Censorship, Social Networking, Nation States, Web 2.0, and Flickr

There is currently a big hoopla over at flickr about Censorship of photos at Germany. It appears that you cannot turn off the Safe Search filter in Germany

Note: If your Yahoo! ID is based in Singapore, Germany, Hong Kong or Korea you will only be able to view safe content based on your local Terms of Service so won’t be able to turn SafeSearch off.

This has caused a big dust up at Flickr. There are lots of users that are upset about this. It seems to be going past the level of people who think "any content filtering on the internet is censorship" crowd. There seems to be a lot of average users who are up in arms about this. Flickr is all about sharing photos. It is easy to see why people are upset.

This is a great story, because there are lots of stories here. The ones that are the most interesting to me is how Flickr SafeSearch works. It is an all or nothing filtering system. You cannot mark why something should be filtered. Content is not marked for sex or violence, you cannot mark things not work safe, you cannot mark things based on appropriate age range. It is only marked for Safety Level.

1. Safety Level

* Safe - Content suitable for a global, public audience
* Moderate - If you're not sure whether your content is suitable for a global, public audience but you think that it doesn't need to be restricted per se, this category is for you
* Restricted - This is content you probably wouldn't show to your mum, and definitely shouldn't be seen by kids

The second story is how Flickr reacts to these things. With a community bases site things spread like wildfire. This fire has been burning for 18 hours. The users are all over the place why this happening. There seems to be no answer of why this happening. It is true that this has been happening while Flickr is on a world tour rolling out in new countries in new languages. It sounds like a bad way to launch a product. Right now the users are fending for themselves. There is no voice of the company saying why these things are happening.

All of the recent censorship issues at flickr seems this way. The users are on their own to speculate about why things happen. Flickr seems slow to respond of why things have happened. I think they need to show the users more of how the sausage is made. I think it would be better for the users to know how the company is going to react. At last we would not be in the dark.

The last interesting story here is about the future of world wide social networks. I think this story is just the tip of the iceberg. I think we are going to start to see the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 in these kinds of censorship stories. If I just posted all of my photos on my website and those photos broke some German law, it would be very hard for Germany to act against me. They might block my website, but they cannot shut me down or have my message taken off the web. They would have a hard time taking me to court. If I am using a service like flickr, Germany have a much easier time using the force of law against that company. They have a much clearer path to shut them down or sue them to take action.

I am not sure what other web 2.0 companies do. I am not if any of them have a real global reach. I am not sure what would happens to people who break German laws on YouTube.

I think there are more of these stories to come. I think we are going to see more companies have to chose between their users and local laws. It will be interesting to see this play out. What will Flickr do? What will other web 2.0 companies do? What is the right thing to do and what will be done?


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