Yes, I love Flickr, I still do and I think I will in the future. But like many people I ask myself the question: How can a company with such a loyal community be so stupid and blow all what they have achieved in one month. They were authentic, cool and just loveable. It is all gone or at least heavily damaged.
The carnival of debacles started when Flickr staff deleted a page with some hundred comments from the photostream of Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, one of the best known Flickr photographers. She made the theft of some of her photos public on Flickr, which had been used without permission by a British fineprint service company (Wikipedia).
That was the first time Flickr found itself in an internet shitstorm. In the Forums the users made very clear that they do not tolerate such behaviour from Flickr’s side. After being silent for very long, Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr, had to scrawl an excuse on a Treo somewhere in a desert on his way home from a vacation.
That was the first time the combination of the two words Flickr and censorship came to attention of many people in public. I was hoping they had learned their lesson and I was happy that they apologized. More because almost at the same there had been a user revolt revolt on Digg, where hundreds of users protested against deletion of dugg blog articles and also users.
Now every company whose business model is based on a community, should have noticed it. Through social networking users have gained an ernormous power. They have a voice now and when they don’t like things and there are others who feel the same they use this power – and they are mercyless. Especially when it comes to basic rights and more when it has to do with censorship (or what people feel is censorship) makes them outrage. The companies had a clear warning.
But Flickr hadn’t learned the lesson. On June 12th they added seven more languages to the service. Flickr was now available in English, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Traditional Chinese. Great move but after the first hoorays there were voices that the translation was clumsy, too formal and even ridicolous in some parts. True! The German translators had made a very average job, none of what I call „the spirit of Flickr“, the coolness, the friendlyness was to be found there.
But that was not all. Very soon German users noticed that some of them were not able to see some photos, they were even excluded from seeing their own photos. The answer was simple. Flickr users are identified by their Yahoo login. Users which have a German Yahoo account were not longer able to change their safetey level after all their accounts were set to safe. (the filtering system, which was installed earlier this year is explained here).
Even worse was a passage in the German version of the FAQ where they could read:
„If you are using a Yahoo-ID from Singapore, Germany, Hong-Kong or Korea you will not be able to deactivate safe search by reason of the Terms of Service in these countries“
That was too much. Germany, one of the most liberal countries in the world on the same level as e.g Singapore, which is not famous for being liberal or „a tough democracy“ how a singaporean user expressed it in the discussion forums?
Also, one day before, Yahoo shareholders rejected proposals which would have set up a a board of human rights. (Story). For those who don’t know: Yahoo is the mother company of Flickr. It might not have really to do with the German issue but it was also discussed of course and used as an example for the human rights policies of Yahoo, which have often been criticized.
The displeasedness was growing because the users felt censored. Some discussions groups formed and hell broke loose. Users began to upload graphics stating „nicht mit uns! (not with us), Think, flickr, think! against censorship!“. Very soon the service was flooded with it and the group had about 2000 members after 22 hours, after 36 hours there were already 6500 users who supported the protest. And they are not only from Germany. Many users from other countries joined. Flickr is an international community.
The answer of Stewart Butterfield which took about eight hours from start (in my opinion much too late) and nothing but pr-speak, making many of the people even more angry:
We really apologize for the delay in responding to these threads. The whole Flickr team has been in ongoing discussions, trying to hammer out a solution.
We have absolutely no intention of censoring the content on the community’s behalf. It is always been our intention that Flickr members participate to whatever extent they want and are as free as possible create their own experience. Currently, switching the SafeSearch function off is not available for German members. It is a really complex situation — we have been in deliberation on this for a while, and we had to make the decision whether or not to leave Germany and the German language out of the international launch.
The decision came down to the wire, but we decided to include Germany. We’re still hoping that that was the right decision. It definitely was not a decision that was made lightly and there is no intention to annoy, frustrate or inconvenience Flickr members in Germany. Rest assured, we do hear you loud and clearly (painfully loud, even) and are doing our best. We hope to have more to say soon.
And much later:
Unfortunately I can’t give a more detailed update yet or any concrete good news, but please don’t take our silence to mean that nothing is happening. We are doing our best to make the situation better as quickly as possible. I’m sure it doesn’t make a lot of sense from the outside, and we would prefer to be able to share all the context — believe me, this is extremely uncomfortable and we’d *strongly* prefer not to be in this position — but we don’t have a choice at this time.
Again, we will post more as soon as we can — in the meantime, all we can do is apologize.“
After that, people still had no clue why they couldn’t deactivate the filter. And the protests became stronger, more people joined and more graphics were uploaded. In Interestingness, where the most interesting photos are shown, almost every second photo was a protest graphic. The most popular tags in the last week have to do with the protests. Flickr remained silent until Heather Champ posted this „clarification“
The decision to change the Flickr experience in Germany was never about censorship – it was made to try to ensure that Yahoo! Germany was in compliance with local legal restrictions. In fact, we’re all getting really uncomfortable that the words „flickr“ and „censorship“ are being jammed together with increasing frequency because that is _so far_ from the direction we’re trying to move in.
The central problem is that Germany has much more stringent age verification laws than its neighboring countries and specifies much harsher penalties, including jail time, for those with direct responsibility (in our case, it would be our colleagues in the German offices and we’re not willing to make a call that has that kind of consequence for them).
Up to the point of launch we had been exploring every possible approach which would allow us to do what makes sense while still operating inside the law. Unfortunately, the solutions did not come together in the way we thought they would.
I know people would like to know exactly what is going on, have a chance to evaluate the internal back and forth, and know all of the reasoning. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible. In the end, some of you will trust that we are doing our best and are confident that we’ll have a workable system in the future and some of you will not. We’d love to be able to change that reality, but we can’t. We’ve made and admitted to a couple of big mistakes lately, and as many of you have commented, we should have handled this issue differently.
Believe me when I say that we’d rather not make mistakes in the first place, but when we do, take hope in the fact that we always listen, always respond, and often change the system as a direct result of your input. That’s the way Flickr rolls, and we never want that to change.
So again, we’re not perfect (as much as we’d like to be), but everyone on the team is resourceful, fair-minded and determined to find the solution to this. You’ll be the first to know the outcome.
This raised more questions than it was answering, especially:
- Why wasn’t it possible to say that earlier?
- What has age verification to do with it? (as skilled German user I don’t understand)
- How could you could start in Germany and think you would get away with that?
German laws are complicated and some are not adapted to the new challenges of digital age. Some court decisions were ridicolous because parts of jurisdiction and legislature do not understand the internet (sad but true). But to incapacitate adults because of that what Heather stated above? This statement will cause more damage than it will help. It is not enough to say sorry and to apologize. It is urgent to expert pressure on their (means Yahoo’s) overcautious lawyers.
Germany is a liberal country. Moderate nudity doesn’t cause a scandal (like „Nipplegate“). No, it is wanted, tolerated, part of our society and our daily life. I could make a list of sites where nude persons are mapped. Other photo communities are operating in Germany without ridicolous restrictions and I haven’t heard of anyone ever going to jail in Germany for such.
You can find everything that you can find in the USA, an exception make national socialistic symbols, white supremacy, pseudo-scientific material denying the Holocaust and incitement of people. That has the well known historic reasons. Those sites are banned and for example Google has excluded foreign sites with such content from it’s search. Not everybody is happy with it (in sense of free access to information) – but I can live with that and don’t feel censored. And I can access these sites from here, they are hate preaching, publishing lies and encouraging people for violence. I don’t need them.
So maybee there is something we don’t know yet. In the meantime the protests are going on. While I was writing the prostest group gained 400 new members. I ask myself if this can be worth this damage, which is homemade because you are getting to far away from your users.
To the protestors
You gave a crystal clear warning to flickr and you know how powerful you are now. But don’t let yourself be entrapped by your power. Protest is okay but with some actions you are performing I doubt that you are just protesting. You want to see Flickr lying in the dust. Hold your breath sometimes before you go to far.
You would be well advised to give their German users what they want. Flickr is more than a simple community, you have been awesome like no other. You brought people together over all frontiers and it is more than a simple photo community for many, many people! People love you, Flickr. Don’t destroy that because of some misguided lawyers and more:
Don’t be just another Yahoo company!
- Photo pool of the „Against Censorship at Flickr“ group
- Discussins of the „Against Censorship at Flickr“ group
PS: Forgive me my typo errors, I was getting emotional while writing
Technorati Tags: flickr, yahoo, stewart butterfield, heather champ, censor, censorship, againstcensorship, againstflickrcensorship, nichtmituns, censr, thinkflickrthink, zensur, fuckr, supportflickritesingermanyhongkongsingaporeandkoreaagainstcensorship