Washington State Firefighter “Fireman Johnny” Has His Account Deleted by Flickr

I was disappointed this weekend to learn that a friend of mine and fellow DMU member “Fireman Johnny” had his long-standing Flickr account of 5 years deleted without warning by Flickr Friday night.

Johnny is a Washington State firefighter who was very active in our DMU group where he could always be counted on to tell us great stories about what real life as a firefighter was like. In addition to being active in our DMU group, Johnny also administered two other groups on Flickr. One that warned about the dangers of drinking and driving and another “The Brave Soldiers and the families who support them” which was a central place for military families to come talk about issues. Now that Johnny’s been deleted, he can no longer administer this group which was very important to him and a number of families of American soldiers who went there for support.

Johnny’s as genuine a guy as they come.

So why did Flickr nuke Johnny’s account?

This is Flickr’s official answer back to him:


Flickr account “Fireman Johnny” was deleted by Flickr staff for violating our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.


# Do play nice.
We’re a community of many types of people, who all have the right to feel comfortable and who may not think what you think, believe what you believe or see what you see. So, be polite and respectful in your interactions with other members.

# Don’t vent your frustrations, rant, or bore the brains out of other members.
Flickr is not a venue for you to harass, abuse, impersonate, or intimidate others. If we receive a valid complaint about your conduct, we’ll send you a warning or terminate your account.

DMU group discussion titled “NEW! Level 3 Sexual Offender Moves In Nearby…Oh how charming!”

-Flickr staff

The thread referenced by Flickr has also been deleted from Flickr now as well.

And what was the thread about?

Johnny was upset that a level 3 sex offender (the worst 3% of all offenders) with previous convictions for child molestation had moved into his neighborhood next to a school. Johnny was upset by this and so he posted a thread about this in DMU on Flickr along with the molester’s *publicly available information* from a state run sex offender registry. The registry is public information and anyone can access it here.

The registry has no stipulation against sharing or republishing the information and in fact even has a “tell a friend” button right on the form where you can put in a friend’s email address and have the entry sent to them automatically.

In the thread Johnny never threatened anyone. He simply posted the public info sheet on this sex offender (freely available to anyone on the internet) and then talked about his frustration with the situation in his neighborhood. But apparently he violated Flickr’s policy against “venting ones frustrations online.”

Because Flickr has no undo account deletion, Johnnys 5-year account is now permanently erased.

Fireman Johnny has started a new Flickr account as Firefighter Johnny, but unfortunately his previous five years, including all his photos and entire digital existence on Flickr have been wiped completely off of planet Flickr.

I quite honestly don’t know what to do about these reckless and random account deletions that seem to be happening more and more frequently on Flickr. If Fireman Johnny can be deleted, any of us can be deleted. Being upset about a level 3 sex offender and posting about it on Flickr absolutely should not get your account deleted. Johnny was upset that this guy moved into his neighborhood right by an elementary school. That’s a natural reaction. He shared his upsetting news in a thread on Flickr and whamo, the Flickr police nuked his account right out from underneath him.

Another DMU brother hits the dust, and a good one at that.

That sucks.

Blake Irving, if you really care about Flickr like you claimed Friday in your tweet, you’ll fix this mess.

Account deletions should not be immediate, permanent and irrevocable. If we invest thousands of hours of our online lives into Flickr we *deserve* an appeal process. We *deserve* due process before our digital lives are deleted. We *deserve* an opportunity to take self-corrective action before you nuke us out of existence.

We entrust you with our digital lives. Have some respect for the content we bring to Flickr. Have some basic human decency. Because without our content your Flickr is nothing. Flickr only works because of our generosity in sharing our content. Acknowledge that and show us some respect.

Why couldn’t you have just told Johnny that you had a problem with his thread and that if he didn’t delete it you’d nuke him? Why couldn’t you have just nuked the thread and left his account alive? Why destroy a 5-year account, his administration of other important groups and his whole digital life on Flickr?

Johnny didn’t deserve this. Thanks for making Flickr a little bit safer for child molesters and a little bit more hostile and fearful for the rest of us Yahoo.

Nice work indeed Flickr!

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  1. Keshav says:

    Just in case Flickr doesn’t fix itself, what could be a possible alternative (to Flickr)?

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Keshav, honesty I don’t think one exists today. Hopefully at some point in the future.

  3. Abu Nudnik says:

    Devil’s advocate here: I think they are sealing off from lawsuits. I think some people like Picassa.

  4. When will yahoo start a fair trade?
    When will a crowd like me and Johny will get “a right to be heard”?
    When will we get a chance to “Right to Information.”
    When will yahoo stop its moral policing with out giving other party a chance at least explain his/her side.

  5. JeffPHenderson says:

    Thomas, why keep complaining about Flickr’s VERY POOR customer service. It is clear that they have not intentions of changing their anti customer policies. Instead of complaining, isn’t it about time to find another more customer friendly photo site and lobby concerned Flickr users to leave en-mass? It’s a new year, let’s find a new place for serious photographers to show and share their work and discuss any topic freely without fear of deletion.

  6. SteelToad says:

    Personally, I think flickr is full of crap when they tell you that the account is deleted with no means of recovery. So are they trying to say that with all of the vast resourses of Yahoo that they lack the means and ability to make backup copies just in-case a database ever has a problem. Are they trying to say that there is no off-site backup made which wouldn’t be destroyed when some idiot hits the delete key.

    Lets say that Johnny wrote something bad about Mr. X, and Mr. X decided to sue, they are going to go to flickr with a subpoena. Is flickr trying to say that when the courts come to them, they’re going to say “Sorry we’ve permanently removed all traces of that happening, if it ever did happen” … I very seriously doubt it.

    The only answer that doesn’t fly in the face of common sense is that flickr is lying.

  7. Rob-L says:

    This has gotten out of control. What kind of companies treat their customers this way? No warning or anything? That’s just ridiculous.

    And now Yahoo has chosen to kick off a law abiding fire fighter who uses flickr for support and goodwill (instead of just posting photos) because they want to protect a child molester?

    Nice going assholes.

  8. Of my several theories as to what flickr’s policies really are, I would have to say that flickr will not tolerate any controversy whatsoever. There was nothing illegal about my gallery, but flickr received a complaint that it pushed too far past traditional street photography and my paid pro account was deleted. I doubt that I will ever have that 200,000 hit per month audience again.

    Although flickr gave a reason for the deletion, its a ridiculous reason. I don’t know of too many people who would welcome a serious sex offender into their neighborhood. One could say there is a controversy here regarding what to do with the worst sex offenders when their prison terms end, or if their incarceration should ever end.

    I suppose that flickr will say they don’t have time to deal with appeals, due process and transparency. However, they do have the time to be the “taste” police. That’s all this is, a matter of taste. Only, it’s their way on what is in good taste, or the highway. flickr can run it’s business any way they want to, but they have chosen a bad way. Users should vote with their feet and not renew their pro accounts.

  9. Richard says:

    What ever happened to giving warnings and giving people the chance to correct the supposed misdemeanour?

  10. Alastair says:

    Everything tells me I should dump my Flickr pro account. Sadly, there really isn’t a viable alternative. While I haven’t felt the delete stick of Flickr personally, I just feel I don’t want to be involved with an organisation who mindlessly destroys the work of other users. I would be the first (or second or third.. top ten anyway) to leave Flickr if there was an alternative. This wilful destruction of people’s hard work without any kind of discussion is just abhorrent. I can understand Flickr doing so if there was clearly illegal material in a photostream but for the groups? Come on, Flickr! Be fucking reasonable!

  11. Treeswing says:

    Anyone here know the best top-level person at Flickr to mail a complaint to? I hear you when you say the customer service is awful, but my pro account is coming up for renewal and I’d hope that would give me a tiny bit of leverage to be listened to re: this.

  12. Jordan says:

    Thomas with your recent stats on how much yahoo makes on flickr it shouldnt be hard to find another venue with the know how to make a new photo sharing site.

    Facebook could make a fortune on this, it already has the member base! Just needs
    A better photo sharing capacity.

    This should be really easy and very profitable.

  13. It can be very hard to respond to flickr’s warnings. In August of 2009 my traffic suddenly dropped by 80% and I had no idea why. There was no notification as to any change in status. In April of 2010 I noticed my account was marked “Safe” and “NIPSA” (not im public search areas). I requested a review and the NIPSA restriction was lifted. At the time the flickr rep said there had been concerns about voyeurism, but that no image was voyeur and nothing had to be deleted. I asked if any were close enough to the line to be a concern, but the flickr rep would not answer the question.

    I continued to add material that followed the same formula that I had been using. In December I am notified that the account has been marked “moderate”. The email was a canned one that stated the action had been taken due to images containing partial nudity. There were no such images. I requested another account review and the answer was “unfortunately you were warned before about voyeurism and your account is deleted”. There never was any voyeur material in the account, even under the definition flickr claims to use. My conclusion is that complaints made the case, plus that at 200,000 views per month I was chewing up their precious bandwidth.

    These days I am spending hours putting everything back together on WordPress.

  14. Fireman Johnny says:

    Thank you all for your comments, and thank you Thomas for blogging about this….

    The thread I started and the information including picture in “DMU Uncensored” were of a “Level 3”..3 time convicted sexual predator in his 30s who refused treatment and admitted in his own words that “he would likely re-offend”…… by the way..he was convicted of both kidnapping a minor child, child rape and incest of a minor child (three separate incidences AND he spoke of wanting to “Kill other humans” to his assigned counsel.

    *All of the information and picture I posted were “public information”

    Because he served his time he was allowed to once again be released into our community AND only a few minutes walk to a nearby grade school -play field…..

    That very same community he was released into is still healing from the loss of a 7 year old girl who’s body still has never been recovered
    ( He was incarcerated at the time so he is NOT suspected).

    I chose the” DMU Uncensored” format to vent my frustration as person who lives only moments away from where he has registered by our state law to reside…I felt the need to air my frustration and be heard by members of “DMU” and carry a ongoing debate about the subject.

    Before doing so I took the time to read the Flickr TOS and I could find no reference about endangering my account by doing so. I assumed that I was free to “Speak my mind” about this situation and the DMU format would be the perfect place to do so….

    The Flickr TOS is so vague that technically they could and did find violation with the thread I created and the debate within it….and legally they have every right in my opinion to do so like it or not….

    The pictures in that 5 year account that I only shared with my selected friends were of nothing more than my home,myself,my family and fires that I took part in as a Firefighter… They can ALL be uploaded again and I intend on doing so next week..

    My biggest concerns now are not of my own now but of the members of one of my flickr groups called:
    ” Brave Warriors and Those supporting Them”
    When flickr deleted my account they also stripped my admin.status in that group and it now shows that the one and only administrator(me) is no longer active and has been deleted.

    Basically, because I can no longer approve pictures, promote,or post as a Admin. the group that has been a place to find support and share pictures, find friendships with military families is now a thing or place of the past….

    I cared about these folks and their families I feel like I have let them down now, not only because of the group and the support it offered but I had NO WARNING and no time to save my contact list and those members and friends that were on it….

  15. I think the reason that flickr gives no warning is to maximize the damage. flickr is angering so many people that eventually it is going to come back to them.

  16. I left Flickr over two years ago (I had a Pro account) when I saw this happening over and over again. And today, it still happens over and over again.

    Flickr hasn’t changed because Flickr doesn’t *want* to change. That means they *won’t* change.

    So, given that Flickr is already what they want to be — given that they *choose* to be arbitrary and capricious and choose the “nuclear option” with wanton disregard for any sense of *proportion*, context, or decency — why would you chose to trust them with the time and energy it takes to be a Flickr subject?

    Facebook isn’t really an option, given that their TOS gives them the right to use and even monetize your photos.

    If the numbers are as good as Thomas suggests, why isn’t there an alternative?

  17. Hub says:

    Alternative? Zooomr? *sigh*

  18. John Piercy says:

    Deleting a Firefighters Account !
    No Warning , No ability to recover 5 years of pictures ?

    This is complete and utter BS !!!!

    We need an email address for the CEO

    I got sone writing to so

    John Piercy

  19. John Piercy says:

    Deleting a Firefighters Account !
    No Warning , No ability to recover 5 years of pictures ?

    This is complete and utter BS !!!!

    We need an email address for the CEO

    I got sone writing to do

    John Piercy

  20. […] 19, 2011 by Hagit Katzenelson A recent blog post by Thomas Hawk told the story of a photographer’s Flickr account being irrevocably deleted without a […]

  21. I have to agree with Gordon Runkle. No amount of complaining about the injustice will get flickr to change. It is time to formulate an alternative. I wonder if there is some way to form a network using an existing resource like WordPress.

    Perhaps someone could start a WordPress blog whose sole purpose was to help photographers connect with each other on WordPress. It would need to be done by someone with visibility so that a critical mass of photographers would be attracted to it.

  22. Truthseekr says:

    Basically ANY service that you don’t pay for, doesn’t HAVE TO guarantee you anything.

    Yes its nice we have facebook, gmail, skype and stuff; but it doesn’t mean these will always have to be there.

  23. SteelToad says:

    Truthseekr, a good deal of the problem is occurring with Pro accounts which ARE paid for.

  24. Eric in SF says:

    Ron – it’s bigger than just photographers. I’d love to get off Flickr, but there is no bigger serious amateur botany community to be found anywhere else on the net. I regularly interact with serious amateur and professional botanists from every continent on Flickr.

  25. Ernie says:

    Certainly seems like an opportunity for a startup of better an established entity to knock flickr on their butts. I’m dropping my Pro account – who’s with me?

  26. Ernie says:

    Just did it and the earth didn’t open up and swallow me up …yet


  27. Eric in SF, you are lucky. Pictures of flowers are about the only thing that is safe to post on flickr.

  28. BigScreen says:

    Flickr complaint posts seem to be a fairly regular occurrence, and there doesn’t seem to by any indications that anything will change from their end of things.

    Unless everyone that is unhappy with their actions are willing to cancel their Pro accounts, delete their photos, and stop contributing to their site in the form of new photos and forum postings, what incentive does Flickr have to change what they are doing? I can pretty much guarantee you that no one of any importance ever knows that such complaints exist, and the interns that may be assigned to keep an eye on buzz in blogs are probably told to ignore complaints without associated ramifications like cancellations, organized and widespread boycotts, and other significant negative impacts.

    Creating a competitor to Flickr must not be cost-effective, because if it was, there would be others trying it. Facebook and Google are probably in the best position to do so because of their large base of customers, but neither are doing it (at least they aren’t showing any signs of it).

    The answer may be as plain as the fact that Flickr doesn’t need to be replaced. I think there are plenty of people that are more than happy with the photo-sharing capabilities of Facebook, and the more professional/prosumer photographers are maintaining control of their property through sites that they control and aren’t subject to the whims of organizations that do not have their best interests as a priority.

    If Flickr didn’t exist today, would Yahoo create Flickr? I doubt it.

    While I can appreciate the love that many have for Flickr and the relationships that they have formed there, perhaps it’s time for those involved to realize that what made Flickr great is in the past, and despite proclamations by Yahoo (that are not supported by any measure of tangible actions), Flickr may be a cash cow that will only be around as long as it’s on the right side of some spreadsheet somewhere.

    Until that time, execs will say that it’s important, until it isn’t, and it’s just gone.

    If you really don’t support the actions of Flickr, stop using it! If you have a community of people in a group that you don’t want to lose, such as DMU, create a forum-based web site and gather there. The opportunity is there and the tools and skilled people are out there to make it happen, but it’s not going to come easy. You’ll have to spend time and money (and lots of at least one of them) to make it happen.

    Take control of your own destiny, or have it dictated to you by someone else.

  29. […] staff, but the fact that Flickr has no means by which to retrieve accounts and images it deletes. A similar thing happened to “Firefighter Johnny”, who was mistaken chucked off Flickr with his account […]

  30. Flickr is not a good web site.

    It’s up to us to find or make its successor.