Tuesday, 15 February 2011

How Flickr killed political debate

Flickr is essentially a political dead zone among social networks during the Arab revolt.

Above is a search on Flickr for photos with tag "Iran" taken after the 14th of February 2011. Despite massive protests going on we see a few pages of images from a single source and nothing else. Click images for closer look.

A search on Bahrain is just as bad, only a few of the images return above on the first page show political protest and the one below shows nothing

Flickr has all the pieces one might think would lead to a politically useful social network. It is easy to make contacts and share photos. It supports extensive tagging of images and discussion, you can get a free account, and you can upload images from a mobile phone even without 3G. So why is Flickr not being used in this way?

It was not always like this.

In 2006 during the Israeli-Lebanon war Flickr was a pretty active place for political discussion, image sharing and community building. At one point thousands of Flickr users were placing a black ribbon in their avatar to indicate their opposition to the Israeli air war.

Clearly Yahoo! did not like this.

In 2007 Yahoo! and Flickr began to roll-out a filter system to make Flickr more safe and more pro-user. Many people took this as a form of censorship and when local versions in Germany and South Korea were highly restricted Flickr and Yahoo! were accused of censorship.

Also on April 18, 2007 Chinese political prisoner Xiaoning's wife Yu Ling sued Yahoo! in federal court for providing the Chinese governmnt with information tht was used to convict Xiaoning.

The Yahoo! Effect

The combination of extensive filtering seen as censorship, the outright censorship of Germany and South Korea and the humiliation of the trial of Yahoo! was clearly enough to send most activists looking else where.

As we see social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube gain praise for their use by political activists in Tunisia and Egypt the decision by Yahoo! to make its site "safe" and to discourage political discourse on Flickr now seems idiotic. The strong armed approach of Yahoo! and Flickr is simply not going to work for modern users of social networks.

When Al Jazeera and BBC started talking about political protests and social networks, Yahoo! had already made it clear that such activity was not welcome on its site Flickr. This decision to try and make a "safe" social community is one I am sure Flickr and Yahoo! now deeply regret.
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