Yahoo! Deletes Huge User Group On Flickr Without Warning (New Details)

Photo via LoopZilla on Flickr (Please click through the link at the bottom of the quoted article to see the photo that went along with the original article)

The following excerpt is from a Flickr user’s photo stream. It went along with an image of Heather Champ’s (a community manager) Twitter stream where she was expressing that she hates people’s freedom.

The post never states what the community was about specifically, but based on the tone I’m thinking it might have been a bit risque. Nonetheless, it does bring up some very valid points about how Yahoo! is managing Flickr data, which is your data and my data.

From what I gather a Flickr Community Manager received a report of offensive content in a post on a Flickr Community. Instead of taking appropriate action, which would’ve been to delete the post, or warn the community administrators, she simply deleted the whole damn thing. According to the person who wrote the below letter, there were over 5000 active threads and conversations. I don’t even want to guess as to how much time was put into it, or wonder how many references and links were lost.

This brings up a lot of questions about whether or not we actually own what we post online, if it can simply be deleted at the whim of an employee with a skewed perspective or that’s having a bad day. In my case, I can back up my blog every day, and if Blogger (Google) ever decides they don’t want me anymore, I can just import my data elsewhere. It’d be rough to start over with broken links and all, but at least the data would be maintained. As far as I know, there’s no such option in Flickr for Groups data.

All in all, I’m going to call this one a bad move on Flickr and Yahoo!’s part. It’s definitely bad PR, especially at a time when they’re sucking hard and selling off acquisitions left and right. They even decided to stop using their own search engine. I don’t know if they’ve already switched to using Microsoft’s search engine or not, but that’s what’s going to happen. Instead of alienating users and pushing them to other services (like what happened with users of this group, who now choose to use Friendfeed), Yahoo! should be taking steps to manage their assets (the users!) with more care.

A company can have the best platform in the world, but if they shit all over their customers it still won’t succeed. Just common sense.

Also, in closing, I just wanted to mention one other thing. Flickr is no longer viable for linking to for anything important, if Flickr is just going to delete groups without warning. I wonder how many blogs linked to that group? I wonder if any reputable sites did? I wonder if anyone used a quote from there in a term/research paper and now has unverifiable data and an invalid reference?

Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the article, with a link to the full article at the bottom:

Dear Elisa:

Last month when you announced Yahoo! Inc’s new multi-million dollar ad campaign including the tagline, “the internet’s under new management yours,” I wrote you an open letter. While admittedly the letter was critical and even a bit sarcastic at times regarding censorship on Yahoo’s photo sharing site Flickr, I nonetheless was hopeful that perhaps Yahoo was sincere in your latest marketing message. I thought the statement was much better than the last big Yahoo marketing campaign about everybody needing to wear purple clothes or whatever, and as someone who values customer service oriented companies, I thought it was a positive statement for Yahoo to make.

Unfortunately, at this point, however, I am going to have to call bullshit on your new campaign. I assume it’s ok with you that I’m using such strong language to describe your campaign. Your boss Carol Bartz has built a big reputation as a tough talker with salty language so I’m hoping you’ll understand.

You see Elisa, despite the fact that seemingly everywhere I turn in San Francisco I see another one of your new ads on a bus shelter somewhere, the message rings hollow. It’s doublespeak. It’s inauthentic.

Yesterday, your Flickr Community Manager Heather Champ destroyed a community on Flickr that was home to over 3,000 hard-core Yahoo users. It was a community of photographers, many of whom have spent years on Yahoo in a group that was rich and vibrant. The group had over 5,000 ongoing conversations in it. It’s where many of us lived on Yahoo. The group was in part dedicated to free speech, but it was so much more than that. The group was a place where we talked about music. Where we shared tips on photography. Where we debated about film vs. digital. Where we went to ask each other for advice on what lens we ought to purchase next. It was a place where many of us went to meet each day. It was a place where offline photography meetups were organized. We actually published a magazine together. Many of us became good friends in real life.

But yesterday, while we were conversing there, and without any warning or opportunity to take any sort of self-corrective action, your Community Manager went nuclear and destroyed all of that user data. All of it. Every last thread. With a push of a button. Threads that were meaningful and important to us.

This was data that did not belong to Yahoo! Elisa. You destroyed something that did not belong to you. You destroyed hours and hours of peoples hard work maliciously and callously. You destroyed a group dedicated to free speech, but more significantly you destroyed a group that thousands of people had put significant emotional energy into.

And do you know what your Community Manager was tweeting mere seconds before she nuked this very popular group Elisa? She was tweeting “I hate your freedom.”

That’s right Elisa I, hate, your, freedom. That’s the image that I chose to go with this letter to you. A screenshot of her freedom hating tweet.

While I’m sure your representative got a good laugh out of that tweet, personally I found it as offensive as the fact that so much user data was destroyed so callously in the first place. You see Elisa, Yahoo already has a problem with people thinking that you hate freedom. Remember when Jerry Yang got called before the U.S. Congress and was brow beaten after you all released private emails to the Chinese Govt which resulted in a Chinese journalist’s imprisonment to this day? Remember just last week when rumors (very unfounded rumors I might add) were flying that Yahoo! had released private information on thousands of freedom seeking dissidents to the Iranian Govt?

Read The Rest of This Article

via Thomas Hawk on Flickr

UPDATE: A commenter left a message saying that the following is what was posted by the group admin and led to the group’s deletion:

“Ok, James, you’ve pissed me off. I’ve dropped my son at his game and am back home. You think you can fucking threaten me, for no reason, to make an example out of me? Fuck you.

I want you to be very clear about what is possible to go down when I write this blog post because internet mobs are frequently not easy to control. I’ve had experience with more than one and I fucking hate them. When they are out frequently they are out. All the I’m sorry’s I fucked up in the world after the fact frequently can’t fix them. That’s why I’m taking my time to be very careful about how this thing might go down and why I feel that I owe you a pretty detailed explanation ahead of time for what it might look like.

When I blog my post with your name in the headline, within 60 minutes or so it will be on the first page Google search results for your name. It will stay there for many years. Your name will be associated with someone who makes death threats on the internet and someone who wrote about potentially mugging me.

This will piss people off. I’m a pretty reasonable guy and well liked generally speaking by most people who follow my blog. In addition to my blog the post will go out to the 20,000 or so people combined who follow my Twitter/Friendfeed threads. It will be a sensationalistic juicy blog post and as such it will generate alot of attention.

I’m not sure where it will go. Simon Blint (mentioned above) moved out of his house for a while because he was petrified after getting death threats himself and people having figured out his home address and began publishing it on line.

I know you’re a big tough guy who doesn’t care about these sorts of things but I fucking don’t like being threatened and I’m never one to just sit down and fucking let it go when some fucking internet bully like you is threatening me.

So that’s where we are at. Consider yourself duly warned.

Now, for those whom James has threatened, can you please provide me links to the threatening documentation.“

Additionally, the admin posted James’ home address.

So, that adds some perspective to this issue. It’s no longer one sided.

I can understand how being harassed by a person online can be annoying. I could also understand how receiving death threats from a person can be annoying. I don’t have a way of judging the context of those threats, but if they were serious, I think it’s a matter that should have been brought to police attention. The way James handled it encouraged vigilantism and real violence, which in turn could have led to legal problems for himself.

However, admin or not, I still think Yahoo! dropped the ball on this one. Though the reaction was a bit over the top, the admin was the initial victim. Also, the resulting action punished all users of the group, rather than just the admin. I think a more appropriate action would have been to delete the offending post and freeze the group, giving members time to copy and paste out whatever they wanted to keep, and leaving the content available as an archive. Also, the admin’s Flickr account could’ve been blocked to serve as a warning that using its platform to instigate real world violence was not allowed.