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Censorship in the Era of Social Media

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 8:13 PM on February 22, 2010

If you take pictures and store them online you are probably using Flickr. For most people it’s the perfect option, it’s free or low cost. They post pictures, for their friends and family to see and there are no problems. However, when things go wrong or there is a problem, especially in the area of censorship Flickr often reacts arbitrarily and with weak customer service response.

Does Flickr have the right to have a censorship policy, yes they are a private company they can set up what ever rules they want. In some countries they are required to by law. Now you may argue that they should either fight those laws or not do business in those countries. However Flickr decided to do business in those countries and is required to follow the laws of those countries.   By uploading pictures to Flickr you have agreed to abide by their policies.

Flickr does have what they call “community standards” when it comes to censorship. If you scan down to the bottom of the Flickr welcome page you can find it under their community guidelines

“Do moderate your content.

You need to take responsibility for ensuring that what you upload is appropriately flagged. If your judgment proves to be poor, we’ll moderate your account to match appropriate ratings for safe search and/or content type and send you a warning.”

“Don’t forget the children.

Take the opportunity to filter your content responsibly. If you would hesitate to show your photos or videos to a child, your mum, or Uncle Bob, that means it needs to be filtered. So, ask yourself that question as you upload your content and moderate accordingly. If you don’t, it’s likely that one of two things will happen. Your account will be reviewed then either moderated or terminated by Flickr staff.”

What happens though when you believe you have abided by their policies and your pictures are restricted or worst you account is banned. This has happened to a couple of photographers I follow on Friendfeed and now Google Buzz, Thomas Hawk and Violet Blue. The reasons were not given, their accounts were simply listed as restricted, and an email was sent to them.  The email only stated that the account was restricted, that is all. Neither Violet Blue or Thomas Hawk went out of their way to violate Flickr’s policy and in Violet case she was very careful to self censor her pictures. When, they uploaded the pictures they did so thinking that they are perfectly fine, only to have Flickr restrict their accounts. In their eyes their photos had past the Uncle Bob or mom test, however Flickr decided differently and they have the final say.

Although Flickr has the final say, what they decide is not without consequences. The biggest difference today , then even five years ago is the ability of the user to push back, when they consider themselves misused. Five years ago if they restricted your account or worst your account was banned, the most you could do was complain to your few friends and write emails. Today, when the same thing happens the information can be sent out on the social media web and is seen by thousands of potential customers. It is hardly ever good business practice to have customers who have a large bull horn, who believe they have been misused.

Should you use Flickr, I would say yes , for most people it works great, but beware of the pitfalls. Do not use them as the sole place to store your photos. This is true of any photo site. For the photos that are really important to you, you should have at least three copies, the originals, a local backup and finally on line.   If you have a Google account and are participating in the Buzz community you can read about Violet Blue’s run in with Flickr, by searching for Violet Blue in Buzz.