Hey Flickr … Why So Censorious? MSNBC Report on Flickr
MSNBC is out with an article on a lot of the recent censorship that’s been going on at Flickr. I’m not talking specifically about the Obama/Joker image here (which I now believe Flickr did receive a valid, albeit potentially bogus DMCA takedown notice on) but more about the general tone (baby talk, etc.) of how Flickr handles customer service issues, account deletions, and customer criticism in their help forum (where I’ve personally been banned indefinitely). In the past month alone Flickr has locked many threads in the forum where recent users have complained about account deletions and other issues.
I spoke with the MSNBC reporter on the article, Helen Popkin, yesterday in an interview about Flickr’s customer service practices and shared with her my own frustrating experiences of being both censored repeatedly and banned by Flickr most recently in the help forum.
The thing is, nobody is a bigger fan of Flickr than I am. I’ve invested thousands of hours over the course of the last four years into the site. I’ve personally uploaded over 29,000 images on Flickr. I’ve faved over 75,000 photos there. I have over 14,000 contacts. I’ve made dozens of real life friends through the site. I spend time on the site every single day. I’ve sold photos through the site and currently participate in Getty Images stock photography offerings through the site. I’ve blogged incessantly about the site from the very beginning. A google search for my name with Flickr brings up 248,000 results. While at times I have been critical of some of the decisions that Flickr has made, mostly having to do with censorship cases, account deletions and the permanent loss of indivdual’s photos, etc. I’ve always felt that I’ve done so respectfully. I quite honestly love the place and a big part of my photographic goal is to upload a million photos to the site before I die.
That said, unfortunately, I do think that Popkin’s article is pretty much right on the money. Flickr currently holds a monopoly in the photosharing space and as such has gotten away with abusing their customers in my opinion. I don’t deserve to be banned indefinitely from the help forum simply for posting a link to an anti-Flickr blog (not mine) that is criticizing Flickr over what they feel is an anti-gay bias. Don’t shoot the messenger. Rather than censor me, Flickr should take time to address the concerns of the anti-flickr blog and openly and honestly discuss them with their users so that an anti-flickr blog is never started in the first place.
The article points out that as a private company Flickr can do anything that they want. They can limit speech. They can delete user accounts. They can censor whomever they want. And I totally get that. I’ve never maintained that Flickr is not a private business owned by a private but publicly traded company. But just because they can do these things doesn’t mean that they *should* do these things. And as a company it doesn’t mean that it’s in their best interest to do these things.
I hope Flickr, and my participation in the Flickr Community, last for the rest of my life. Hell, I hope that before I die I can figure out a way to maintain my Flickr account for hundreds of years beyond my death (personally I think it would be interesting to see Flickr offer an infinite sort of Pro account that would maintain your images even after you die). But I also believe that the best communities are communities that are open, transparent and free of censorship. Free speech is not something that should threaten any community. And I suppose this puts me at odds with the current Flickr administration who rather see themselves as shapers of communities and moderators of the content on their site.
For the first time yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see Flickr staff crack just a little in admitting that taking down an image only (and not all of the corresponding comments, faves, and other meta data around a photo) when they get a DMCA takedown notice might not be a bad idea. I still think Flickr needs to do more though. Account and image deletions should not be permanent and irrevocable. Both could be pulled down by making the images private and thus invisible to anyone on Flickr but the owner while Flickr gave users an opportunity to take corrective action over problems flickr has with accounts or to appeal censorship decisions. Help forum threads should not be locked when users are critical of the service. The Help Forum is the number one way that Flickr staff communicates with their users and when they lock critical threads it only frustrates users even more. Nor should users be banned from the help forum for issuing comments critical of Flickr practices.
I hope that Yahoo takes a hard look at Popkin’s article. There is much improvement that could be done with Flickr. Flickr is a tremendously important cultural jewel that in a strange way I feel belongs to society at large at this point as much as it belongs to Yahoo. So much art is being made and shared at Flickr. So many people are using it in a way to culturally enrich the world. Yahoo should look at this cultural jewel that they have and recognize it for what it is, also recognizing that censorship has often been the enemy of culture.
I’d much rather blog about all the great things going on at Flickr than the things that I feel are negative going on there. And I do hope that some of the practices over the course of the past few years mentioned in this article are addressed and changed.