What a Sad, Weak, Pathetic, Cop Out Response by Yahoo Over Censoring Hossam el-Hamalawy’s Flickr Photos of Egyptian Secret Police

I just read what appears to be an official Yahoo response over the Flickr censorship of Hossam el-Hamalawy, aka Arabawy’s photos. I blogged about Arabawy’s plight over the weekend here and also wrote an open letter to Carol Bartz over the censorship here. TechCrunch also reported on the censorship here.

The response was written by Yahoo’s Director of Business & Human Rights Program, Ebele Okobi-Harris.

There are so many problems with Yahoo’s poor justification for this censorship in this post that I don’t even know where to begin.

I will quote some of their rationalizations for the censorship and try and refute some of their primary points.

Don’t upload anything that isn’t yours.

This includes other people’s photos, video, and/or stuff you’ve copied or collected from around the Internet. Accounts that consist primarily of such collections may be deleted at any time.

This rule applies regardless of content, or of the purpose of the post. The reasoning for this is not only about copyright—and in this case, it’s not a copyright issue. It’s an issue of community: Flickr is meant to be a place where photographers, amateur and professional, can share their own work. Flickr, as a community, does not want to be a photo-hosting site, and anyone signing up for Flickr agrees to those rules, which apply whether one is a proud grandmother or a human rights activist.

This still seems to be the main justification point by Yahoo for removing Arabawy’s photos. The photos he posted weren’t his Yahoo says.

As I pointed out before, Flickr is so chock full of people violating that rule that it’s laughable. Flickr’s *OWN STAFFERS* routinely violate this rule. Flickr’s Co-Founders who still maintain accounts on the site break this rule. Thousands of people on Flickr, literally, break this rule.

Ironically, the *VERY FLICKR ACCOUNT* linked on this Yahoo blog’s page as belonging to the Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Program’s is CLEARLY posting work that is identified as not belonging to the account owner. A clear violation of Flickr’s rules by the very same blogger justifying the rule in the first place.

Are there times when this rule should be applied? Sure. Like, you know, possibly when there is a REAL copyright dispute (which this blog post already has said was not the case here), but again, not the case for Arabawy.

Are there other times when it should be ignored? Sure. Would Flickr remove a photo of co-founder Stewart Butterfield that another photographer had taken of him (and probably gave him permission to post) that he posted to his flickrstream in clear violation of this rule? Of course they wouldn’t. Nor should they. That would be stupid.

I have heard from some activists who believe that Flickr applies the rule unevenly; they have pointed out other photographs, including others from Mr. El Hamalawy’s account, that also appear to be photographs that were not taken by Mr. El Hamalawy. Here’s the thing: with millions and millions of photographs and Flickr accounts, Flickr does not have the ability to proactively moderate for photographs that were not taken by Flickr users. Flickr reactively responds to reports from Flickr community members.


Yahoo seems to be saying that they basically ignore the rules of their site unless someone is reported for breaking the rules and then they take action. There are many accounts on flickr who have broken the rule of not posting your own work AND have been reported but that have not been censored.

The fact of the matter is that being reported on Flickr doesn’t automatically result in flickr enforcing the rules. It merely flags the account and allows flickr to make a decision as to whether or not they will act. Although I do not have access to all reported account issues on Flickr, I can guarantee you that there are other times when Flickr has chosen not to enforce the “not your work” rule. I have firsthand knowledge of some of these cases in fact.

What about the stated purpose of a community or semi-public space? Flickr was created specifically to allow photographers to share their work.

Yeah? then why is the blogger’s own linked flickr account on the very page justifying the censoreship showing work by OTHER PEOPLE as shown above and as a CLEAR VIOLATION OF FLICKR’S RULES? The hypocrisy doesn’t get much richer than this folks.

I am a passionate supporter of free expression as a fundamental human right, and I believe strongly in the idea that technology and social media provide incredible opportunities to create social change. I also know that millions of people use Yahoo! products, including Flickr, to create their version of the change they wish to see in the world. That’s a tremendous privilege, and a huge responsibility.

While it is admirable of Yahoo to try and put a human spin on this bad PR story and try to justify what they did here after the fact by using an employee who probably is in fact dedicated to human rights, the fact remains that what Yahoo and Flickr did does NOT support free expression as a fundamental human right. It does NOT support the idea that technology and more specifically Flickr should be used to create social change.

The decision to censor Arabawy’s photos of alleged TORTURERS was a bad one all the way around. It was bad from a human rights perspective. It was bad from a freedom of speech perspective. It was bad simply from a pure business perspective as I outlined in my letter to Carol on Sunday.

Rather than Yahoo trying to offer a completely lame cop out corporate rationalization for this act of censorship, they should own up to it, apologize for it, reinstate Arabawy’s photos and say that they will try to do better in the future.

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  1. Steve Rhodes says:

    This is what I posted there (it is currently awaiting moderation)

    Flickr’s action was wrong. And your stance supporting it, particularly as director of the human rights program at yahoo is appalling.

    Having those photos and others he posted on flickr did not diminish the community. It enhanced it.

    I made him a contact because I wanted to see what was happening in Egypt from the perspective who someone who was there. And that includes both images he created and those he found important.

    Flickr had posts on the protests



    but you removed his images showing the results of one of the most dramatic protests.

    I can’t speak for Caterina and Stuart, but somehow I don’t think that is what they created flickr for (and they did respond to how the community was using flickr. Originally it was just photos, but they allowed illustrations and other art because so many people were sharing it).

    I really can’t understand why anyone would report those photos because he didn’t take them (though his tax money was used to take them).

    Flickr is a platform for human rights activists and organizations and the yahoo human rights program should work to make sure that continues, not say you should go somewhere else. I don’t want them to continue to post images here.

    A major human rights organization is posting images they purchased from a photo agency to flickr. I would hope if I named them, you wouldn’t remove the photos. And other non-profits who are part of your flickr for good program post photos that weren’t taken by staff.

    Flickr recently asked us to “Please help support the people of Japan”


    And many people responded by posting images, some they created themselves, but many used graphics and photos they didn’t create. Would you really remove them if you received complaints?

    Do you realize how untenable rigidly enforcing your rules is?

    You should read his responses to your remarks at SXSW as they were passed on


    I hope you will restore the photos and work with human rights groups to change your rules.

  2. Steve Rhodes says:

    Here’s a working link (damn new twitter). it is worth following him


  3. Thomas Hawk says:

    Steve, very well said.

  4. Flickr is hopelessly screwed up, but tell anyone in the general public that your flickr account was deleted and they will think you are a pervert. I know this as a fact because when I those idiots deleted my account just before Christmas I got flamed in every photo forum that I complained about it. Thomas, why do you even bother to stay there. (OK, I have seen your answer before, there is no community anywhere else, that is true, but if the system is corrupt, why stay there.)

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