Flickr Censorship

There’s been another little bru-ha-ha over at Flickr, as a user had an image and accompanying comments deleted because someone complained. In this case, the user had a number of her images appropriated, prints were made and sold. When she confronted them, they basically took them down, blamed a supplier and won’t re-imburse her for the almost $5k that they’ve made from selling the images. Exhaustive comments here.

So she posted an image of the pictures that were stolen and the caption of the picture told the story. It got a lot of attention, and the party that sold the prints and ducked responsibility got a lot of angry communication by enraged flickrites. Flickr took down the page after 400 or so comments and deleted it, sending Rebekka a snarky explanation. They didn’t give her a chance to respond to the issues before deleting the post and its comments, and they have no way of recovering it.

The thread I linked to has a lot of interesting discussion, and some pretty lousy responses by the Flickr team. As usual, it took an incredible beating from users to make them apologize and recognize that they had done something wrong.

While the discussion centers on censorship, and whether or not Flickr is doing it, I think the real thing that annoys Flickr users is the feeling that Yahoo/Flickr gets to determine the sandbox in which we are playing. They control the discussion, not the users. Part of what has made Flickr great is the feeling that its users set the tone, and own the discussion. These kind of incidents remind us that Flickr is a company as well as a social site, and they are a company that will protect itself before protecting the sanctity of the community.

Now, the support team claims this was a mistake, which is a lousy way to say “we made a bad call, and acted poorly” and they say they are amending their processes to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. Which is good. But their methods of communicating to their users indicate that they don’t really get what’s making people angry. It’s a really big deal when you live and die by user generated content, to understand your users’ sensibilities and to be very careful about stepping on their work and their ability to discuss it. The heavy-handed deletion and subsequent weak explanation point to a company that’s more interested in covering its ass than defending its users and their work.

Now I can understand to some degree the desire to not have Flickr used as a platform for attacking people. Protecting the community from this kind of abuse is a noble cause. But that was clearly not the case here. This was a cry from help from a frustrated artist. The fact that it was treated as abuse indicates someone is asleep at the wheel over there.

What Flickr should have done was said “This was a bad call based on a bad procedure and we’re going to re-examine our process for dealing with complaints to make sure this doesn’t happen again” Then put forth some possible solutions i.e. we won’t permanently delete user content, we will give users a chance to respond to complaints in a sane way, etc. Trying to blow this off as an operator error was just offensive.

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