About a week after China blocked Flickr during the 20th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre, Yahoo (YHOO) has banned a paying Flickr Pro account holder named Shepherd Johnson after he left comments on photos uploaded by the White House’s official Flickr account. The comments protested the Obama administration’s policy on torture photos. Here’s one of them, found by Valleywag:
“The Obama White House is supporting a new bill (sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman) whose sole purpose is allowing the government to suppress any ‘photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009′ relating to the treatment of detainees in the ‘War on Terror.’ In other words, Obama wants Congress to change the FOIA so that the courts can’t compel release of any more torture photos.”
This comment also linked to one of the torture photos, previously uploaded to Flickr by a different account holder. See the photo by clicking here. A warning: It’s NSFW and disturbing.
Shepherd discovered his account was banned as he began a second round of commenting. Then he contacted Yahoo to ask why it happened. He never got an answer, even after leaving a message on Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz’s home answering machine. Losing his account, Shephard also lost some 1,200 pictures he’d uploaded to Flickr.
Yahoo gave Valleywag the following statement about the banning:
In accordance with Flickr’s policy, we cannot disclose information to third parties concerning a member’s account. However, in joining Flickr, all of our members agree to abide by our Community Guidelines. These guidelines require that all of our members be respectful of the community and flag content that may not be suitable for “safe” viewing. Our members have always done a great job of identifying inappropriate and offensive content on Flickr and bringing it to our attention. We encourage all members to continue to make Flickr a safe place to share photos and videos.
Flickr is a very large community made up of many types of members from all over the world, and we respect the viewpoints and expressions of all of our members. In crafting the Community Guidelines, Flickr weighed the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the overall community, and built a system that would enable members to choose what they want to view. As with any community, online or off, there are members who may disregard the Community Guidelines. When this happens, Flickr may have to take action accordingly towards building a respectful community. For more information: http://www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne
A conspiracy theorist would want to point out that that 93.9% of political donations Yahoo employees made last year went to candidates who were, like President Obama, Democrats. But its most likely Yahoo banned Shepherd as much for posting so many comments as for what those comments said. Posting several comments to one account could seem like harrassment. That will get a user banned from most social media sites.
Still, given the subject of Shepherd’s comments — and their reasonable tone — we don’t expect Flickr’s notriously sensitive-to-censorship users to stay quiet about the issue, and that could pose a problem for Yahoo, which makes money from Flickr’s on paying subscribers.
Illustration: Tomas Caspers