Yesterday I blogged about the case of Oiwan Lam, a well-known blogger in Hong Kong (Links: 1, 2, 3, 4) who's facing the possibility of a year in jail or a $HK 400,000 fine for having linked to an image deemed offensive by authorities. That image (a non-pornographic, artistic nude) was shot and published by none other than Jake Appelbaum, whose work has been blogged here on BoingBoing many times. Cropped detail of the offending image shown above, click here for the full photo (hazmat warning: contains breasts).
Oiwan reached out to Jake for help via Flickr mail. She blames the photo-sharing site's recently implemented content rating/blocking system in part for the legal situation she now faces in Hong Kong.
Jake believes the program, as implemented, amounts to censorship, and that it helps governments which are already unfriendly to online free speech limit that speech more efficiently. He writes:
The photo in question is mine. It is this url. This comment was left shortly after the linking. I believe this is the original article in question. Sadly, the key part of that comment is this:
Lam said that the photograph was taken from the international photography site 'flickr' (see Nude and Captured") and was an art photograph around which the discussion was totally technical in nature. "It will not arouse immoral, obscene thoughts." Flickr itself has not received any complaints to have the photograph removed. Lam said that she will not remove the photograph, although the InMedia editorial board has not reached a decision yet. She said: "Whether something is a work of art should be determined subjectively instead of just counting how many naughty bits is being exposed."......
Why is this sad? Because recently, I was contacted by Oiwan Lam. I was told that because my account is now rated as 'unsafe' by flickr, this seems to render their previous argument about obscenity inaccurate. It's considered obscene by both the Chinese government censors and the censors at flickr.
however, when flickr introduced its filtering system around mid june, they have flitered away your photos in hk. and the local authority put back the case to the tribunal for classification in june 22. where, they have classified it as indecent.
As I understand that statement, it is because of Flickr censoring my account that the tribunal moved forward with their prosecution. A direct result of censorship on Flickrs part. Flickr doesn't like the word censorship but that's just what they're doing.
Let me be clear: Flickr is instituting a global censorship program that allows for regional censorship of photos. As a Flickr user, I was not informed that I fell into such a program or even in fact that such a program existed.
Flickr won't even respond to my emails about the specific problems with my account or as to why it's being filtered. It took outsiders contacting me before I realized I was being censored. I managed to get a form letter about how I could go through all of my photos and ask for a re-review. I did this and most, if not all of my photos are properly tagged. Still, I wasn't told of any specific offending photos. My re-review included the the previously mentioned photo that's causing Lam so many problems. After writing several more emails, I am still waiting to hear back. Flickr doesn't seem to care.Previously:
As I'm currently traveling in Romania, I don't have time to write them daily. My connection here is limited. Their censorship of over 17,000 of my photos is absurd. I don't have 17,000 photos of porn. I have hardly any nude photos at all by comparison to the larger body of my work hosted on Flickr.
First it was journalists who used Yahoo! mail and now it's people who merely link to their property. Though this is certainly a case of an unintended consequence of being a censor, it's important to understand the wide ranging issues behind becoming a censor. They're about to be complicit in putting another (Thanks Yahoo!) Chinese citizen behind bars as an unintended consequence of their attempts to grab foreign markets. Their desire to internationalize has caused them massive problems in Germany.
I personally know two dozen Germans that cannot access my work, the same is true in Austria. The reason according to Flickr is that they have to comply with German law, so naturally they just include Austria as collateral damage. Imagine the joy this causes as I am a member of monochrom and work in Vienna with various groups such as the Metalab. Why does flickr subject Austrian users to German law? A glitch? The law? Or a taste of what's to come? Is this so called legal compliance or just a broad stroke of the censor?
Until users create new accounts with fake addresses outside of Germany, Austria or Hong Kong, they can't even view my photos if they wanted to do so. No amount of clicking about. This is probably happening in more than these three countries but I can't confirm it. A Canadian friend of mine reported some problems but it was just the new default filter system and it was possible for him to click through eventually. He merely had to dig through his preferences to find that Flickr had helpfully enabled filtering of all the photos he could see. To be clear, this was new. Now by default, everyone (and not just new accounts) has a filter enabled that blocks so called 'unsafe' accounts. It may also block 'moderate' accounts, I'm unsure. All of this was without notice and all of this goes without direct comment beyond some simple nonsense form letter about reading their community guidelines. I've read them, I tag and flag my images. I think it's silly but I've tried to play by the rules.
However, I find all of this extremely frustrating. I do not like that my choice in photo hosting is now possibly going to cost a person their freedom. I don't care why they linked to my photos, it's a hyperlink to some conceptual art. Yes, it has nudity but it's clearly labeled as such. It's not pornography, it's art. This photo was specifically chosen because it was tastefully created by working with a professional model, a professional rope rigger and myself, arguably, a professional photographer. This isn't pornography or obscenity by any reasonable measure of either.
It's made me seriously question why I'm using Flickr at all. I am a paying customer but I don't think I'll be renewing my account now that I realize how unreasonable they are. I know Flickr (as well as Yahoo!) has some amazing people on staff and I'm aware they're doing some interesting stuff. The jailing of journalists in China was the line crossed by Yahoo. This censorship crosses the line for Flickr.
Flickr should make this right for everyone involved. They should unfilter my account (as well as the rest of the flickr users), properly apologize in public for censoring me and help Oiwan Lam with the legal assistance needed to stay out of jail. This may mean paying the insanely high fine. I think that's a reasonable way to resolve it considering the moneybags parent company Yahoo. The bottom line of their company shouldn't be censorship of so called questionable material to attract a larger market. They should actually support their so called community. They claim they're complying with local law but really, they're doing so much more as we can see. They're directly affecting local law. They're becoming the judge and jury about what was obscene or what is obscene. They're complicit in an even larger censorship system and this is outrageous.
Reader comment: Coop writes,
Jake's situation sound very similar to my experience with Flickr. I was carefully tagging and flagging my photo, making sure that any images with nude flesh were marked restricted, even if no actual naughty bits were on view. I thought this a bit excessive, but oh well.Jeremiah Blatz says,
One day, I noticed my account had been marked "unsafe" (like Jake, I received no notification of this, and merely stumbled on it by accident) After several very frustrating emails with Flickr, (they refuse to tell you specifially what photos are a problem, and expect your psychic abilities to kick in instead) I checked my photos, and found that a programming hiccup at Flickr HQ had reset many of my flagged photos from Restricted to Safe, and after someone had complained about these photos, my account had been marked unsafe. When I reset the photos, and emailed flickr again, I was told that I was wrong, flickr has no bugs, and that I had made a mistake instead.
"We've always been at war with Eastasia", indeed.
Mr. Appelbaum is upset by the stony silence that he's received from Flickr about the whole fracas. I'd just like to point out that Flickr is owned by Yahoo! The same Yahoo! that is happy to unmask Chinese bloggers for the Chinese authorities that the bloggers can be jailed. Link.Nils Pickert says,
flickr disclaims that the censorship for germany was triggered by german law. What they don't tell is:Don Dahlmann says,
- though german law requires an age verification to access pornography, it's perfectly fine to view nude people. We have a very definite description about what is porn in our law and nearly everything censored by flickr is not porn. German law forbids the display of swasticas and other nazi related simbols. They are still accessible on flickr. So: their filter is worthless and overdoing on one side, not working on the other
- worse yet, they claim to have done it to be consistent with german law, but other stuff which is required by german law cannot be found on their site. Any internet site e.g. needs an imprint by german law, which is nowhere to be found on the flickr site. A change in the terms of service (which this filter definitely is) needs to be communicated to the users and gives them a special right to cancel the service. Right now it is possible to cancel flickr accounts without notice, but this is not publicated. Worse even, people who just asked if it would be possible, got their account canceled (even not specifically asking for it!)
IANAL, so I cannot really tell why flickr thinks to have to implement this censorship, but just from how they handled the situation it is time to seriously consider to prolong your account there.
I just saw the article about Oiwan Lam in Hongkong and the photos from Jake Applebaum. I am from Germany and I am also not allowed to see those photos. The reason are the new Yahoo/Flickr filters. All accounts of german flickr users, whether they paid with a creditcard or had a free account, are restricted to "moderate". German Users (and users in Hongkong, Korea & Singapur) are not able to change their status at flickr. Flickr says it has something to do with youth-protection, but even german authorities denied that argument. Funny also: users from austria and switzerland who have totally different laws (different country, ya know) are also effected by the new filters. As a result, many german users left flickr in protest, and went to other services. You can find a good overview about this whole issue here: Link.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.