An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc. on the New “The Internet is You,” Yahoo Marketing Campaign

An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc. on the New "The Internet is You," Yahoo Marketing Campaign

Dear Elisa:

Last month when you announced Yahoo! Inc’s new multi-million dollar ad campaign including the tagline, “the internet’s under new management yours,” I wrote you an open letter. While admittedly the letter was critical and even a bit sarcastic at times regarding censorship on Yahoo’s photo sharing site Flickr, I nonetheless was hopeful that perhaps Yahoo was sincere in your latest marketing message. I thought the statement was much better than the last big Yahoo marketing campaign about everybody needing to wear purple clothes or whatever, and as someone who values customer service oriented companies, I thought it was a positive statement for Yahoo to make.

Unfortunately, at this point, however, I am going to have to call bullshit on your new campaign. I assume it’s ok with you that I’m using such strong language to describe your campaign. Your boss Carol Bartz has built a big reputation as a tough talker with salty language so I’m hoping you’ll understand.

You see Elisa, despite the fact that seemingly everywhere I turn in San Francisco I see another one of your new ads on a bus shelter somewhere, the message rings hollow. It’s doublespeak. It’s inauthentic.

Yesterday, your Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ destroyed a community on Flickr that was home to over 3,000 hard-core Yahoo users. It was a community of photographers, many of whom have spent years on Yahoo in a group that was rich and vibrant. The group had over 5,000 ongoing conversations in it. It’s where many of us lived on Yahoo. The group was in part dedicated to free speech, but it was so much more than that. The group was a place where we talked about music. Where we shared tips on photography. Where we debated about film vs. digital. Where we went to ask each other for advice on what lens we ought to purchase next. It was a place where many of us went to meet each day. It was a place where offline photography meetups were organized. We actually published a magazine together. Many of us became good friends in real life.

But yesterday, while we were conversing there, and without any warning or opportunity to take any sort of self-corrective action, your Community Manager went nuclear and destroyed all of that user data. All of it. Every last thread. With a push of a button. Threads that were meaningful and important to us.

This was data that did not belong to Yahoo! Elisa. You destroyed something that did not belong to you. You destroyed hours and hours of peoples hard work maliciously and callously. You destroyed a group dedicated to free speech, but more significantly you destroyed a group that thousands of people had put significant emotional energy into.

And do you know what your Community Manager was tweeting mere seconds before she nuked this very popular group Elisa? She was tweeting “I hate your freedom.”

That’s right Elisa I, hate, your, freedom. That’s the image that I chose to go with this letter to you. A screenshot of her freedom hating tweet.

While I’m sure your representative got a good laugh out of that tweet, personally I found it as offensive as the fact that so much user data was destroyed so callously in the first place. You see Elisa, Yahoo already has a problem with people thinking that you hate freedom. Remember when Jerry Yang got called before the U.S. Congress and was brow beaten after you all released private emails to the Chinese Govt which resulted in a Chinese journalist’s imprisonment to this day? Remember just last week when rumors (very unfounded rumors I might add) were flying that Yahoo! had released private information on thousands of freedom seeking dissidents to the Iranian Govt?

“I hate your freedom?” Really Elisa? This is the marketing message that you as Yahoo’s Chief Marketing Officer want to send out to the world as you rip apart an online community dedicated to free speech. It’s distasteful and it’s offensive.

You see Elisa, all the money spent in the world on bus stop billboards cannot make your marketing message ring true when the real voices, real human authentic voices online, ring out that the internet (at least at Yahoo!) is in fact very much not under our management at all. In fact our feelings are not taken into consideration one iota. We, thousands of us, are tossed aside, thrown out like garbage. Our hard work destroyed by you. Not only do actions like this invalidate your message, they create enormous ill will against Yahoo that will stand for many years going forward.

A number of help forum threads (now all conveniently locked down by your staff) were created over the destruction of this group. I will quote you the official Yahoo! statement, again from Ms. Champ stated in one of those locked threads:

“Flickr is a community with fences. If you want the open range, then unfortunately, what you want to do is beyond what we allow.”

You see how that reads Elisa? It does not read that Yahoo is all about “you” at all. It’s a patronizing statement that says Yahoo is not about what “you” want. It’s about what “we” want. I hope you can see how this statement directly contradicts your current marketing slogan that the internet is under new management, you.

I’m sure you are familiar with John Gilmore, Elisa, a well respected thinker who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a quite respected organization that fights for freedom online. John Gilmore once said, “the Internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it.” And that’s what many of us have now done. Many of us in the community that was destroyed have now decided that we will no longer use Yahoo for our community experience. Yahoo simply cannot be trusted to not destroy thousands of hours of our work in the future. Instead we will be using community space hosted by one of your competitors, FriendFeed, a site owned by Facebook.

You see, despite not having a large glitzy “the internet’s about you,” campaign, to my knowledge FriendFeed has never censored anyone. They have this really cool feature allowing users to block somebody if you don’t like what they have to say instead. It’s great. When you do that they just disappear entirely on the site for you. Poof. Magic. Rather than pay for salaries and benefits for a team of censors, they just let their users block content that they don’t like and let me tell you, it works *alot* better that way.

Interestingly enough Elisa, FriendFeed was founded in part by the very guy who came up with the Google (another one of your competitors) slogan, “don’t be evil,” — as a marketing exec I’m sure you realize how powerful of a corporate message that has turned out to be, much more powerful than everybody needs to wear purple.

I’d hope that you could see how nuking an entire group over what was a skirmish between maybe two members in the group might not make sense. You used a shotgun to kill a gnat.

Many things could have been done to more responsibly address the Yahoo concern in question. Admins of the group could have been warned and given an opportunity to take corrective action on their own, the single offending post could have been deleted rather than destroying thousands of posts 99.9% of which were entirely unoffensive, you could have simply removed what you found offensive and locked the group down, leaving a rich collection of user data to at least exist in an archive format for future reference for those who had created it.

It did not need to be nuked.

I do hope you take a moment out of your busy day to address this situation personally Elisa because it is damaging to both Yahoo’s brand and your own campaign that you are spending significant shareholder money on.

And as long as these are the types of actions that you and your management stand behind then your current campaign is very much meaningless indeed. I do also hope that you do not allow your staff to personally retaliate against me by nuking my own flickr photostream for writing to you what is in fact a very respectful letter.

Thomas Hawk

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39 comments on “An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc. on the New “The Internet is You,” Yahoo Marketing Campaign
  1. James Rhodes says:

    I called it 12 ours ago, He is so predictable it just too easy… someone knock this idiot off his soapbox, before I do it myself….

    Get over yourself Thomas / Andy, you chose to go down a road, that was absolutely pointless. Stop fucking whining like a little girl, and just move on. There is no flickr conspiracy against you, thats your ego talk. Don’t be fooled by the word of your little cheerleaders, the world at large couldn’t give a shit less about you crusade against the management of Flickr, especially when you try and hide your personal vendetta behind a guise of objecting to censorship.

  2. Jake says:

    It sucks TH. Interesting how it occurred so soon after you posted this to DMU,

    “Ok, James, you’ve pissed me off. I’ve dropped my son at his game and am back home. You think you can fucking threaten me, for no reason, to make an example out of me? Fuck you.

    I want you to be very clear about what is possible to go down when I write this blog post because internet mobs are frequently not easy to control. I’ve had experience with more than one and I fucking hate them. When they are out frequently they are out. All the I’m sorry’s I fucked up in the world after the fact frequently can’t fix them. That’s why I’m taking my time to be very careful about how this thing might go down and why I feel that I owe you a pretty detailed explanation ahead of time for what it might look like.

    When I blog my post with your name in the headline, within 60 minutes or so it will be on the first page Google search results for your name. It will stay there for many years. Your name will be associated with someone who makes death threats on the internet and someone who wrote about potentially mugging me.

    This will piss people off. I’m a pretty reasonable guy and well liked generally speaking by most people who follow my blog. In addition to my blog the post will go out to the 20,000 or so people combined who follow my Twitter/Friendfeed threads. It will be a sensationalistic juicy blog post and as such it will generate alot of attention.

    I’m not sure where it will go. Simon Blint (mentioned above) moved out of his house for a while because he was petrified after getting death threats himself and people having figured out his home address and began publishing it on line.

    I know you’re a big tough guy who doesn’t care about these sorts of things but I fucking don’t like being threatened and I’m never one to just sit down and fucking let it go when some fucking internet bully like you is threatening me.

    So that’s where we are at. Consider yourself duly warned.

    Now, for those whom James has threatened, can you please provide me links to the threatening documentation. “

    in your group, followed up by posting personal information (home address, etc) in DMU, and then follow-up on your threat by blogging about TVJ http://thomashawk.com/2009/10/photographer-james-rhodes-thinks-its-ok-to-threaten-people-with-violence-on-the-internet.html which garnered yet more attention.

    Definitely wrong of Flickr to delete the group without warning, I agree with 100% there. They should always give at least a warning.

  3. Wendy Martyn says:

    nicely put

  4. Frank says:

    wah wah wah wah.

  5. Thomas Hawk says:

    Jake the information that was posted was public information that anyone could access on the internet. Whatever the case the situation could easily been addressed by either 1. Yahoo deleting any information that they found offensive. 2. Allowing me or another admin to delete any information that they found offensive. 3. Simply removing the information and locking down the group preserving a rich and vibrant archive.

    Nuking the entire group and especially without warning was completely unwarranted and uncalled for.

  6. James Rhodes says:

    Thommy why don’t you just start a service of your own ? Oh that right, you did, and it failed. Guess who you blame for that….. Flickr…

    You’ve made alot more enemies than just me. Why don’t you just keep you integrity in tact and shut the fuck up while you are still slightly ahead. You and I are a difference story. The moment you posted that blog you made an enemy for life, just like you do with nearly everyone you disagree with.

    Get off your soapbox, nobody is listening, and you are never going to change a damn thing. The only people listening are the people to stupid to know better, as for the rest of the world. They just don’t give a shit. See you think you wield all this power through your blog, you tried to rise a internet mob against me the same way you did for Mr. Blint. Its the same fucking song in a different tuning. You are the common denominator for each of these problems you complain about. Are you at least starting to see a pattern emerging here, or does you ego make you blind to that as well ?

  7. Ryan says:

    Oh shit, you know its ON when BULLSHIT is in bold :-/

  8. Jake says:

    Absolutely TH, nuking the group was over the line. They should have given you the opportunity to edit your posts and censor other ToS-breaking comments before they deleted the group. I am in 100% agreement with that.

  9. James, you seem to be listening.

  10. James Rhodes says:

    You constantly remind me of photography’s answer to Perez Hilton. You say and do what you want, and when you get popped for it, you take to your blog and whine about it. Grow up and be a man about it, for fucks sake you have children, what kind of example do you set for them I wonder. If you don’t get your way, just whine and throw a temper-tantrum until you do. Your narcissism is completely transparent, and you haven’t changed one single thing in any of your online smear campaigns, aside from scaring the crap out a museum employee, who was just doing his job.

  11. Ryan says:

    Also, anyone else picture Mel Gibson yelling “I, hate, your, freedom.”

  12. James Rhodes says:

    listening no, reading yes….dumbass

  13. James Rhodes says:

    No I just picture Mel Gibson screaming “Give me uncensored flickr, or give me death !!! “

  14. Yasuri Yamileth says:

    Heather Champ is THE DEVIL!! SHE IS EVIL AND VILE AND SHE MUST BE STOPPED!!

  15. lemiffe says:

    @James Rhodes: Have you nothing else to do but spam and harass Thomas?

    @Thomas: That really sucks, Flickr needs to think about how it currently manages everything. It’s not fair. I am a Flickr user, however, I am not on the forums nor am I a “power user”, however I enjoy it and would hate anything you mention in your posts happen to me. I hope they listen, I hope they react.

  16. Rob-L says:

    How I wish Microsoft would have bought out those fools at Yahoo.

  17. James Rhodes says:

    No Lemiffe, you see Thomas / Andy, wanted a war, so that exactly what he is going to get. I quit my job, sent the kids to boarding school and now my life is going to be dedicated to be everywhere Thomas is and ruin everything Thomas does from now until the day he takes down this idiotic blog of his. Not just the one about me, but the entire blog.

    Welcome to hell Thomas, I won’t quit, we got close to settling this in a pleasant way. But unfortunately for you, that was cut short. If he simply made a public statement admitting his mistake, and his slanted take on the story involving me, and trying to wield his useless internet power to rise a internet mob against me and try and “ruin my life ” admitting how foolish and childish it actually was, he might not ever hear from me again. That and if he sends video of him kissing his own ass. But me thinks that will never happen, and I certainly won’t be holding my breath waiting for it.

    So that leave us with making Thomas my favorite person to bug the fuck out of. The best part is he can never cry wolf, as he has already sealed his fate with the blog, he thought would hurt me so badly.

  18. Webomatica says:

    Ha ha, you had me until you said you moved the discussion to Friendfeed, which sold out to Facebook. Facebook is the last place you should be consider a safe haven from evil.

  19. Pax says:

    Dear Thomas Hawk and James Rhodes,

    Arguing on the internet is like competing in the Special Olympics; Even if you win, you’re still retarded.

  20. Thomas Hawk says:

    I don’t know Weboatica, I’ve yet to see a single incident of censorship on FriendFeed yet. Time will tell I suppose and of course we are always looking at other alternative. For right now though it feels like a much safer place than Yahoo.

  21. “I quit my job, sent the kids to boarding school and now my life is going to be dedicated to be everywhere Thomas is and ruin everything Thomas does from now until the day he takes down this idiotic blog of his. Not just the one about me, but the entire blog.”

    I’d like to point out that’s coming from the same guy who just told TH to set an example for his kids.

    Here’s to a resurgence of a unified DMU… we have three offshoots right now.

  22. James Rhodes says:

    Pax, HAHA yes that sentence has played over and over in my mind thousands of times in the last few days.

  23. Malaria Valtoni says:

    Why are you still on Yahoo servers?

    You’ve been bitching about Flickr censorship for as long as I can remember. GET THE HELL AWAY FROM IT and start a community of your own.

    If you’re dependent on a web service — particularly a free one — you are a SHARECROPPER. People who invest “hours and hours” working someone else’s field deserve to be disappointed when Boss Man does something evil (the nature of corporations, and the specialty of Yahoo).

    So go round up some of your Silicon Valley dev buddies and build your own community governed site. The software is waiting to be installed. Get after it.

  24. Parkylondon says:

    Right on Thomas. Nicely put. The trouble is I don’t think the folks at Yahoo!(r)(c)(fu) care too much about what we, the paying punters, actually think.

    It’s an issue that will come back to bite them in the future. Right now though, they are top of the pile and set fair to stay there. I just hope against hope that Yahoo does actually care more than they seem to.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  25. Parkylondon says:

    @JamesRhodes You teh funnay..

  26. Scott Shoemaker says:

    Leave flickr.

  27. James Rhodes says:

    AMEN Malaria !!!! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  28. Chris Dickey says:

    Thomas,

    Keep up the good fight, for better or worse you have invested in Flickr and I understand why you keep up the fight. Next time I am in San Francisco would very much like to go out and shoot with you and buy you a beer.

  29. A fair amount of people are returning to Zooomr lately who hadn’t used it in a while. I think Flickr is really pissing people off.

  30. Ben Long says:

    I may have missed this but what discussion/argument on DMU did Flickr object to so deleted it, was it the Thomas and James thing?

  31. An expressive message, not sure it will reach the hearts (or minds?) of the Yahoo guys.

  32. NikD3S says:

    “I quit my job, sent the kids to boarding school and now my life is going to be dedicated to be everywhere Thomas is and ruin everything Thomas does from now until the day he takes down this idiotic blog of his. Not just the one about me, but the entire blog.

    Welcome to hell Thomas, I won’t quit, we got close to settling this in a pleasant way. But unfortunately for you, that was cut short. If he simply made a public statement admitting his mistake, and his slanted take on the story involving me, and trying to wield his useless internet power to rise a internet mob against me and try and “ruin my life ””

    @James Rhodes, if you quit your job and have dedicated your life to ruining Thomas Hawk, then I think he’s already ruined your life with his useless internet power. congrats.

  33. Sam Russo says:

    Heather Champ does indeed abuse her authority. Very quick to delete other peoples’ accounts.

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