Flickr User Asks Flickr to Check if Her Self Moderated Account is OK, Flickr Responds By Deleting the User’s Account Without Warning

Flickr User Asks Flickr to Check if Her Self Moderated Account is OK, Flickr Responds By Deleting the User's Account Without Warning

Last week I blogged about a Flickr user Shéhérazade who without warning saw her self moderated account get permanently deleted. The user was upset about this because they thought that they were abiding by all of the Flickr rules and posted a thread on this in the Flickr Help Forum which was promptly censored and shut down there. A lot of people felt that this was not right.

This week we have another Flickr user who was concerned that her account might not be set up right and so she wrote to Flickr staff asking if they could review her account and provide her input regarding if she had set her account up correctly or not.

Flickr’s response? Rather than respond back to the user and/or direct her on what she might need to do to have her account structured correctly at Flickr, simply without warning just pressed the big fat red delete button wiping out her entire account and all of her content permanently.

From the deleted account:

“I had an adult orientated stream of photos on flickr and was slowly building up a list of contacts, comments and views. All my pics were public and marked restricted except for 1 that contained no nudity and was marked moderate. My account was rated safe.

I have been deleted in the past and had done quite a bit of checking around to make sure I was on the right side of the law. It will make me sound like a bit of an anorak but I spent in excess of 4 hours on this and still was not sure. I got a flickr mail from another user (one of many) which said put all my pics f&f [edit: f&f = friends and family] or I would be deleted and this prompted even more checking and in the end I decided I would try and request flickr for help – primarily because the guidelines are so vague.

My email was nice enough. It contained the information in the first paragraph of this post and then went on to say that I did not want to get my account deleted for doing the wrong thing and that I would appreciate a review of my account to check I was all ok.”

The deleted user goes on to document her reply from Flickr:

“I got a response back within 12 hours

Subject:
[Flickr Case 1054684] Re: Account Review Request

Message:
Hello,

Flickr account “flashergirl77″ was deleted by Flickr staff
for violating our Terms of Service and Community
Guidelines.

www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne

Urination.

Flickr reserves the right to terminate your account without
warning at any time.

Regards,
-[edited out by staff]”

Now, Flickr tells people that they are allowed to host adult content as long as it is self moderated. Adult content, nudity, etc. is all over Flickr. The Flickr rules are that if you post that stuff you have to label it as “restricted,” this way people that don’t want to see it (and the default Flickr set up if people don’t bother to say one way or the other) won’t see it. It’s like it doesn’t exist to them.

So why when a Flickr user is playing by the rules and has self moderated all of their explicit photos “restricted,” do they summarily get their account deleted without warning simply for the crime of asking Flickr to review their account and tell them if they are doing everything ok?

Certainly Flickr owes its community more than this. It is the community after all that makes up Flickr. Flickr would be nothing without its community. And yet time and time again, over and over again, they seem to get away with deleting accounts and censoring content with no repercussion. Because Flickr seems to be the 800 pound gorilla and because today this is where the larger photo sharing community largely interacts, they seem to feel that they can just do whatever they feel like without any sort of consequence whatsoever.

And what’s sad, is maybe they’re right. Maybe they can just keep on censoring accounts and deleting accounts on a whim whenever they feel like it. Maybe they can continue destroying years of people’s work, thousands of comments, their uploaded images all without consequence because what are you going to do about it anyways?

But that still don’t make it right.

If you’d like to follow this case in the Flickr help forum you can do that here. Don’t be surprised though if the thread gets shut down shortly.

Update: Heather Champ has responded as follows in the Help Forum thread:

“I just wanted to follow up that I’ve sent an email about an hour ago to flashergirl1977 with an apology for the actions taken by the team in recent days. I’ll leave it up to them as to whether or not they want to share the content here.

That’s why I suspect this particular case is an aberration (not common, accident, etc) or there’s more to the story. The last thing Flickr wants to do is create a sense of distrust among the users. Unfortunately it’s only the cases handled improperly that end up getting any public attention (there’s no “Great Job Flickr!” forum.) and thus leads to public fear, as if that’s how all of their cases are handled.

You’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve circled round with the team here regarding our process and policies. “

As an aside there are currently 94 threads (most of them closed or locked by Flickr) in the Flickr help forum with the words “censorship” and “mistake” in them. And yet still Flickr doesn’t have a way to undo “accidental” account deletions.

Update, not unsurprising, but Flickr has now permanently closed this thread complaining about their censorship.

Update: Bonus Feature. What to do you do when Flickr deletes your paid Pro account not once but twice?

How Would You Feel if Your Flickr Account Were Permanently Deleted?

Watch Out, Your Flickr Account Might be Up for Deletion Next

One of the things that continuously pisses me off to no end is how capriciously and callously Flickr goes about deleting accounts with no warning. The latest example comes from Flickr user Shéhérazade. After paying for a Flickr Pro account and uploading photos to a stream on Flickr that had been visited over 150,000 times, Shéhérazade found that one day her account was in her words, “deleted without any reason or warning.” According to Shéhérazade, when she tried to contact Flickr about the problem, “Terrence” from the Flickr Censorship Bureau (FCB) told her that her account had been deleted because it included photos that had not been taken by her.

Although at first Shéhérazade had said that all of the photos in her stream were taken by her, she later admitted that 10 of the photos in her stream were not taken by her. But it turns out that, according to Shéhérazade, those 10 photos were actually of her from a model session that she participated in and she claimed that she had rights to them as the model being photographed. Now apart from whether or not Shéhérazade actually has legal rights to those photos, what pisses me off here is just that Flickr without warning continues deleting user accounts.

To make matters worse, when Flickr deletes your account it really is gone. There’s no going back. It’s permanently deleted. Gone forever. There’s no undo. There’s no, “I’m sorry we accidentally pressed the delete button.” Not only are all your photos gone, but thousands of comments left by users throughout the site are also permanently gone. Same goes for images that they delete from your account, like they’ve done to me in the past.

Anyways, so Shéhérazade gets pissed of course. You would be too if your Flickr account were deleted. So she does what anyone might do, she goes to the Flickr Help Forum to express her dissatisfaction over this and try to get some sort of response from Flickr (see screenshot above).

It should be noted that some of Shéhérazade’s photos were of a shall we say “adult” nature. But all of her photos had been correctly marked as “restricted” by her pursuant to the Flickr rules.

So her response back from Flickr? Well the only response she got back in the help forum was a rudely worded message from Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ locking the thread.

Flickr Closed Thread

Here first response she got back was:

“Apologies… I’ve been battling a cold and a little less observant that normal. This topic is way over heated. I’m going to close it for 24 hours to let people chill out. I would ask that once the topic is re-opened that we dial back the name calling and ugliness towards members and the team.”

but before the thread could be reopened, Champ then posted this follow up message:

“I’ve gone back and had the opportunity to read through the back and forth. While it might serve to continue to further the discussion, I think that attitude of the OP isn’t something that I want to give a further venue to. I think it would be better served via 1:1 Help by Email. As such, I’m closing this puppy permanently.”

Now this doesn’t really surprise me. In fact in my own thread the other day where I complained about five of my images being censored (a museum painting, a sculpture from Beverly Hills, and some screenshots critical of Flickr) that thread ended up locked as well (but at least I got Flickr to agree to uncensor 4 of my 5 censored photos).

But the point is this. Flickr should NOT be permanently deleting anyone’s account. Especially a paid account. And especially without warning. In the event that Flickr really feels that they need to delete an account, I think that they owe it to their customers to first engage in a dialog about the images. Were there images in Shéhérazade’s account that were not hers? Maybe. But maybe a perfectly reasonable explanation was that she was the model in the photos and had permission to use them.

Are there photos in your Flickrstream that are not yours? I know that I have a few photos in my stream that are not mine. For instance, this photo of me can’t possibly have been taken by me because I’m only about 6 months old and clearly was in no position to handle a camera in 1968. Should I deserve to have my Flickr account deleted without warning for this?

Shéhérazade set up a new account on Flickr and posted a single black image in protest of her account deletion a few days ago and the image already has 106 comments on the image, mostly all expressing how much they will miss her work on Flickr.

Anti Censorship Initiative Against Facebook’s Ban on Photos of Breastfeeding

Ode to Facebook

Photos of breastfeeding banned by Facebook

Photo Page 6 is a site dedicated to photos depicting breastfeeding that have been banned from Facebook. It’s getting a lot of attention today and is the top story up on Techmeme.

A lot of people have asked me in the past why I don’t post more of my photos up on Facebook. There are a number of reasons why I don’t like publishing photos to Facebook, but one of the biggest for me is that I’ve long abhorred Facebook’s position on photo censorship.

The breastfeeding issue is a perfect example. Breastfeeding is a perfectly natural thing for two human beings to do. It’s a wonderful expression of love and a biological part of life. It’s not obscene or pornographic. The fact that Facebook would employ censors to look for photos of breastfeeding in order to delete them from the site is bad practice and undermines freedom of art and expression. As an artist, I’m not interested in sharing my own photographs with a company or a site that would take censorship to those lengths.

The above photo is of a woman breastfeeding in Berkeley from the “How Berkeley Can You Be Parade.” I took that photo. I titled the photo “Ode to Facebook.” This photo is currently available for view on Flickr and anyone can see it. In fact there are 8,213 photos that I can see right now on Flickr tagged “breastfeeding.” Even though Flickr has some stupid censorship policies of their own (like you can’t post photos of children with cigarettes in their mouth) banning breastfeeding photos isn’t one their banned categories as far as I know. I just uploaded the photo to Facebook as well in order to see what happens. We’ll see how long it takes from them to delete it.

Breastfeeding should not be censored on Facebook. Facebook should publicly reverse this decision and agree not to ban photographs of breastfeeding.

More from Real Tech News, VentureBeat, News.com, the Washington Post.

Censorship sucks.

Use a Swear Word in a Private Email at Flickr and You Get Your Account Deleted

More Crappy Flickr Censorship:  Use a Swear Word in a Private Email at Flickr and You Get Your Account Deleted

I was disturbed today to learn that a Flickr friend of mine Pierre Honeyman had his account deleted by Flickr. Pierre had been a long time contributor to Flickr and one of its most active users. Like me, Pierre joined Flickr over three years ago back in the days before Yahoo. He was very active (daily) in many of the groups that I was in and while occasionally a critic of censorship of Flickr, I always felt him to be a responsible contributor to the community.

Apparently the deletion all started earlier today when Pierre received the following email from Flickr Censor Cop Terrence:

“Hi phoneyman,

We’ve seen an unusual number of “blocks” against your
account.

In joining Flickr, you agreed to abide by the Terms of
Service and Community Guidelines. Specifically, you must
not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate
other Flickr members:

flickr.com/guidelines.gne

If we continue to see an unusual number of blocks against
your account, we will take further action that may include
termination without warning.
(emphasis mine).

Regards,

Terrence”

First of all, WTF? Flickr will delete your account if too many people block you? That’s about the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard of. I’ve had plenty of people block me. Are they going to delete my account too? Most of the time I have no idea why they blocked me in the first place. Anyone can block anyone on Flickr for any reason. To assume that people blocking you means you are harassing people is absurd. I can block you because I don’t like the fact that you have blue hair or that you live in Alaska or that you post too many photos of kittens or whatever. The fact that all a bunch of people have to do is block someone to get their account deleted is ludicrous.

To make matters worse, on Flickr you don’t even *know* who is blocking you. Unless you accidentally run across their photos and find that you can’t fave or comment on them it’s a deep dark secret.

That sucks.

So Pierre did what I’d expect him to do, he fired off a sort of WTF private email back to Flickr staff. In the email he swore at them and called them morons.

Now personally I’ve never known Flickr to be a place that would delete your account for swearing. I seem to remember former Flickr Chief and Founder Stewart Butterfield using a very F sort of word in a public interview on GETV a few years back.

And certainly Heather Champ, the community manager who deleted Pierre’s account is no stranger to the F word — a snipet from her blog: “F***ing illness. I’m so f***ing sick of being sick. F***. F***. F***.” Simply run a Google search for that certain F word and her name and you’ll find she’s used it liberally plenty of other places on the internet as well.

In any event, after Pierre sent this email back to Flickr staff objecting to their threat to delete his account if more people blocked him, without warning they did exactly that. They deleted his account. No warning. No second chances. No let’s sit down and talk about this. They simply deleted his account. His photos are gone. All of the years of comments and interaction on his photos is gone. Erased. Hours and hours of work on his part over the years simply erased away for daring to object to a threat to have his account deleted for a super stupid reason in the first place.

This sucks. As a *paying* member who had put thousands of hours into the Flickr community over the past four years Pierre deserved better than this. He deserved better than to have his pictures permanently erased and all the comments, contacts, and everything else that went along with his account taken away forever. This sort of retribution by Flickr was unwarranted and uncalled for.

Flickr should reinstate Pierre’s account that they deleted and simply give him a warning not to use such charged language or obscenities with Flickr staff again.

Pierre’s response to Flickr when threatened with account deletion in full:

“Oh shove it, I’ve been active here for 3 years or more.
You guys are getting f***ing ridiculous. The whole f***ing
point of Blocks is so that people can prevent users from
communicating FOR ANY REASON OR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. And
yet you sensitive morons go and use it as a reason to
threaten otherwise upstanding members about behaviour you
have no idea about? f***ing SHOVE IT. I’m sick of your
goddamn moron threats. I am who the f*** I am and yes, I’m
always like this. I don’t harass ANYONE. If people block me
they block me, and I usually don’t even know about it. Go
ahead, you f***ing twats, go find my harassing behaviour.
These threats are beyond the pale. Grow the f*** up
Flickr.Jesus. Pierre”


If you feel Pierre should have his account reinstated digg this here.


Update: Apparently a “Fun Blockers” group was set up on Flickr that had the objective of encouraging people to block people and that group has now reportedly been shut down by Flickr staff. Silencing your critics is never a good idea whether you have the power to do so or not. What’s more the group was shut down without any warning or explanation.

You can read more on that here. (Note, Flickr has deemed the Delete Me Uncensored group “adult” despite the fact that I can’t ever remember seeing a nude photo in it ever, so it is blocked to the general public. The only way to see the thread is to sign up at Flickr, consent to viewing adult material and joining the group). More crappy censorship at Flickr.

Update #2: Derek Powazek, the husband of the person that deleted Pierre’s account, tried to defend Flickr’s decision for deleting his account on digg. I suggested that he ought to disclose the fact that he’s married to the person who deleted the account and I get called an abusive douchebag asshole and jerk by him. Question. Why can Derek call me names like that and keep his account while Pierre calls someone names and loses his. Seems like a double standard to me. Nice.

Why Censorship is Bad for Community

You Have Been Banned From Deleteme

About 2 and a half years ago I helped start the first “uncensored” group on Flickr. What is an “uncensored” group on Flickr? It’s a group (or forum) where group participants are allowed to participate in and effectively say anything that they want without any fear of being censored, moderated, banned, booted, etc.

The group that I helped start (Deleteme Uncensored) subsequently spawned hundreds of other groups on Flickr with the name “uncensored” in the title. Much of the rise of the “uncensored” groups on Flickr came from group participants in various Flickr discussions who got tired of being “moderated” by various group administrators who routinely deleted their words, locked their threads, or kicked them out of groups entirely — usually in the name of being nice, making a forum more readable, or just pure dictatorial fiat.

In my case, the group I helped start, Deleteme Uncensored, was a spin off from another popular photo critique group game on Flickr called Deleteme. The deleteme game is played like this. Group participants put a photo into a group pool. The group members then take turns critiquing the photo in the pool. If a group member likes a photo, along with their critique, they give it a “save” tag. If they don’t like it, they give a critique with a delete tag. If a photo gets 10 saves before 10 deletes it’s put into a special new group of winners. If a photo gets 10 deletes before 10 saves it is kicked out of the group and the photographer can play again another day.

The idea with both groups is that critiques aren’t supposed to be nice, they are supposed to be brutal, honest and raw.

The original deleteme was part game, part photo discussion group. But the discussions, as they are apt to do in communities, quickly drifted off topic. As members took group threads in different directions, the group administration decided to lower the hammer and threaten certain members with expulsion.

Instead of being expelled, these members spun themselves off and created a much smaller group devoted to the same game, Deleteme Uncensored.

Today both the original Deleteme group and the Deleteme Uncensored groups are active and popular groups on Flickr. Both essentially play the exact same game the exact same way. Both are populated by many of the most active members of Flickr.

But what is interesting to me (after almost 3 years after being spun off) is that the uncensored version of the popular flickr deleteme group has become far more popular than the original version where group members are censored.

One way to measure activity in a group on Flickr is to simply see how many group conversations have been started in a given group. Even though the original deleteme group on Flickr is older than the newer uncensored version, it has far fewer conversation threads.

In the case of the uncensored version of the group there are 17,845 conversations. The original censored version has 1,473 conversations. Or 90% less. Now certainly you have to factor in that the original group can and has deleted conversations that they don’t like, but still, the uncensored version is far more active.

Another way to measure the activity of the two groups is by looking at how fresh or recent their conversations are. On Flickr, a group’s discussion forum’s first page shows the last 20 conversations. In the case of the censored version of deleteme the last 20 conversations span a period of the last 3 days. In the case of the uncensored version the same last 20 conversations span the last 2 hours.

What’s more, the actual game that is played in both groups has been enjoyed by both, although the original group has been around longer, the new game has been played almost as many times.

If you do a search for the tags that the two groups use in your game you find the following.

Deleteme Uncensored (uncensored)

photos saved still tagged save10: 3,570.
photos still tagged delete10: 11,576
Total: 15,146

Deleteme (censored)
photos saved: 1,471.
photos still tagged deleteme10: 20,265
Total: 21,736

What is interesting though is to try to account for delteme’s longer history and compare only photos taken since January 1, 2008. Here you have the following:

Deleteme Censored
Photos saved: 44
Photos deleted: 919
Total: 963

Deleteme Uncensored
Photos saved: 663
Photos deleted: 1,779
Total: 2,442

What I would argue is that in general communities and forums flourish best when community members are allowed to operate in an uncensored environment. Contrary to claims by many who would “moderate” or censor comments in a community saying that it makes the community stronger, I would argue that moderation or censorship actually hurts communities and makes their members less active.

A similar comparison was brought to my attention by one of the deleteme uncensored members Slowburn. Slowburn pointed out that a story recently posted to Slashdot told a similar tale between two forums focusing, on of all things, polygraph exams. Two nearly identical groups devoted to discussing polygraph exams were compared. One group a censored group, the other an uncensored group. Here too, the uncensored group proved to be the more active and popular.

Two other interesting factors to note.

The first is that the Uncensored version of the deleteme game is largely invisible on Flickr. What do I mean by this? Well Flickr has deemed the group an “adults only” group and has marked it NIPSA (not in public search areas) so it’s not very easy to find of Flickr. Only Flickr members who change their default preferences to “allow adult content” can access the group and non Flickr users can’t access it at all.

The second thing to note is that even though the uncensored version of the game prides itself in allowing free speech, there have been members in the group who actually have been censored over the past three years. Specifically one of the group members with a Republican outlook, in a group largely composed of more politically liberal members, has in fact been banned in the past and censored by the uncensored group’s administration. This shows that in certain cases still a group administrator’s passions can run so high that the censorship button is still pushed. Members who have been banned from the group summarily have been reinstated by other administrators in the group committed to a censorship free environment. 99% of the group still has remained censorship free.

On final warning, if you check out the uncensored version of delteme, note that it’s very
likely you will in fact run across things that could offend you.

BBC NEWS: Yahoo ‘Censored’ Flickr Comments

BBC NEWS:  Yahoo 'Censored' Flickr Comments

[I’m CEO of Zooomr]

BBC NEWS | Technology | Yahoo ‘censored’ Flickr comments More news on the recent censorship by Yahoo of Rebekka Gudleifsdóttir from the BBC.

It is interesting to see the BBC use the word "Censorship" with regards to this recent case with Flickr. I say interesting because the first official response from Flickr was to deny that this could be considered censorship.

Heather Champ:

"In joining Flickr, all of our members agree to abide by the Yahoo! Terms of Service and our Community Guidelines. Actions taken by the team to ensure that any content or activity on the site resides within these boundaries is not and cannot be viewed as censorship." (my emphasis)

Two months ago when I raised a different matter of censorship by Flickr Stewart Butterfield responded to me that I he thought I didn’t know what censorship meant linking to wikipedia and trying to dismiss that censorship couldn’t happen at Flickr.

Although Flickr has now "apologized" for this "mistake" (smart, given the backlash that they’ve received on the internet over this this week at places like digg, reddit, Slashdot, and now the BBC), the fact of the matter is that censorship has been quite rampant at Flickr and it’s unfortunate that it took such a high profile case to have the matter seriously addressed.

I have been censored by Flickr staff. My first response regarding this censorship was to contact Flickr privately which received no response. Since then I’ve asked about my own case of being censored many, many times publicly.

The only official response I’ve ever been able to get from Flickr came from Flickr staff member Eric Costello who wrote regarding my own censorship issue: "obviously I cannot comment on that case TH."

Many other individuals have also come out of the woodwork recently commenting about their own censorship that has taken place at Flickr.

"flickr did the same thing to me too – no explaqination and deleted my paid membership. sorry rebekka. i feel for you," wrote one flickr user.

The sad thing about this whole affair is that while Flickr claims to care about censorship, many of us are being censored there. What’s more, Flickr has promised to take steps to ensure what happened to Rebekka doens’t happen again and yet still refuses to outline what those steps exactly will be.

Perhaps most ironic of all, is that the thread dealing with this entire messy matter for Flickr on censorship has now been locked by Flickr staff. Convenient.

Thanks for the head’s up urban penguin.

On digg here.

Update: Down in the comments Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield challenges me to write that child porn would be ok into Zooomr’s TOS. Rather than more rhetoric and PR spin Stewart should answer my question as to why Flickr censored me and offer an outline of what steps Flickr plans to take to ensure that less censorship happens there in the future. Here’s another blog post as well from LAist pointing out more ludicrous censorship on Flickr’s part. Like most higher profile cases though Flickr once again apologizes and would like us to move on.