Flickr = Censorship, Part 119,274

Priscilla 1969 by Joseph Szabo

Flickr: The Forum: [closed] Since when has photo’s of kids pretending to smoke been banned on flickr?

Ok, so I’ve pretty much been avoiding blogging anything about Flickr/Yahoo for the past few months since I pretty much quit hanging out on the site, but this one’s pretty stupid so I’m going to blog about it anyways.

Yes, I’m the CEO Zooomr, a competitor to Flickr/Yahoo, so feel free to dismiss everything I say here as nothing more than yet another shameless attempt to bash the competitor. Still, it’s pretty stupid and it was brought to my attention by some of my friends over there so here goes.

Apparently Yahoo has deleted (read censored) a photo on their site because it was a photo of a kid with a cigarette.

Now, I’m all for kids. I’m a father myself. I don’t let my kids play with candy cigarettes and I hope they never smoke, but, this is simply stupid.

Apparently this was the response from Yahoo staff over the photo in question.

“Images of children under the age of 18 who are smoking tobacco is prohibited across all of Yahoo’s properties.
I’ve gone ahead and deleted the image from your photostream.
We appreciate your understanding.


I think where Flickr gets it wrong here is that by having a rule about photographs of kids smoking in place it leads to a very subjective interpretation of what should be censored and what should not. What about someone under 21 drinking alcohol? Should those photos be censored too? And what if the person viewing is from Italy where there is no law against drinking under the age of 21? What about a photo of someone jaywalking? That’s illegal isn’t it? More than even the problem with an image of a child smoking is the point of where lines of censorship ought to be drawn.

The photo above was taken by photographer Joseph Szabo. It’s entitled “Priscilla, 1969.” Dinosaur Jr. used it for their Green Mind album cover a number of years back (that’s a kick ass album by the way and highly recommended). I’ve posted the above photo on Flickr to see if they censor me as well or not. Will Flickr censor the work of a well known fine arts photographer, a high school teacher, a recipient of an award from the National Endowment for the Arts?

I don’t know, well see I guess. But it wouldn’t surprise me.

Also of course, and again no surprise to me I’ve been censored plenty personally in Flickr Help forums, is the fact that the thread associated with this act of censorship itself is locked by Yahoo Staff and thus effectively shut down. Beautiful indeed.

I do think that photographers have a moral responsibility with regards to what they shoot. But I don’t believe that shooting someone under 18 with cigarettes, especially in documentary fashion as is done by Szabo, ought to be a taboo worthy of censorship.

Censorships sucks pure and simple. Shame on Yahoo for once again choosing the path of censorship.

To follow a more uncensored thread on this subject you can read the thread in Flickr’s Deleteme Uncensored.

On digg here.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It will be interesting to see what happens.

  2. jaymce says:

    hey thomas, perhaps credit the pic to szabo underneath on flickr so they can’t go getting you on stealing a photograph or something even more stupid then the limits you are testing.

  3. Celine says:

    I agree, it will be interesting. I tend to agree with you, Thomas, that the moral police seem to have run amuck.

    By the way, that link to the deleteme unsensored group only works if you’re a member of the group, apparently. I can’t access it… says I don’t have permission.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Hey Jaymce, I credit Szabo in the title of the photo as well as in the tag.

    I’d actually be interested to hear Szabo’s opinion on this matter himself if anyone knows how to get a hold of him.

  5. Jake says:

    Feel free to add your photos to this group, Kids smoking.

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    By the way, that link to the deleteme unsensored group only works if you’re a member of the group, apparently. I can’t access it… says I don’t have permission.

    Celine, the reason why this is the case is because Flickr has marked that group as an unsafe group on Flickr. Thus they restrict access to it to the general public and to Flickr users unless you explicitly state that you want to see explicit images. The funny thing is that that group is much more known for its free speech than it’s explicit images which are actually quite rare.

  7. Celine says:

    Celine, the reason why this is the case is because Flickr has marked that group as an unsafe group on Flickr.

    Interesting. Not sure how I can change that on my end, though, since I have my account set to view everything (no safe search, etc.). If anyone knows, I’d appreciate it. Thanks for the heads up.

  8. brendadada says:

    This action denies the whole history of photography. The site isn’t a photohost if it deletes photographs like this.

    I’ve posted a copy on my Flickr photostream, even though I never visit the place. Solidarity, Thomas.

  9. Mary-Ann says:

    I think Zooomr has gone too far in the other direction though, I’m sure people with office jobs would appreciate warning if they are going to encounter genitalia on a hitherto innocent photo sharing site.

  10. mjlambie says:

    that’s a great point you orchestrate. Where is the line drawn? Any illegal acts? This is a poor policy choice. I think there should be some photos or perhaps photo disclaimers. Community tagging to flag a disclaimer perhaps? What is the solution, i mean, there are probably some subject matters which should not be public. Is this also their policy on private photos?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, if you really wanted to make a statement you would have started this little rant by posting the photo to Zooomr as a contrast to “censored” Flickr. But, you didn’t because you know the amount of traffic you’d get from Flickr is 10,000 times more than you’d get from your own companies site.

  12. There is a distinct difference between promoting smoking for children, and portraying, observing a child smoking. It is somehow more disturbing to me when folks turn away from a tough aspect of real life and pretend it isn’t happening. This is more dangerous than facing off with it. (I can’t help but think of the effect of the absence of war images during wartime.) You don’t have to go looking for it or glorify it. What better learning opportunity with your children than during a random encounter with a challenging concept such as this one? Don’t we have an obligation to equip them to think for themselves? We underestimate them, and don’t think for a moment that they aren’t paying attention. Gee. We are exposed to stronger images during anti-drug television commercials at dinnertime, and summer block-buster movies. It’s healthy for them to see us trust and respect them enough to discuss things that may stop them and draw their attention. Like this image. Or the stinky homeless guy in the park. (Kindly refrain from reading this as a pro shock and awe parenting philosophy 🙂
    Aside from the risk-to-our-kids debate, the censor seems to miss the point. That is that, among others, a joy of photography is as viewfinder of life, as illuminator of things we just don’t notice otherwise or perhaps never have opportunity to see. I love the Flickr community, so this genuinely saddens me.

  13. Dave Ward says:

    If they won’t permit photos of a crime as minor as a child smoking, then I’m sure they’ll DEFINITELY not allow posting photos of even worse crimes. They’ll delete photos of people looting after a hurricane, right? How about photos depicting a robbery in progress? We don’t want to be promoting robbery, so they’ve got to go.

    How about photos of Chinese dissidents illegally protesting for democracy? I wonder what kind of reaction THAT would provoke?

  14. CC says:

    Flickr can censor whomever they want. It’s a privately held website. For example, you can’t go into a church and say “Jesus Christ sucks!” and not expect to be at least told to be quiet. You’re on private property, they can ask you to follow their rules.

  15. Ulrich says:

    What flickr does to photography is so wrong. It is a pity.

  16. Ian says:

    “Flickr can censor whoever they want” – I suppose so – but equally we can complain, tell them they are dicks and generally make a noise about it to the point where they make even bigger fools of themselves

  17. Mikey126 says:

    I’m no expert on US law (reasonable enough, I’d say, since I’m British and live in London) but I’d be surprised if smoking by children is illegal, since after all, who’s committing the crime? Supplying cigarettes to children, I imagine, must be unlawful, as it is over here.

    The alcohol consumption one is interesting. If I post a photo of my daughter celebrating her 18th birthday by getting wrecked in a bar*, will Flickr remove that?

    For that matter, I wonder how many countries have no legal restrictions regarding underage smoking? Or different definitions of “underage”?

    Another one for you: this is the winner of the WSOPE Main Event in London this month. About 2 million dollars, good for her. She’s 19. So this is something
    that would be illegal in the US. Tsk tsk, tsk, Flickr, condoning/promoting “underage” gambling are we?

    I suppose we need a clear, definitive and (mostly) unchanging statement of what they do and do not consider to be grounds for removal. I suppose we’re going to have to infer it from what is and is not removed.

    * Entirely legal in the UK, although I fervently hope that when the occasion arrives in 10 years or so she chooses some more dignified way to celebrate!

  18. Scott says:

    Terrence, this is stupid stuff.

  19. Marina G says:

    Is it a crime to smoke underage in the USA? I thought it was only a crime to SELL cigarettes to minors.

    If this is the case, then Flickr is censoring something that isn’t even a crime.

  20. Anonymous says:

    There are people who get off on kids smoking. Picture sites figure out what these folks collections are about and boot them. My guess is flickr ran into an isolated situation like this and globally over-reacted.

    An example of the types involved (originally an adult-smoking fetish forum, now slowly being overrun by the pedophiles:)

    with threads on a recent crackdown on Angelfire/Lycos:

  21. Andy Atkinson says:

    Hi Thomas. How would you feel of Flickr made the photo private instead of deleting it from the photostream. For people that use Flickr as storage or a metadata authoring tool, Flickr is saying you can’t share your stuff here, but you *also* can’t store or annotate your stuff here, when I think they could draw a line between those two things.

  22. Carlos says:

    I agree on most issues raised by people against censorship. On the other hand, I completely disagree with people supporting flickr for doing what they want with their site, although true enough we must remember that it is a company part of a group which once ruled the e-world (yahoo!) in which freedom was paramount. First the closing down of free chats a few years ago, now regulating photostreams (for those who think censorship is to harsh), what’s next?

    I’m all for free will and as long as people are not being shown by force such “horrendous images” there shouldn’t be a problem. And if you “by terrible and incorrectable mistake” happen to fall into one of these obscene pictures JUST PLEASE: -MOVE ON-.

  23. Anonymous says:

    It is a great photo. It is art and captures so much in a single image. I doubt if this photo will send 1,000s of pre-teens to by smokes.

    What’s next goose stepping in DC with faso-parents forcing their evil offspring into my world. Don’t we have enough entitled parents and children?

  24. madame says:

    i’d be interested in hearing your views on bloggers who censor their comments.

  25. rss says:

    Flickr and Yahoo are private businesses, and are well within their rights to censor whatever they so choose on their sites.

    A more salient question regards the need for the civil realm to extend to cyberspace.

    William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer foresaw the movement of civic space into cyberspace, and this is coming to pass. Unfortunately, most internet service providers view themselves as providers of an “information service” rather than as common carriers. Hence, even if one speak with one’s own “voice” — that is, with one’s own server — it is likely that one’s internet service provider has reserved itself the right to veto what is said. They have done this, it is likely, via the contract entered into upon subscription.

    What is needed, juridically, is the extension of the human rights into cyberspace.

  26. […] Thomas Hawk alerted me to yet more silliness from Flickr. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but do read the threads. This is a magnificent photograph, don’t you think? If it, or the one that started this had been deleted because it was ’stolen’, then fair enough. I’m in danger of losing more than 60 seconds of happiness. […]

  27. A great way to use flickr photos is a plugin called photodropper which searches all of the creative commons pics and let your drop them right in the page.

    Not sure if that is relivant to the censorship issue but really makes the posts look nice.