Flickr, the supercool photo-sharing site, has started a storm in a user-generated teacup by deleting a picture of a child smoker.
The Yahoo-owned company has a blanket policy about children and cigarettes – the two shouldn’t mix and as such it doesn’t allow pictures of nicotine-addled kids on its site.
So, when a picture called ‘The Romanian Way’ was noticed (the images shows a picture of a poor Romanian boy smoking a ciggie) the Flickr Brain Police deleted it. They then emailed the user – Maarten Dors - to inform him of the bad news.
Flickr wrote: “Images of children under the age of 18 who are smoking tobacco is prohibited across all of Yahoo's properties. I've gone ahead and deleted the image "The Romanian Way" from your photostream. We appreciate your understanding.”
“They appreciate my understanding? Which understanding? I just want my photo back! It was my most interesting photo and has been on Flickr for almost two months.
“I didn't upload it because I thought it was a pretty sight to see a small boy smoking. I uploaded it because I wanted to tell something. I wanted to show the world how living in poverty can be, what it does with small children and wanted to start a discussion about it (and they deleted that very good discussion too!).
“Of course Flickr doesn't mind children doing drugs, because the photos I took of small children inhaling glue are still there. Is that the Flickr message… smoking is very bad, but hey, you can always use drugs!”
Marteen then said he was considering leaving Flickr and has attracted a storm of supportive comments from others in the community.
This sort of bad noise is often missed or ignored by bigger companies, but Flickr is a firm that listens to its users. And sure enough, with within a day or so, Flickr backtracked. Marteen received another email:
“We messed up and I'm very sorry that your photo, ‘The Romanian Way’ was removed from your photostream. It should not have been and I'm working with the team to ensure that we have a better understanding of our policies so that they are applied correctly.
“Unfortunately, such that it is, we currently can't put photos back when they are removed. This functionality is a high priority on the project board to ensure that members of our community are penalized when we make mistakes.”
Do you reckon they meant to say ‘not’ before ‘penalised’?
At any rate, Flickr is 100% user-driven and as such, community is everything. Trust is just as important at a site like Flickr as it is for Northern Rock.
There are few things to take away from this, to avoid upsetting your users:
1. When it comes to The Rules, use discretion and consider context. The Rules should reflect what the community finds acceptable.
2. Be consistent when meting out justice.
3. Contact first, action later.
4. Respond quickly to bad noise.
5. Improve your processes.
6. Improve your functionality.
To be honest, I’m a pro user at Flickr and had no idea about this kind of censorship, which is partly sensible and partly horrifying. Context is clearly king. What’s more horrifying is the realisation that Flickr, a Web 2.0 and user experience rockstar, is actually missing some behind-the-scenes functionality.
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