrab, I would yank you entire account.

    “And if I wanted to I could elevate our whole debate here to a blog post and it just might end up on digg and God knows where else all over again…More publicity over this is the last thing you want right now. The last thing that you want is for attention to be drawn to the fact that a top flickr user had their work ripped off.” – Hawk

    Is that threat? Is that how you do business? Wow.

  34. gareth T says:

    What seems sad is that Flickr decided to delete the page rather than work with Rebekka to restrain some of the more agressive actions against Only-dreemin. Rebekka in her own blogg has shown herself to be restrained. What would have been better would have been for Flickr to have said to Rebekka we understand and agree with you that you have been robbed what can we do to help without putting people at risk. This might have meant some stuff was censored e.g. addresses but may also mean that the community felt supported.

    Stewart mentions as a solution having 2 staff sign off on “deletions” perhaps a step prior to this is to try to talk to the person you are censoring. As organisations grow – become institutions all to often they lose touch with their with their members and the expertise, loyalty and understanding residing there. Rebekka is loyal to Flickr obviously has a lot of knowledge and understanding it is just sad that the culture within Flickr did not lead to the staff going to her first off.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Hawk, you’ve lost all your credibility already. How long do you intend to keep this up?? I’m fed up and sick of your sick and twisted PR.

  36. “To play devil’s advocate, surely there are limits to what should be left online? Death threats for example?”

    I would agree, but strangely enough, would apparently see little support in this at flickr. I guess that what one wants to do is make sure to threaten somebody before posting an inoffensive photograph? Very strange.

  37. dysamoria says:

    they’re still doing it. they declared war on me, so, i’m responding in kind.

    http://members.nowpublic.com/dysamoria

  38. dysamoria says:

    Stewart said:
    “And here’s the other difference in perspective: you see this as a arbitrary pattern of willy nilly deletions of innocent Flickr members photos. I see it as a tiny (regrettable, unfortunate – but still tiny) fringe on a large body of properly handled community management, customer care, image review, legal reviews, etc.”

    Seems to me that it’s become a personal power battle on the part of staff against me… The arrogance. i’ve contacted every possible email address and help center and there’s never a response. But they just deleted my latest account (a free one, this time) under a FALSE statement of breaking the TOU…

    Mistakes happen… yeah… this is no mistake. i posted my open letter to Stewart in the forum, removed the names for “privacy” that they keep whining about, and it lasted 10 minutes, got deleted and ALL my postings in the forum were deleted and i was banned from the forum.

    Accidents… mistakes… RIGHT!!!!

    Bullshit. Now that i see Stewart is just as bad as the rest, i see that flickr as an entity of “individual people” is largely sociopathic. They have an answer for everything, and when they don’t, they will pretend you, and the issue, isn’t there.