Censorship

"Don't Forget the Children"

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I only smoke Reds

Flickr, the popular photo sharing site owned by Yahoo, took down Dutch photographer Maarten Dors' pictures of a Romanian teenage boy smoking a cigarette, arguing that it broke the site's rules for appropriate photos. Dors says he didn't intend to glorify smoking, but to document the living conditions in one of Eastern Europe's less prosperous countries. Someone from Yahoo put the photo back on Dors' profile, but another employee who was unfamiliar with the exception took it down a few months later. Someone else later put the picture back up, and it's still there, for now.

Dors' story is a reminder that ever-increasing usability has been accompanied by the de-liberalizing of user rights. Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, warns against Internet users relying too heavily on applications and software over which they have little or no control.

Tony Curzon Price at Open Democracy sums up Zittrain's position below:

JZ's impassioned cry in the face of all these attempts to move problems into the realm of authority is to "give communities a chance."….If at every turn we acquiesce and allow the top-down "solution", the Internet will have demonstrated its "self-closing" property: the open system that shut itself down.

But what if Zittrain's community model still allowed for censoring under the guise of "filtering," and corporations assimilated the language of communitarianism? Below is Yahoo's response to the Dors case:

While mindful of free speech and other rights, Yahoo and other companies say they must craft and enforce guidelines that go beyond legal requirements to protect their brands and foster safe, enjoyable communitiesā€”ones where minors may be roaming.

Guidelines help "engender a positive community experience," one to which users will want to return, said Anne Toth, Yahoo's vice president for policy.

And below is an excerpt from the Flickr Community Guidelines:

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.

Also worth mentioning is that Flickr's guidelines, full of community references, seem flexible and open compared to those of another popular photo sharing site, Photobucket:

Prohibited Content includes, but is not limited to, Content that, in the sole discretion of Photobucket:

is patently offensive or promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual;

harasses or advocates harassment of another person;

exploits people in a sexual or violent manner;

contains nudity, excessive violence, or offensive subject matter or contains a link to an adult website;

constitutes or promotes information that you know is false or misleading or promotes illegal activities or conduct that is abusive, threatening, obscene, defamatory or libelous

Is Flickr, with its relatively mild restrictions, an example of a Zittrain-style community, in which users abide by a set of shared values? Or do these standards represent the "closing" of the Internet simply because the community is owned by a larger corporation?

Jacob Sullum wrote about Yahoo and censorship here.

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  1. Total non story. Private corporations are making the rules for people that want to use their software. If they become too restrictive, the market will move to a competitor who’s less restrictive. They set policies to attract the most users. If they didn’t filter at all, the site would fill up with aggressive advertisements and porn, and that’s not the market they want to compete in.

  2. There are image-sharing sites out there that don’t have any restrictions.

  3. When I saw that picture, the first thing I thought about was the time in Romania a couple years ago that I saw some kid who was clearly under the age of 12 smoking a cigarette as he was walking down some enormous boulevard next to some enormous blocs. Sure enough, the topic of the post is a Romanian kid smoking a cigarette. My poor country. šŸ™

    By the way, that kid isn’t a teenager. Teenagers smoking is not a big deal – it’s when the pre-teens start smoking that you have to worry.

  4. What Warren said. No likee the rules? Take your crap somewhere else.

  5. Hey, it’s Teh Intertubez. There’s room here for sites like this with every possible degree of freedom of expression, from those that thinks Disney is full of cosmotarian libertines, to totally uncensored, to all points inbetween. If a corporation thinks they can maximize revenue by applying mild to heavy censorship — good on ya, mate. If you don’t like it — set up your own damn site and see if you can steal their customers, become the next YouTube.

  6. I’m not going to fret about a private company controlling what goes on on their servers.

    Maybe Dors should get his own website.

  7. I’ve put a lot into my flickr account and I can live with their policies so far, but I’m keeping an eye on what noxious stunts Microsoft might pull when they eventually get their hands on it through the Yahoo acquisition.

    I know several younger people who don’t bother to get an actual web site for their band, portfolio, or other online presentations, because they think that facebook, myspace, and “free” blogs are enough. As these web applications’ ownership consolidates, they might be in for a rude awakening. They will be out of free options, and stuck with a user agreement which may not be to their liking.

    Get a real website. It will at least delay the inevitable dropping of the shroud.

    I’m just spreading sunshine all over the place, aren’t I?

  8. Won’t somebody please think of the comments?

  9. I find Warren’s comment to be demeaning and disrespectful. Please delete it.

  10. Guys in my high school posted obscene content on Flickr all the time. It was no big deal.

  11. The cigarette makes that kid look way cooler than American kids.

  12. Nothing prevents you from plopping 20$ a month to have your own internet address and server so you can post what ever the fuck you want.

  13. Yahoo is private property, why should they not censor to their heart’s content?

    Remember you can always make or join a system with unfettered communications.

  14. Mick,

    I believe the reasoning is that Yahoo is a big, bad corporation and that therefore anything it does is evil.

  15. I once found an art book that was all pictures of kids smoking. It was oddly fascinating and gross at the same time.

  16. The cigarette makes that kid look way cooler than American kids.

    Have you met any American kids lately? By law of averages, the Marlboro Kid there is way cooler than American kids.

  17. I’ve got to agree with Warren and others. What a private company allows on its servers is up to them and if a market with more liberalized views is viable someone will serve that need.

    Still I’m a bit incredulous about the last section of Photobuckets’ terms:
    “constitutes or promotes information that you know is false or misleading”

    I understand that all judgments are up to their discretion but that sounds suspiciously close to banning fiction…

  18. What Warren said. No likee the rules? Take your crap somewhere else.

    I tend to agree. My problem with the whole thing is that these corporations aren’t just responding to what they think is a shared community of users where minors may be roaming, but the potential of government interference when something on their site pisses off the wrong politician.

    Basically, once the threat of government interference comes in, they’re no longer balancing customer perception, but the real threat of being shut down completely.

  19. “I believe the reasoning is that Yahoo is a big, bad corporation and that therefore anything it does is evil.” That’s not the reasoning at all, that’s just words you wanted to put in someone’s mouth.

    Reflexively defending corporations is Republicanism, not libertarianism. Corporations are not inherently big and bad. But corporations can be big and bad. And evil, especially when intertwined with the state. The inability to acknowledge that is the most common blind spot of libertarians.

    Damb some of you people are worse than dittoheads. Gol-darn melonfarmers!

  20. If the stated policies of most sites were strictly enforced they’d have no content whatsoever. I believe the terms agreement is mostly intended to keep out the dregs of society (cannibals, ethnic cleansers, democrats, etc.)

  21. Absolutely, yahoo, flicker, and photobucket have the right to set such policies.

    Absolutely, we have the right, and the duty, to ridicule them as prudes for having done so.

  22. Corporations are not inherently big and bad. And evil, especially when intertwined with the state. The inability to acknowledge that is the most common blind spot of libertarians.

    You’re kidding, right? You must be new here. Libertarians have their blind spots, to be sure. But this ain’t one of them.

  23. Absolutely, we have the right, and the duty, to ridicule them as prudes for having done so.

    But how do you reconcile that with our blindness to corporate sins? Don’t you know the back of every libertarian is covered with corporate logo tattoos, like a stock car? Thank goodness everyone has us all figured out.

  24. Lousy Paul posting before me.

    [grumble]

  25. I suppose I should put a LOL after my sarcastic comments. That should keep idiots who are looking to do battle off my back.

  26. Hey! I went to junior high with that kid.

  27. Unclaimed Mysteries-1:31

    Agreed. Although I am a proud anarcho-libertarian-capitalist, I am not a yahoo for big media or any big multinational conglomerate or for that matter, any big organization, period.

    “Private” corporations that lobby gvt for goodies or act so as to not offend some regulatory ruffian, real or imagined, are hardly advancing the cause of liberty.

    That being said, even a big, bad, multinational should merit our defense if the company never rent seeks, never lobbies for special goodies and does not act out of fear of offending the public enemy. How many publicly traded companies fall into this category?

  28. “Corporations are not inherently big and bad. And evil, especially when intertwined with the state. The inability to acknowledge that is the most common blind spot of libertarians.”

    That’s not what I wrote. And I’m not new here and I’ve seen that reflexive, un-reasoned defense of corporations enough to realize it’s a problem. Though apparently it’s not as big a problem as misquoting other people.

  29. Paul-

    Just look at some of the posts on this thread. Any entity that rent seeks, lobbies gvt. for goodies or acts so as to not offend the sensibilities of some commissar deserves to be criticized and lampooned by libertarians. The facts of life are that big, multinational corporations happen to excel at rent seeking and lobbying for goodies, at both your and my expense.

  30. “protect their brands and foster safe, enjoyable communities-ones where minors may be roaming.”

    You’d think that the guys running Flickr would know that when a kid puts in “porn” on Google, 1oo million sites with naked people show up.

  31. Guys in my high school posted obscene content on Flickr all the time. It was no big deal.

    Is . the new Casey? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  32. Ignoring the problem (and I think it *is* a problem) with the web-based photo-hosting services and moving content to a personal web site, as has been suggested, is just going to shift the attention of would-be censors and moralizers to the ISPs themselves.

    I think it would be better to make stand against this now rather than establishing a precedent for this sort of overcautious and silly oversight.

  33. I think it would be better to make stand against this now rather than establishing a precedent for this sort of overcautious and silly oversight.

    Absolutely. You should take a stand against corporations imposing undesirable terms on you and your content by…no longer using their services and moving your content to another location.

  34. Well, it may be that in Russia, cigarette smokes you, but it looks like in America, Yahoo deletes you!

  35. And I prefer the Photobucket rules to the Flickr mush. It seems to me that the picture above would not be deleted from Photobucket, but at Flickr, a moderator can take down anything for any reason (“my Aunt Jane wouldn’t like it”).

  36. That photo made me immediately recall This famous photo.

  37. Oh my God.
    A teen smoking a cigarette
    What else is new.
    Do you think ‘the forbiden fruit’ theory comes into play??

  38. That photo made me immediately recall This famous photo.

    MK,

    Five bucks on who gets pregnant, first.

    Unclaimed mysteries… first of all, you quoted yourself, so I think that would be EXACTLY what you wrote.

    And secondly, libertarian skepticism of corporations is well established. Well established. If there’s one thing most libertarians can’t stand, it’s a large corporation, especially one that lobbies for regulation and government “partnerships”.

    What we do defend is a 1) corporations right to make independent choices on its own policies and operations and 2) we’re preternaturally skeptical of flimsy product liability suits against said corporations. And point of fact, it’s the flimsy liability suits which foster the intertwining of corporate and state interests.

  39. We can’t communicate reality via a media filter where company image is more important than speaking the truth. This is worth considering for all of those who still watch television (?) and believe they’re being informed of how things really are out in society. Think again: if it offends, they won’t broadcast it.

  40. I looked that young when I was eighteen.

  41. Paul, I only quoted the previous misquote, which left out a short sentence from the original quote.

    As for the rest of what you said, I’m with you on 1) wholeheartedly, and 2) if we can come to an agreement over what a “flimsy liability suit” means, e.g., the notorious McDonald’s hot coffee mess.

  42. FWIW: flickr’s content filtering system requires all images to be flagged as “safe”, “moderate” or “restricted”. They use this to keep kids from seeing adult content, and to deal with Internet regulations in countries like Singapore and Germany.

    You can post hardcore to flickr, you just have to make sure it’s properly flagged. That’s what they mean by “filtering your content”.

  43. Lazlo,

    I haven’t RTFA’d yet, so take this as you will, but are you suggesting that the cigarette smoking kid could have stayed as long as it was ‘flagged’ propery? Or is the implication that if our young people are faced with a graphic picture of properly flagged golden showers, or a kid with a cigarette, the kid with the cigarette gets pulled first?

  44. It’s a shame to see the same uneven and poor decisions that Flickr has made in regards to “self censorship”. Even worse is their total lack of support or help when one of these situations occur.

    I have been dealing with rude Flickr people(a guy named Terrance) and have not got any help with my situation either.

  45. Private corporations have every right to censor, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

    Right now, flickr is probably my favorite site of its kind. I could certainly move to another site, but why can’t I fight with them to change their rules first? After all, it’s my right to argue, no?

    If someone in the mall kicks you out for wearing a shirt they find offensive, you’ll probably argue, not just “go somewhere else,” because it’s your favorite damn mall and it’s ludicrous to get kicked out of it over such a thing.

  46. if we can come to an agreement over what a “flimsy liability suit” means, e.g., the notorious McDonald’s hot coffee mess.

    Therein lies the rub. Agreeing on that is the holy grail, isn’t it?

  47. In a slightly different vein, we libertarians do a lot of chin scratching on how progressives can hand-wring on “corporate censorship”, but encourage government censorship.

  48. Corporations are profit oriented pure and simple. The laws of the land should prohibit particular evil. Last time I looked – as an interested libertarian – self censorship wasn’t proscribed. Live with it and move along if you don’t agree.

  49. I never forget the children.

  50. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to be a moderate libertarian? Oddly, well, I agree with much of the (for lack of a better term and I mean no offense) rhetoric but that’s true with many other political lines and I.

    Either way, to get to the point, hosting is cheap and often you can find companies with views and stances that are also your own values. As a hosting company owner I can say, with some certainty, that we take content off our servers that we don’t like. We don’t allow malware, we don’t allow kiddy porn, and well… I think that’s about it actually? We’ve never had to remove anything else and have never seen a reason to.

    I think we aren’t unique. We never search through client’s files unless they ask us to or when we get a complaint. I know that there are many places (some of them even free) that have policies very similar to that. Using a mainstream site to host controversial content when they have filtering in place pretty much means that you are destined to have difficulties when you find that their policies don’t match your views.

  51. Grim(et al) —
    You’re not taking it far enough. Censors, even self-censors, must be mocked, derided, have their spirits broken and crushed, lest their disease become more widespread; we must fight on the photo-sharing sites, we must fight on the universities, we must fight in the fields and in the streets, we must fight on the Hill; we must never surrender.

    But yeah, also grow up into a real netizen and get your own website to host your crap, sure. On that note, would anyone care to recommend some content management software?

  52. As many have said, the “public square” analogy is wrong, these are corporate squares owned by corporations. The sad result of government which which no longer provides a forum for the population. Free speech is only free if you own a printing press.

  53. I am surprised that Reason would take this position. Online services are private entities, and they are entitled to censor material if they so choose. If a user doesn’t like it, they should start their own site with no restrictions. But that’s not fair, you say? The big sites have the audience? In a free society, what gives you the right to an audience that someone else built?

  54. It costs very little to set up your own website where you can post as many pics of children smoking as you like.

  55. it that a picture or part of a movie?

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