Flickr Censors User Over Images of… Mannequins?

Montreal Adult Store Display
Update: If you don’t think Flickr should censor photos of mannequins, consider digging this post here. Well I was disappointed to receive emails last week from one of my Flickr contacts James Doiron. James has been a very active Flickr user over the past several years and has maintained the incredibly prolific mannequindisplay photostream. To date James has uploaded over 25,000 images (mostly of mannequins) and has had over 3 million views on his photostream.

I’ve been collecting mannequin images myself for a few years now and have a set of 766 mannequin images at present. A distant runner up to James’ far larger collection.

I was disappointed because recently I’d learned that Flickr had censored 100% of James’ 25,000 plus images by slapping an adult rating on his entire photostream.

What this means is that James’ images are pulled from search and other public site areas of Flickr. He’s essentially buried on Flickr — persona non grata. He goes behind the Flickr wall of shame along with the many other pornographers that call Flickr home. James was obviously disappointed to see the resulting drop off in traffic from his images and wrote in to Flickr to express his dissatisfaction and hope to obtain clarification as to why his stream had been blacklisted.

Here is the email response that he got back from Flickr:


Hello, mannequindisplay!

This is an automatically generated copy of a help case reply:


Content like the examples below from your photostream still need to be moderated.



Now the first thing to point out here is that the first image that Flickr is objecting too isn’t even James’ image. Apparently at Flickr now your own photostream can be held liable for what Flickr considers adult images in streams that are *totally unrelated to you.* The censors at Flickr frequently make mistakes though (just last month they permanently deleted a harmless video of some kids playing basketball for no reason) so let’s chalk their first image objected to as yet another mistake by the underlings in the Flickr Censorship Division.

But the next two images (one posted above)? Really? Flickr is going to classify someone’s entire stream of 25,000+ entirely harmless images as adult content simply because the prudes in the Flickr Censorship Division object to photos of mannequins? Are they joking? Alas, unfortunately they are not.

So what else does having your account labeled as adult mean? Well it means that nobody can include your images in a gallery of any kind. In fact, one of the first galleries I made myself was one of mannequins. I’ve been trying to do one new gallery each day on Flickr but I can’t include any of James’ 25,000+ images because Flickr deems them “too hot to handle.”

The trend of giving mannequins nipples has been going on for a number of years now. Walk by any Victoria’s Secret in America and you’re bound to run into them. if you are into mannequin nipples here’s a few that I’ve taken myself. You can pretty much find them in any mall in America.

Or if you’d rather see one from Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ’s stream you can find that here. Of course some might consider allowing Heather (Flickr Staff) to have uncensored images of mannequin nipples a bit of a Flickr double standard, but why should Flickr staff need to play by the same rules as the rest of us?

Even worse than mannequin nipples, you can find over 1,400 FULLY NUDE mannequins on Flickr simply using the search for nude AND mannequin. Why do these 1,400 people get to show nude mannequins and James can’t show one with covered nipples? Or check out these mannequins in bras and panties from the Flickr blog.

Part of documenting our world means shooting the things that are around us. Part of documenting culture is defining our culture through images. It disappoints me that mannequins, along with sculpture and paintings in museums, now have seemed to raise the ire of the underlings in the Flickr Censorship Division. Apparently that catchy new Yahoo! tagline about the new Yahoo! being all about you, only applies to you if you don’t take photos of mannequins, you freakin pervert.

James reflects more on his recent predicament on Flickr here pointing out some rather obvious points about mannequins here. (number one being, well, they’re not human) Unfortunately you will need to be logged into Flickr and dig deep into your settings to allow pornographic Flickr material if you’d like to read it. Sigh.

Note to Yahoo! execs, the next time you are thinking about layoffs and cost cutting, might I recommend you take a serious look at gutting as much of the Flickr censorship Division as possible. In addition to their cost (salaries/benefits/etc.) they create enormous negative ill will with your paying customers (like James, who is now considering leaving Flickr) and generate a great deal of negative PR for Yahoo! as well. You really gain nothing by censoring 25,000+ images based on a few relatively harmless images buried deep in a user’s photostream. That’s just common sense.

Update: James has posted on his plight regarding the censorship of his mannequins in the Flickr Help Forum here, Flickr has yet to respond to his post. That asshole Ian Sanderson though is quick to defame my credibility which is an especially cowardly act on his part in a forum where he knows I’m banned.

Flickr Galleries, An Update

Flickr Galleries, An Update

A few weeks back I blogged about the latest Flickr feature, galleries. I’ve been using and making galleries now for a few weeks and thought I’d take a second to record my follow up observations after my initial post on the launch. I’ve been making one new gallery a day since Flickr launched the service.

Conceptually I think the idea of allowing users the ability to curate galleries of images on Flickr super interesting — one of the more interesting ways to use the service actually. Practically speaking though I think that their are some serious flaws to how this service has been designed and I think that it could be significantly improved.

Problem #1: Flickr will not allow either moderate/restricted images or secretly NIPSA (not in public site areas) censored material to be put into galleries.

Flickr has three ways that they censor your images. The first is simple. If they don’t like your image they just delete it (and maybe your entire account along with it).

The second is a less harsh public way. Either you can voluntary mark your own images as restricted or if you don’t they might. When they do this your images are marked “moderate” or “restricted” on the image and you are made aware of the Flickr act.

The third way is a secret more nefarious way. Flickr uses a method whereby they will secretly mark your image NIPSA. Sometimes this happens even while to your face they will let you know that your image has been reviewed as “safe” by Flickr staff. You have no way of knowing which of your images have been secretly marked NIPSA and which have not. For a while Flickr had my entire photostream marked as NIPSA.

Whatever the case, neither moderate/restricted content or secret NIPSA content can be included in galleries. This is too bad. As a curator I should not be precluded from making galleries of whatever content I’d like.

Recently I made a gallery of images of Photo Realism painter Chuck Close’s painting “Mark” that hangs in the NY Met. If someone wanted to make a similar gallery of say Photo Realist Painter Mel Ramos’ work, they could not included two of my images of a painting of his that hangs in the all ages gallery at the Oakland Museum of California. The reason why? Flickr has marked these Ramos painting images of mine as “restricted.” It sucks that something that can exist in a real life gallery in an all ages major metropolitan museum gallery, cannot exist in a virtual gallery on Flickr.

This problem would be easy enough to fix by simply attaching a “restricted” or “moderate” rating to any gallery that held “restricted” or “moderate” images. There is no reason why if you’ve opted in to view this material that you should not be able to both create and view galleries that include this material. Precluding them prevents me from making a kick ass gallery of images by one of my favorite photographers Merkley (for instance). Even though Merkley had a real life gallery showing of some of his work at 111 Minna, a physical gallery. I cannot create a comparable virtual gallery of his work because Flickr won’t allow it. Flickr has a method whereby users can opt in to view material that is rated moderate or restricted.
Problem #2: User Created Galleries largely languish in obscurity. Once you go through the work of making a gallery there are no easy ways for other people to get to them. The people whose images you include in the gallery are notified of this fact on their recent activity page so they come and visit. But other than them, people largely don’t visit galleries. These are the last five galleries where people have used my own images. Plug1 (0 views), mannequin (0 views), Swoon worthy B&W (23 views), Galactic (2 views), and Cocktails (8 views). These galleries will likely have more views when you look at them, but that’s largely because I’ve posted links to them in this blog post. If someone goes through the work of curating a gallery it would be nice to see other ways on Flickr where people could access them.

The only method that Flickr has for promoting galleries right now is through a handful of galleries on the mostly stale gallery explore page which appears to be hand-curated by flickr staff, mostly, it appears, on the basis of whether or not flickr staff likes you or decided to include you as a user in the beta of the feature.

Problem #3: How can I see my friends/contacts galleries? At present there is no easy way to view the galleries of your contacts on Flickr. You are not notified when they make a gallery (unless your image is in it). There is no page like the “your contacts” photo page where you can go to see them. Without the tedious method of digging deep down into their photo page to find if (and most don’t) they even have galleries you’d never know that they exist.

I believe that these three problems above could easily be corrected. The first problem is easy. Simply allow any images to be included in galleries, rather than restrict publicly or privately censored images. There is no good reason why Flickr should not do this. It might not fit into staff’s vision of community shaping or moderation or whatever they call it, but prohibiting good users like Merkley from being included in this feature sucks.

In terms of the second problem, Flickr needs a central place where users can explore galleries. The page should be repopulated with new galleries as they are created every day and should rely on objective data around the interestingness ranking of galleries (rather than if Flickr staff likes your or dislikes you — they already have the flickr blog for that).

The third problem would also be easily solved by creating a tab on an explore gallery pages that featured all of the galleries created by your contacts/friends and family. If friends of mine create galleries, I want to see them.

Galleries on Flickr has enormous potential. Curation is an incredibly significant discipline that all artists ought to consider pursuing. But as it stands right now, the new service from Flickr feels half-baked. I’m still going to make a gallery a day on Flickr for a while and continue promoting my galleries elsewhere than Flickr on the web, but Flickr needs to consider that as it stands now the new feature lacks serious teeth, which is too bad because the feature does in fact have so much potential.

Here are the galleries that I’ve created so far on Flickr:

Hot Dog
The Owls are Not What They Seem
LJ’s Skid Row Photography
Tears of a Clown
Green Mind
Your Perfect Skin
Cash for Clunkers
Jesus Saves
Infrared Spotlight
Neon Elephants
This is Mark
Adam Infanticide
Motel America
Recent Favorites from the Lightbox
Bowling for Neon

You can see my galleries page where I am adding a new gallery every day here.

FOIA Request for Emails Related to the Official Whitehouse Flickr Photostream

I submitted the following Freedom of Information Act request to the White House today via US Mail. I modeled it after another Whitehouse FOIA request that I found online here. I’ve sent two flickrmails now requesting information regarding the Offical Whitehouse photostream on Flickr to the Whitehouse account on Flickr and have received no response. Hopefully the Whitehouse, in the spirit of Obama’s oft-campaigned promise of transparency, will choose to provide the information requested based on this formal written request. I’m writing to try and discover any correspondence that may have taken place around Flickr’s decision to delete user Shepherd Johnson’s Flickr account after he posted comments critical of President Obama on the official Whitehouse photostream.

FOIA Officer Office of Administration
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503


Fee benefit requested
Fee waiver requested
Expedited processing requested

Dear FOIA Officer:

Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I request access to and copies of:

All email correspondence to and from representatives of the White House and Yahoo, Inc. regarding the establishment, service and maintenance of the Official Whitehouse photostream on Flickr, Yahoo Inc.’s photo sharing service. I would also like to receive the name and contact information of the primary individual responsible for the maintenance of this Flickr account.

The scope of this request is for documents created between January 20 and September 15, 2009.

I would like to receive the information in electronic format.

As a representative of the news media I am only required to pay for the direct cost of duplication after the first 100 pages.

Through this request, I am gathering information on a case of censorship involving the Flickr account deletion of Flickr user Shepherd Johnson who found his Flickr account deleted after posting comments critical of the President on the Official Whitehouse Flickrstream.

I am seeking this information as an independent blogger for dissemination to the general public.

Release of the information is in the public interest because it will contribute significantly to public understanding of the President’s use of social media as a communications strategy as well as how the White House handles critical commentary through social media channels.

I hope that as the President’s office, in the spirit of Obama’s oft-campaigned promise of transparency, will see fit to honor this information request.

If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. I, of course, reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees.

As I am making this request as a journalist and this information is of timely value, I would appreciate your communicating with me by telephone, rather than by mail, if you have questions regarding this request.

Please provide expedited processing of this request which concerns a matter of urgency.

I look forward to your reply within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Thank you for your assistance.


Thomas Hawk

Flickr User Shepherd Johnson Says Yahoo Security Officer and Former FBI Agent John Zent Threatens to Call Police on Him After Flickr Nuked His Account

Well the bizarre behavior by Flickr/Yahoo over recent customer service and account deletion issues may have just taken a big left turn from wackyland straight into the Twilight Zone. Earlier this week I reported an update on the case of Shepherd Johnson. You’ll remember Johnson as the Flickr user who had his account deleted without warning after posting remarks critical of President Obama on the official Presidential Flickr stream. It’s still not known if pressure from the White House played a role in having Johnson’s account deleted or not, but his account deletion gained widespread attention from both the blogosphere and the mainstream media after Yahoo nuked his entire account and photostream.

According to Johnson, after his account deletion he disconnected from Flickr for almost 3 months, reserved, he said, that nothing would come of his story. After giving more reflection recently to his situation, however, Johnson said that he became disgusted over how Yahoo! Flickr and the Whitehouse had treated him so he decided to try and readdress his account deletion issue with Flickr/Yahoo.

Johnson said that he started out trying to address his account deletion privately with Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ via Flickr mail. Johnson had spoken with Champ earlier last summer and said previously that she’d offered him a free $24.99 gift card so that he could get a new Flickr Pro account after the deletion. According to Johnson, however, this time around Champ promptly blocked his flickr mail messages. He then tried phoning Yahoo’s VP of Global Customer Care, Laura Narducci, using the phone number that she had given him when dealing with his high profile account deletion back in June. Johnson said he left voicemails but that Narducci did not return his calls.

Frustrated at being unable to contact Flickr/Yahoo directly over his account deletion, Shepherd next turned to Flickr’s Help Forum. As I reported on Tuesday, after Johnson posted requesting someone from Flickr/Yahoo contact him, Flickr locked his thread, ironically, telling him that he needed to contact them privately. Johnson started another thread complaining that he had tried to contact them privately with no success and ended up not only having that thread shut down, but being banned from the Flickr Help Forum indefinitely as well. (Note: I’m also indefinitely banned from the Flickr Help Forum. They banned me after referencing an anti-flickr blog in the forum last month). Interestingly, Yahoo employee Zack Sheppard told Johnson that “you are welcome to continue to communicate with us directly,” while locking his thread and booting him from the help forum.

Not willing to simply give up on what he felt was an unjust account deletion with no response from Flickr/Yahoo, Johnson tried again yesterday to contact Yahoo/Flickr over his issue leaving one more voicemail message for Narducci and one more for Champ. Johnson said that his voicemail messages were “not angry, not hostile voicemails, just me stating matter of factly that I wanted this issue resolved.”

And this is where things get weird….

After being totally ignored in his attempts to resolve his account deletion issue with Flickr/Yahoo staff. Johnson says that yesterday he finally did receive a call from someone at Yahoo. Only it wasn’t someone from Flickr’s customer care division at all. it was from someone named John Zent, apparently from Yahoo’s Legal Department’s Risk Management Group. Zent identified himself as a security professional for Yahoo as well as a former FBI Special Agent, Johnson told me. He told me that Zent threatened to have him removed from Flickr for TOS violations as well as have his IP address banned from the site. Zent went on to accuse Johnson of harassment and said that if he did not stop calling Yahoo that he would call the Sunnyvale Police on Johnson. “I was astonished that he had threatened to call the police on a customer who merely had an account dispute which he wanted to have resolved,” said Johnson.
While Johnson denies harassing anyone at Yahoo, he did admit to a couple of comments in a post inquiring about what had happened to Champ’s face in a post containing a photograph of her that he felt was unflattering. He said that Zent was “extremely upset” by his comments in this post and brought it up three times with him telling Johnson that his activity on Flickr was being “closely monitored.”

A little digging on Zent would seem to indicate that he indeed actually may be a former FBI agent — although I’m not sure how appropriate it is to be using that status formally against a customer with an account deletion complaint at Yahoo. In fact, it would appear that Zent has quite a colorful past of his own having been charged by a number of sources as being the individual responsible for having Al-Qaeda (I told you this was going to get weird) operative Ali Mohamed released from the Canadian police in 1993 as an FBI Informant. Mohamed was also alleged to have been a “a key planner of the 9/11 plot, and trainer in hijacking,” Apparently another bizarre case related to Zent is that of his daughter’s former boyfriend who was convicted of a triple murder over the killing of his parents for life insurance money. Zent had reportedly testified on the boyfriend’s behalf during the trial.

Johnson says that he is not giving up on his account deletion, which he sees as a free speech issue, just yet. He said he plans to try and contact Narducci again, but that next time he said he’ll leave instructions on where the Sunnyvale police can pick him up. “Yes, my 1st Amendment rights, the issue that this whole thing started over back when I posted comments in the Official Whitehouse Photostream, those rights are that important to me and in an act of civil disobedience I am willing to go to jail for them,” said Johnson.

Interestingly enough, Flickr has repeatedly claimed in the past that they have no way of reactivating customer accounts after deletions. Most recently Flickr staff confirmed this and said that they also were not working on any such feature at present. According to Johnson Zent refuted this claim. “I asked him if Yahoo! could actually turn my account back on to which he replied, “Absolutely!” and then asked and answered his own question, “Will Yahoo! do that? No we will not.” This statement confirms that Heather Champ is a liar when she told me they could not reactivate my Flickr account,” said Johnson.

I contacted both Zent as well as Yahoo PR yesterday to try and get a response on Johnson’s case, but as of yet neither have returned my emails. If/when I hear from them I will post their response.

Update more on this deletion, including additional comments from Shepherd Johnson here. On Reddit here and here.

Update #2: On digg here.

Update #3: Jason Khoury from Yahoo PR just emailed me back the following response from Yahoo on this matter: “It is Yahoo! policy that we don’t discuss members’ accounts and their activity.”

The New Yahoo Mobile Flickr iPhone App, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Welcome Screen and Uploading With the New Flickr iPhone App

Yesterday I downloaded the new Flickr iPhone app developed by Yahoo Mobile. The app is available in the U.S. and some other regions as well. Apparently there are regions that it is not available in yet (Ireland, Sweeden, etc.) as well, but I can’t seem to find an official breakdown for where it is available and where it is not.

The Good

1. It’s free. You certainly gotta love the price of this new app. It also appears to be entirely advert free which is pretty cool as well. I only tried it on a paid pro account though so maybe non-Pro users see ads.

2. Browsing recent uploads from (I assume) your contacts are pretty awesome. Viewing recent uploads and faving them from the app seems simple and intuitive.

3. You can upload photos that you take on your iPhone to your Flickrstream directly
(I’ll never use this, but as the iPhone is now the most popular camera on Flickr, this functionality makes a ton of sense). Apparently batch uploading is not supported yet though.

4. The application seems very simple and intuitive to grasp and if you are on a good connection, photos seem to populate very quickly.

Recent Uploads and Activity on the new Flickr iPhone App

The Bad

1. No real way to search for photos near you.
One of the things that I would think would be super cool would be for Flickr to interact with your iPhone’s geolocation abilities to show you geotagged photos near you. Especially for the traveler, this would seem like a cool feature. It would also be cool to sort this list by most recent, most interesting, and closest and also allow you to filter it by tags as well. So, for instance, if I was visiting Chicago and wanted to see everything tagged graffiti near my motel, I could do that and use my iPhone’s GPS functionality to take me right to something that was interesting.

2. Recent activity doesn’t show you how many faves your photos have received like the web version. The regular web page does show this and it would be good to see this on the iPhone version as well.

3. There appears to be no way to filter photos from the ” Recent Uploads” section. Actually I’m not even sure what the “Recent Uploads” are supposed to represent. I think that these are the most recent photos uploaded by your contacts. But when I compare this page with the recent uploads from my contacts on the actual Flickr site the photos appear to be different. On Flickr web I’m allowed to see the most recent uploads by my contacts four ways (either by friends/family only or all contacts, and most recent 1 upload or most recent 5 uploads). On Flickr iPhone there does not appear to be a way to filter these uploads by friends/family only for instance. It would be nice to have some sort of toggle button between friends/family and contacts in keeping with consistency with the Flickr web site. I tend to browse my friends/family recent uploads more than all of my contacts photos so it’s disappointing that this functionality appears missing.

4. While the screensaver app that is the default welcome screen is pretty cool, it could be better. Actually I’m not even sure exactly what these photos represent. It would be nice to be able to customize this opening slide show. I’d love to be able to set it (for instance) to show the most recent photos of my friends/family. Or to show the most recent photos on Flickr tagged “neon AND california.” Or to show photos within a one mile radius of where I am sorted by interestingness. You get the idea. Being able to customize this initial slideshow would make it better.

5. No support for group discussions. Group thread discussions are one of the most active places on Flickr. It would have been nice to see an intuitive way to browse group discussions from the iPhone.

No Andertho, Ivan Makarov, or Merkely on the New Flickr iPhone App

The Ugly

1. Support for the new app seems pretty poor. There is no FAQ that I’ve been able to find on the app. Inquiries into the product over at the Flickr Help Forum are being redirected by Flickr staff to this page, which seems pretty unhelpful. The Flickr Blog has not even posted about the new app yet. You’d think that since Yahoo Mobile and Flickr are both owned by Yahoo that they would have coordinated support on the product a little better than this.

2. At least for me the app still feels very buggy. Maybe I’m just hitting it on a bad day (it’s second day released) or maybe the app hates wifi, but much of the functionality of the app didn’t work for me. For instance, when I tried to search for photos all that came back were blank thumbnails. When I tried using the contacts search feature to search for some of my contacts many of my contacts were not there and missing. A search for three of my contacts, for example (Andertho, Ivan Makarov, and Merkley) all came up with no results when browsing the “contacts” section of the app.

Search Pulls Up Blank Thumbnails in the New Flickr iPhone App

Later on I was able to get search results to actually populate, but it seems (best I can tell) that search results returned for any search term are based on Flickr’s “Relevancy” algorithm, which is the worst way to view search results on Flickr. This app should search using the interestingness algorithm instead of Flickr’s “relevancy” algorithm and it should also allow you to search by most recent photos as well.

Also, when I tried to search by my tags, this wouldn’t work either. If I clicked on the letter of the tag it just blinked at me and nothing happened. While browsing sets is cool. It appears that the app only returns your last 40 sets are so. For someone like me (with a lot more sets) it would be nice to see more sets included or for this page to page forward.

The new app does require you to authenticate with Flickr in order to make it work. This step was a little buggy for me as well, but after about 4 hours of retrying I was able to get this authentication to take.

Despite some of the bad/ugly comments, overall I’m very pleased with this app and will use it a lot more than I would have originally thought. It’s a good first step effort by Yahoo Mobile and I think that over time many of the bugs will go away and new functionality, hopefully, will be added to improve the experience. It’s great to be able to have this as a tool to enhance the overall Flickr experience and I imagine that I’ll especially use it to fave recent photos uploaded by my contacts when I’ve got down time and am out and about.

Hey Flickr … Why So Censorious? MSNBC Report on Flickr

MSNBC is out with an article on a lot of the recent censorship that’s been going on at Flickr. I’m not talking specifically about the Obama/Joker image here (which I now believe Flickr did receive a valid, albeit potentially bogus DMCA takedown notice on) but more about the general tone (baby talk, etc.) of how Flickr handles customer service issues, account deletions, and customer criticism in their help forum (where I’ve personally been banned indefinitely). In the past month alone Flickr has locked many threads in the forum where recent users have complained about account deletions and other issues.

I spoke with the MSNBC reporter on the article, Helen Popkin, yesterday in an interview about Flickr’s customer service practices and shared with her my own frustrating experiences of being both censored repeatedly and banned by Flickr most recently in the help forum.

The thing is, nobody is a bigger fan of Flickr than I am. I’ve invested thousands of hours over the course of the last four years into the site. I’ve personally uploaded over 29,000 images on Flickr. I’ve faved over 75,000 photos there. I have over 14,000 contacts. I’ve made dozens of real life friends through the site. I spend time on the site every single day. I’ve sold photos through the site and currently participate in Getty Images stock photography offerings through the site. I’ve blogged incessantly about the site from the very beginning. A google search for my name with Flickr brings up 248,000 results. While at times I have been critical of some of the decisions that Flickr has made, mostly having to do with censorship cases, account deletions and the permanent loss of indivdual’s photos, etc. I’ve always felt that I’ve done so respectfully. I quite honestly love the place and a big part of my photographic goal is to upload a million photos to the site before I die.

That said, unfortunately, I do think that Popkin’s article is pretty much right on the money. Flickr currently holds a monopoly in the photosharing space and as such has gotten away with abusing their customers in my opinion. I don’t deserve to be banned indefinitely from the help forum simply for posting a link to an anti-Flickr blog (not mine) that is criticizing Flickr over what they feel is an anti-gay bias. Don’t shoot the messenger. Rather than censor me, Flickr should take time to address the concerns of the anti-flickr blog and openly and honestly discuss them with their users so that an anti-flickr blog is never started in the first place.

The article points out that as a private company Flickr can do anything that they want. They can limit speech. They can delete user accounts. They can censor whomever they want. And I totally get that. I’ve never maintained that Flickr is not a private business owned by a private but publicly traded company. But just because they can do these things doesn’t mean that they *should* do these things. And as a company it doesn’t mean that it’s in their best interest to do these things.

I hope Flickr, and my participation in the Flickr Community, last for the rest of my life. Hell, I hope that before I die I can figure out a way to maintain my Flickr account for hundreds of years beyond my death (personally I think it would be interesting to see Flickr offer an infinite sort of Pro account that would maintain your images even after you die). But I also believe that the best communities are communities that are open, transparent and free of censorship. Free speech is not something that should threaten any community. And I suppose this puts me at odds with the current Flickr administration who rather see themselves as shapers of communities and moderators of the content on their site.

For the first time yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see Flickr staff crack just a little in admitting that taking down an image only (and not all of the corresponding comments, faves, and other meta data around a photo) when they get a DMCA takedown notice might not be a bad idea. I still think Flickr needs to do more though. Account and image deletions should not be permanent and irrevocable. Both could be pulled down by making the images private and thus invisible to anyone on Flickr but the owner while Flickr gave users an opportunity to take corrective action over problems flickr has with accounts or to appeal censorship decisions. Help forum threads should not be locked when users are critical of the service. The Help Forum is the number one way that Flickr staff communicates with their users and when they lock critical threads it only frustrates users even more. Nor should users be banned from the help forum for issuing comments critical of Flickr practices.

I hope that Yahoo takes a hard look at Popkin’s article. There is much improvement that could be done with Flickr. Flickr is a tremendously important cultural jewel that in a strange way I feel belongs to society at large at this point as much as it belongs to Yahoo. So much art is being made and shared at Flickr. So many people are using it in a way to culturally enrich the world. Yahoo should look at this cultural jewel that they have and recognize it for what it is, also recognizing that censorship has often been the enemy of culture.

I’d much rather blog about all the great things going on at Flickr than the things that I feel are negative going on there. And I do hope that some of the practices over the course of the past few years mentioned in this article are addressed and changed.

Does Flickr Censor User Content Over Blatantly Fake DMCA Notices?

Does Flickr Censor User Content Over Blatantly Fake DMCA Notices?

Update: When adding an extra letter to last name that Alkhateeb had provided me, I was able to pull up what appears to be another artist who would appear to be claiming the Joker/Obama image as his own creation. The details are still fuzzy and am just basing this update on some Google searches that I’ve found with the new name. I have contacted this artist and am trying to determine if he in fact is the person who filed a DMCA takedown notice with Flickr over this image and if he is claiming the Obama/Joker creation as his own in contrast to previous reports from Alkhateeb and the Los Angeles Times that Alkhateeb is the image’s creator. I’ve also contacted Alkhateeb to discuss the claims of this individual. I will report back when I learn more.

For the past week or so I’ve been reporting on the Flickr Censorship case involving Firas Alkhateeb and his popular Joker/Obama Time Magazine cover. You’ll recall that Alkhateeb had posted his image to his Flickr account, garnered over 20,000 views, along with many comments on the image, saw the image subsequently used with the word “socialism” printed underneath it in Los Angeles and various other cities as street art… and then Flickr nuked his image and all the comments that went along with it.

Many bloggers and news outlets accused Flickr of censorship and political bias in the removal of what was seen by many as a clear fair use parody image critical of the President. The case made the national press and with an EFF attorney adding that Alkhateeb indeed had a very strong fair use defense. After a substantial amount of critical press over the image, Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ finally came out defending Flickr over the issue saying that Alkhateeb’s image had been removed from Flickr due to a “a complete Notice of Infringement as outlined by the DMCA (Digitial Millenium Copyright Act)” In the same breath Champ accused the press and blogosphere of being “makey uppey.” Shortly afterwards, the thread where Flickr users were complaining about this image deletion was shut down by Flickr staff.

Later that day in reporting on the issue The Los Angeles Times asked Champ who had issued the DMCA takedown request and Champ replied that Flickr was not able to give that information out. “I don’t know how this crazy game of telephone got started,” Champ wrote. “I’m not sure how complying with the law has led to the idea that we (the Flickr team) have a particular political agenda.”

Yesterday I reported on PDN’s efforts to get to the bottom of this takedown request. PDN contacted the logical parties who might have objected to this image. Time Magazine (whose logo was incorporated in the image), DC Comics (who would own the rights to the famous Joker image used on the Obama photo) and Platon (the photographer who had taken the original image used by Time). All three parties denied having filed a DMCA takedown notice with Flickr, which lead people to wonder all the more just who the hell *did* file the takedown notice.

While Alkhateeb originally stated that flickr had not told him who filed the request, after looking more closely at the email sent by Flickr he realized that they did in fact list the name of the person who had filed it. At first the way that it was presented was confusing to Alkhateeb and he thought the name that they gave him was a Yahoo representative’s name and not the person filing the report.

So who filed the report?

Well because Alkhateeb is currently working with lawyers on the case he asked me not to publish the name flickr provided him, but Alkhateeb has shared the name with me and after having seen the name, what I can say is that it wasn’t Time, DC Comics or Platon, or any other party with any possible plausible IP interest in this image. In fact, the name that was given is very likely a totally bogus made up name entirely. A google search for the odd name turns up zero results and even a google search for the last name alone turns up zero results for that surname. It’s like someone just typed random characters on a keyboard to make up the name used in the DMCA takedown notice.

The fact that the name filing the DMCA takedown notice would appear to be totally fake leaves one to wonder. Does Flickr just blindly pull down any content when any DMCA request is presented? If so that’s not very reassuring. If, for instance, “Donald Duck” or “Bob Xjibtstruytubopluy” claimed copyright over images in President Obama’s stream, would they simply remove these images as well? Somehow I doubt they would. Or was Flickr staff aware that the takedown request was bogus and instead decided to use it as cover to remove an image that offended their own clear personal and political sensibilities? A few months earlier Flickr nuked an entire account of a user who wrote critical remarks on President Obama’s photostream.

Whatever the case, I do think it is disingenuous at best for flickr to try and hide behind a clearly bogus DMCA notice when dealing with criticism over their decision to remove this image. Many people last week were led to believe by statements by Champ in Flickr’s Help Forum and in the press that Time or DC or the photographer had complained to flickr about the image and Flickr never bothered to clarify about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the stated notice.

Transparency, fairness and a willingness to communicate openly with your community ought to be the hallmark traits of a site that is dependent upon their users for their content. By hiding the illegitimacy of this complaint, Flickr has shown themselves yet again trying to sweep their actions under the rug dismissing negative criticism with half truths. It is ironic that they would accuse the press and blogosphere of being “makey uppey” while in the same breath hiding behind a clearly bogus DMCA request on their own.

So what should Flickr do at this point?

Well, given that the DMCA takedown notice was bogus (and even had it been by an actual interested party Alkhateeb would have had a legitimate fair use to the image) they should apologize to Alkhateeb and restore his image and all of the comments that they nuked along with it.

Of course it is worth pointing out that even though former Flickr Founder and Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield called it a “mistake” for Flickr not to have a mechanism to restore staff deleted content over two years ago that still today Flickr has not built (and is not working on) the ability to restore staff deleted content. So even if Flickr wanted to at this point they couldn’t put Alkhateeb’s image back. While Alkhateeb may be allowed to reupload the image in the future, his original image (along with all of the comments to the image and all of the links to his now dead deleted image) is pretty likely gone for good.

And that’s too bad.

Someone’s Started a Flickr is Fascist Blog, Accuses Flickr of Anti-Gay Censorship Policies

Someone's Started a Flickr is Fascist Blog, Accuses Flickr of Anti-Gay Censorship Policies

Update: I just got banned from the Flickr help forum for posting a link about the new blog there.

I've Been Banned From the Flickr Help Forum

Update #2: the Flickr is Fascist blog has moved to

Well it looks like someone’s finally gotten sick and tired enough of Flickr account deletions that they’ve launched a “Flickr is Fascist” blog. And before you ask, no, it wasn’t me.

The blog seems to focus especially on the recent rash of censorship on Flickr dealing with male non-porn gay related photostreams. The new site specifically calls out the fact that flickr censors closed their thread in the help forum entitled “Flickr’s new anti-gay policy” among others.

In addition to the help forum post above being locked by Flickr staff, there have been several recent cases on Flickr where photos showing either non-nude male self portraits, non-nude male models, or photos of men in public have been either recharacterized as “restricted” NIPSA accounts or have been deleted entirely. In one case, a professional photographer who focused on non nude beefcake type male models, Edelson Flores, had his entire photostream deleted with Flickr citing the fact that he was posting other people’s work as their reasoning. Flores has denied that his stream contained photos that were not his and in fact had his own copyright watermark over every photo in his stream.

In a post on the new “Flickr is Fascist” blog they point out specifically what they feel is a double standard when it comes to Flickr’s deletion of candid photos of males in public in the post “Flickr has Issues With the Male Body:

“A community of ‘candid’ photographers of men in public situations (all of whom have paid for their accounts in good faith) has been displaced and silenced on photo-sharing site Flickr in less than a fortnight. Four prominent photostreams as well as countless photos vanished from July 6th 2009 to July 13th 2009 without warning or right to appeal. At least one site had over a million hits in less than a year. Flickr has stubbornly refused to give a reason for its recent axe-grinding mission against these sites, but one user was given the reason ‘voyeur content’ after more than 8 days of asking for a reason yet that particular site contained pictures of men in public which is legal. Flickr has refused to expand on the reason it gave, but cited its ambiguous and open-ended ‘Don’t be creepy’ clause in its Terms of Service asjustification for terminating at least one photostream. Flickr has also silenced debate about the issue on its Help Forum. When confronted with whether or nor the famous Robert Doisineau candid image of the kissing couple in Paris was voyeur content or simply a candid street photo, Flickr immediately closed the thread and banned the user from challenging Flickr’s inability to define ‘voyeur content’ as opposed to candid content. Disturbingly Flickr has refused to reopen the debate. Another thread ‘ Flickr’s new anti-gay policy’ was also closed in a mater of hours. Is it a a coincidence that the many candid men sites were closed within a week? Flickr silent wall of automated e-mails will never let you know.”

It will be interesting to see if this new blog or other public criticism of Flickr’s censorship policies will in fact have any impact on the account deletions that seem to be taking place almost daily on the site.

DMU Launches DMU Magazine

Inside DMU Magazine, by Ivan Makarov

One of the places that I’ve spent a lot of time online over the past few years is in the Flickr Group DeleteMe Uncensored. DeleteMe Uncensored is a group on Flickr where users submit photos to a voting pool and group members then offer brief critiques of these photos along with a vote to either save or delete the photo. If a photo gets 10 “saves” before 10 “deletes” it is put into a portfolio of images called “The Lightbox.

There are probably two things to me that set DMU apart from other groups on Flickr.

First, it is one of the few (and was the first) “uncensored” group on Flickr. This means that admins don’t ban members, censor forum threads, lock threads, lock the entire group, etc. Along with the voting game there is a vibrant community of photographers who generally engage in all kinds of discussion from the super important to the super inane. Thoughtful threads about politics, photography, art, music and life are mixed in with immature threads about bad music videos, bad craigslist adverts, threads devoted to animated gifs, and well, you get the idea.

Second, the photo critiques in DMU are meant to be constructive, but no-holds-barred. Sometimes on Flickr you’ll post a photo and end up with a litany of “great shot” “wonderful” “beautiful” “nice” etc. type comments. And while those are pleasant and there is certainly nothing wrong with those, sometimes it’s also interesting to get more constructive criticism — even if negative, even if brutally honest. Having members point out your dust spots on your photo, or your bad crop, or your wrong angle, aren’t simply meant to talk down your photography, they’re meant to provide you criticism as a mechanism to improve.

What really makes DMU work more than anything else though is that it is a tight knit group of community photographers on the web. I’ve found that more than anyplace else I’ve seen on the web, people really get to know each other in this group. Many have met each other in real life. Many spend many hours a day hanging out in the group and chatting.

DMU Magazine Cover, by Ivan Makarov
DMU Magazine Cover, by Ivan Makarov.

So I was super excited when one of the DMU Members, Ivan Makarov, proposed launching a DMU Magazine. There is something about seeing photos in print that makes them even so much more vibrant than what you see on the web. And after several months of planning and hard work, issue number one of DMU Magazine is launching today. I personally contributed a lot of photography to issue number 1. It’s probably the first time so much of my own work has ever been printed in one place. That was super exciting to me. In addition to a profile on my work as one of the top Lightbox contributers, I also contributed some other photos and the editors also included a feature section on my $2 portrait project.

The magazine itself is 72 pages long and is printed on full color paper in large format magazine quality. 26 different photographers from DMU contributed to it and it also features profile pieces on the top four contributors to the group’s “Lightbox.” The magazine is chock full of interesting photos by many outstanding emerging photographers. It’s exciting to me that in today’s DYI world that something like this is possible. Issue one of the magazine costs $13.99. It’s published by HP’s MagCloud and can be shipped anywhere in the U.S., Cananda or the U.K. The quality of the MagCloud magazines are very high. HP is really one of the top names in color printing today and they’ve put together a really top notch offering with this magazine service. The $13.99 price involves no profit for anyone involved in the publication of this effort. This is simply a labor of love by a bunch of talented photographers to publish our work. If you like photography I’d encourage you to purchase a copy and take a look at what we’ve produced. I’ve already purchased my copy and if you’d like to purchase one as well you can do that here.

Inside DMU Magazine, by Ivan Makarov, 2

A lot of credit goes to those who helped put this magazine together. In addition to all 26 photographic contributors (along with many people not featured in this issue, but who provided valuable advice and feedback during the development process) Ivan Makarov deserves a lot of recognition as the one who really drove this project from the beginning. In addition to Ivan, Charlotte Reynolds worked as the magazine’s designer, and Ingo Meckmann, Mo Tabesh, Wendy Martyn and Pierre Honeyman all worked as co-editors and publishers.

If you’d like to learn more about DMU Magazine, also be sure to check out its website

More from Ivan here, and Meckimac here.

Flickr “Not Currently Working” on Account Restore Feature After Users Suffer Losses of Thousands of Photos

Flickr "Not Currently Working" on Account Restore Feature After Users Suffer Losses of Thousands of Photos

With respect to your posting of the TV screengrab, I don’t think it was a mistake to delete it, but I do think it was (and is) a mistake to not have a mechanism to restore that kind of deletion.
— Stewart Butterfield, Flickr Founder and Former Flickr Chief, May 19, 2007

"I’m afraid this isn’t the result of some work we’re doing on a restore feature… I’m sorry to disappoint that it’s not the result of a feature. We have heard your feedback about that here, and in the past, and we know it is on some people’s wish list, but it’s not something that we are working on currently."
— Zack Shephard, Flickr Staffer, August 7, 2009

Over two years ago Flickr Founder and former Chief Stewart Butterfield publicly posted that it was a "mistake" for Flickr not to have a mechanism to restore photos that had been deleted on Flickr. He made the comment in response to a photograph of mine that Flickr had censored that he said was not a mistake, adding though that not having a restore photo capability more broadly was in fact a "mistake" at Flickr.

Last week there were several stories having to do with account deletions at Flickr. In one case a hacker had gotten a hold of a Flickr users credentials and deleted over 3,000 photos in a user’s photostream. Another case involved a professional photographer who had his entire stream nuked after being informed by Flickr that the reason for this was that he was posting other people’s photos (something the photographer, who had all of his images watermarked with his own copyright info, denies). Yet another case involved a Flickr user who apparently had some of his Flickr photos posted in an internet forum without containing links back to Flickr. In this last case Flickr agreed that it looked like "maybe the deletion wasn’t the right course of action," adding that the user was "lucky" that they were able to catch the account deletion due to a backlog of account deletion processings and then restoring his account and giving him four free years of Pro account status.

There have been other even higher profile cases of Flickr account deletion as well. Earlier this year, Flickr nuked user Shephard Johnson’s entire photostream and account after he posted comments critical of President Obama on the official White House photostream. In that case Johnson lost about 1,200 photos of his, many of them which were not backed up. Johnson was offered a free Flickr Pro account after the fiasco but like previous users was told that Flickr could not restore his account.

As it stands now when a user’s photostream is deleted at Flickr it is gone. Erased. Permanently and irrevocably. Many Flickr users are appreciably nervous about this fact, especially after reading stories about hackers infiltrating flickr accounts or when overzealous underlings in the Flickr Censorship Division seem to overreact to minor Flickr Community Guidelines violations by nuking users’ photostreams.

When Flickr nukes a user’s photostream, it’s not just the users’ photos that are gone. It’s all of the rich, important and vibrant social metadata around the photos that are gone with it. I’ve had many very long engaging conversations around my and others photos on the site. When Flickr nukes your stream those all get erased from existence.

Flickr user Saint Seminole summed up the problem fairly succiently:

"So personally, I wouldn’t be worried about losing the photos themselves. I’d be worried about losing all the work I’d put in the site over the past few years. All those cross-photo links, all the links from my blogs and others back to my flickr photos, all the website links I have directing people to my Flickr sets, my collections, my tag groupings, my archive date links, and on and on.

All the meticulous placing of photos on the Flickr map, in hundreds of cities and several countries…

This is why I personally would be worried about an accidental deletion, not the losing of photo files. This certainly seems like it should be a *MUCH* higher priority than redesigning "post now" buttons, etc. For Flickr, this should be a number one priority to protect its reputation…"

The answer to all of these concerns is rather simple really. Rather than permanently deleting accounts when Flickr feels that a user has crossed them, they could instead simply convert the account to a private account on Flickr making the stream invisible to everyone in the Flickrverse except the individual user. By locking the account down this way Flickr would be able to remove whatever it is that they find offensive while still allowing the user the ability to download photos of theirs that are not backed up or allowing Flickr to restore accounts where their censors make mistakes or overreact to minor guidelines.

Many Flickr users put tens, hundreds, in some cases even thousands of hours into building their flickr photostreams. More than just their time and energy though, what so many are offering up through Flickr is their art. Something that carries a far greater emotional cost than simply time or money. And all of these people have to live with the knowledge that their entire creative endeavors on Flickr could be blotted away with the 2 second push of a button. So it was very disappointing yesterday reading more than two years after Flickr Chief Stewart Butterfield called the inability to restore photos on Flickr a "mistake," that Flickr still today is not working on a mechanism to restore deleted photos. What bothers me as much if not more than the fact that Flickr won’t develop this important feature is that they refuse to even provide their reasoning for why they will not.

I have a hard time believing that the reasons why Flickr will not offer this sort of safety net have anything to do with engineering resources. Recently Flickr changed all the delete buttons on the site red. They also went to the trouble to personally code the "about Flickr" staff page so that it shows me, Thomas Hawk a single user, a different staff than it shows every other user. How is it that Flickr seems to have the staff resources to do these relatively insignificant coding projects, and yet they don’t have the resources to code a sane and reasonable restore feature for bad account deletions?

I’m not quite sure what the answer is to getting Flickr to agree to this important safety net. They basically have a monopoly on the community photo sharing space at present and can pretty much get away with doing anything that they feel like with impunity no matter how much it upsets their users. And that’s too bad.

Update: After refusing to address the issue of why Flickr won’t commit to a reasonable, responsible and sane approach to account deletion recovery, as is typical, Flickr staff has returned with a non-answer and locked the thread to avoid future criticism against them.

From Flickr Staffer Zack Shephard: “Since the OPs issue has been resolved I’m going to close this down. We have left it open because there was obviously some concern about this and we wanted to let discussion keep going. There is a lot of food for thought here and thank you all for letting us know about your concerns. This is still the help forum though and because the OPs issue is resolved I think it’s time to move on to the next.” And just like that another conversation critical of Flickr is killed.