Flickr User Posts Comments Critical of Obama on the Official White House Photostream and Has His Comments Along With His Entire Flickrstream Deleted Without Warning


If you don’t think that Flickr should delete accounts without warning and censor political speech digg this here.

I was dismayed today to read about the latest alleged case of Flickr Censorship. Censorship (or as they like to call it “moderation”) continues to be a problem on Flickr.

The most recent case is that of Flickr User Shepherd Johnson. According to Johnson on the evening of Wednesday June 3rd, he posted comments critical of President Obama on “8 or so” photos on the White House’s official Flickrstream. He said that he posted these comments because he was upset with the language that Obama chose to use in his recent Cairo speech regarding terrorism. Johnson said that two days later his comments had been scrubbed and deleted from the Flickr photos. Johnson shared with me the type of comment that he made and what he shared with me seemed appropriate and polite.

On Friday, June 5th, once again Johnson posted more comments on photos in the official White House Flickrstream. This time comments that were critical of the President’s recent decision to try and withhold photographs of detainee prison abuse.

From Johnson:

“Well, Friday it so happens is the day the Senate voted and passed the Graham/Lieberman bill called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009. Which allows the Obama administration to withhold from the public photos of horrible acts used by the Bush administration in it’s so called War on Terror. This to me was unacceptable. There are so few venues where the public can air grievances with our leaders and our government. This forum being the Official Whitehouse Photostream is an acceptable (I thought) place for me to make my comments known.”

Unfortunately for Johnson at about 11:00pm on June 05, 2009 when he tried to log on to his flickr account, he found that it was terminated without warning.

Again from Johnson:

“No explanation or anything. One second I was on and then I could not access my account. When I got back onto flickr using another account I went back to the Whitehouse site and all of my postings had been scrubbed. They were gone. I had about a years worth of work on that account and they just terminated my account with no warning. Some of the photos I had on the account had no back ups so they are now gone forever.”

You can see a cache of Johnson’s deleted Flickr account here. It was a paid Pro Flickr account with over 1,000 photographs in it.

It is interesting that Johnson was also using his Flickrstream to post additional photos that he had taken of government officials. Here is a flickr photo of his of his still intact from wikimedia of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke leaving Bilderberg last year. In fact, if you look through the cached copy of his former Flickrstream you will see that a great deal of the photographs in his flickrstream were of political events, protests and politicians.

It is very unfortunate that Flickr would choose to take this course of action with one of their members. Freedom of Speech is an important thing and something that ought to be encouraged at Yahoo, not punished. Political speech especially ought to be give a very wide berth with regards to tolerance. It is even more eggregious given that this user was never even warned over the comments that he made, his account was simply irreversibly and permanently deleted. It is wrong for Flickr to do this. I’ve long argued that at a minimum Flickr ought to suspend offensive accounts temporarily (they could easily do this by simply making every photo in a user’s stream private) and allow an appeals process for grievances rather than simply acting with dictatorial power as a censor.

I contacted Yahoo regarding this latest censorship on their part and received back the following official response from their PR firm:

Flickr Statement:

In accordance with Flickr’s policy, we cannot disclose information to third parties concerning a member’s account. However, in joining Flickr, all of our members agree to abide by our Community Guidelines. These guidelines require that all of our members be respectful of the community and flag content that may not be suitable for “safe” viewing. Our members have always done a great job of identifying inappropriate and offensive content on Flickr and bringing it to our attention. We encourage all members to continue to make Flickr a safe place to share photos and videos.

Flickr is a very large community made up of many types of members from all over the world, and we respect the viewpoints and expressions of all of our members. In crafting the Community Guidelines, Flickr weighed the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the overall community, and built a system that would enable members to choose what they want to view. As with any community, online or off, there are members who may disregard the Community Guidelines. When this happens, Flickr may have to take action accordingly towards building a respectful community. For more information:”

Update: In another forum here, Johnson has stated that he left a voicemail on Carol Bartz’s personal cell phone on the matter. He said after leaving this message that he had a returned phone call from Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ who told him that this account was deleted because he posted a photo of a prison detainee and because they accused him of “spamming” flickr. You can read the relevant forum thread here. Apparently another flickrstream where Johnson got the detainee photo was also deleted. Johnson is also stating that Heather told him that she did not know anything about the other deleted comments which may mean that they were actually deleted by the White House itself.

From Johnson: “She said that [edit: posting a detainee abuse photo] was part of the reason and the other part was that she claimed that I was spamming the forum, to which I asked her if she also gave warnings to the people who posted on twenty photographs the same “That’s my President Go bama!” type drivel over and over and over again. I also had her define the word “spam”, to which she could not. She seemed very careful to place her words correctly. We talked for about two hours. I think Carol really got under her skin. Carol apparently didn’t speak with her directly, she got the trickle down effect. Oh yeah, she offered me a $24.99 gift card for a new pro account but told me my precious photos and the hard work that I put in over the past year were irretrievable. I had over 53,000 views on that account. Some consolation.”

Update #2: More from Johnson: “Heather only mentioned that she deleted the comments concerning the Abu Ghraib photo, when I asked her about the original comment on the Obama Cairo Speech she had no idea what I was talking about. I crafted my dialogue with her to find out exactly what she knew and when she knew it. That means that somebody connected with the Whitehouse, one of Peter Souza’s staff or an intern, deleted my comments originally.

Update #3: See more on this story from the San Francisco Chronicle here and Gawker here, and the Silicon Valley Insider here, and Techmeme here, CNN here, BusinessWeek here, and the NY Post here, if you prefer Italian here.

Microsoft Doesn’t Think People In India Should Be Allowed to Search for the Term “Sex”

Microsoft Doesn't Think People In India Should Be Allowed to Search for the Term "Sex"

Thanks to sandelion for pointing out an interesting fact to me about Microsoft’s new search engine bing. I blogged about bing earlier this week and have been using it as my default search engine instead of Google all week. Apparently Microsoft has decided that part of their job with the new search engine is to become the world’s new censor.

At first I couldn’t believe this. Why would Microsoft think limiting the information provided in a search engine to be a good thing? But then I tried it myself. You can try it too. Just change your location preference in bing from the U.S. to India and try searching for the term “sex.” Yes, Microsoft has decided in their infinite wisdom that Indians should not be allowed to search for information about sex. In Microsoft’s words, “The search sex may return sexually explicit content. To get results, change your search terms.” That’s right, there’s no, “okay, I’m a big boy, go ahead and show me my results” button next to this Microsoft error message, there is simply a message telling you to change your search term. It’s like an instant trip back to the Victorian age.

Now in fairness, it seems that people in India could always just change their country preference from India to the U.S. to get these search results, but it’s still super lame that Microsoft would deem it necessary for people to have to change their country preferences to look up something as universal as “sex.” And many people of course won’t think to do this.

Google, by the way, has no problem with people searching for the term “sex” in India. I guess that’s all part of that whole “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” thing that they seem to be after. Since bing supposedly stands for “bing is not google,” maybe Microsoft should adopt their own mission statement for bing. It could be “censoring the world’s information and making it inaccessible and useless.”

This sort of censorship is a really stupid decision on Microsoft’s part. It’s the biggest reason yet I’ve heard for why I won’t use bing anymore. Censorship sucks Microsoft, don’t you know that yet?

More here.

On Slashdot here.

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

[Flickr Case 1054684] Re: Account Review Request


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


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

-[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.