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Flickr + Libraries = Scary, Scary, Scary to Some Folks

Submitted by Michael Stephens on July 28, 2006 - 12:19pm

"Another benefit of using Flickr at your library and tagging your photos with your library's name and location is that it gets you found in the great pool of all of the photos in Flickr. Maybe someone is searching Flickr for his or her hometown and discovers images of the local library and learns of services or programs he or she didn't know about... Participating in this type of social software community is relatively inexpensive, can offer presence, and it's fun!"—Michael Stephens, "Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software," LTR (42:4)

This post has been cooking a long time, from what might have been a TTW Mailbox entry to here. I want to tell everyone about a bit of drama that's playing out right now, right after DOPA passed the House, and what may be boiling up (and over) in an important moment in time for social software, users, and libraries. The theme here for me is FEAR.

First, though, an e-mail from a librarian who needed my advice:

  • Dear Michael:

  • Thanks for the

Ten More Things about Flickr post, but unfortunately, our filter here at the library is blocking all Flickr photos. We can un-filter it for staff or adult patrons who ask, but the way it is being blocked makes it look like something is wrong with the web page, so patrons may not know it is being filtered. Our Automation Co-ordinator says it is a borderline case because too many people violate Flickr's policy on what can be publicly posted. He will remove it if enough people agree with me. All the colleagues I've spoken to agree with me in theory, but they don't use it themselves so they can't really advocate for it. Is there any chance you could say a few words in Flickr's favor?
A Flickring Librarian WannabeThomas Ford Memorial Library's Flickr Photos I've said a lot about Flickr and the benefits for libraries—in fact, there's a section in my issue of Library Technology Reports on Flickr use. "Too many people" do not violate Flickr's policy... I am getting weary of these blanket statements about social software-using folks being evil or doing bad things; sure there are some, but I've seen a lot of self-correcting going on via the community's members.

If you haven't tried Flickr and are just repeating what your "IT Coordinator" has said, take a look for yourself. Remember, this is an experiential world we're moving into.

My Third Place: The Library... or Somewhere Else?
What if I want to upload my vacation pictures to Flickr and choose to stop at your public library to do it, and I find the site is blocked? I may just leave and go to the local Starbucks or wifi cafe. I may file it away in my mind: "Libraries must be afraid of this cool image site... too bad."

So AFLW, I'd get the librarians together and have a little meeting about this, maybe do a demo of Flickr with everyone and go from there.

So, now, this next wave of Flickr interest comes up, just after the first round of the DOPA decision. I can't help but think the two are connected. In the last twenty-four hours, I have received some forwarded e-mail messages from librarians who have received troubling messages about Flickr; the messages to the librarians seem to be coming from the same e-mail address. Here's one that your library may have received:

  • Yahoo's, which your library uses, contains porn accessible to minors. Any public library that directs children to an adult oriented and uncensored website like Yahoo's Flickr is being criminally negligent. That Yahoo website which your library uses contains thousands of hardcore and even child porn images that have been presented to children for over a year now. Those institutions that choose to provide access to adult oriented social networks online which endanger youth will be reported to the US Justice Dept next week. Thank you.

A couple of days ago, I noticed that someone tagged a hardcore image of a nude woman "library" in the feed I subscribe to of all pics tagged "library." A few on-the-ball librarians reported it, and that person and image has since been removed from Flickr.

Colorado College Tutt Library's Photos on Flickr

As a means to make a point about what images might show up on Flickr, folks, that just doesn't help! I ask, who would do that other than someone trying to make a point? This proves to me the community works—it's self monitoring and correcting.

Makes me wonder: are we that afraid of letting our communities correct—or not correct—that we'd rather just block it or drop the whole thing?

Another e-mail message just came in from a library director who wanted me to know what was happening. This must be heating up right now...

Subject: Use of Yahoo's Flickr by Public Libraries with Minors
We are outraged by any public library open to children having an affiliation with Yahoo's Flickr adult oriented amateur porn website.

Here are just a few examples of many there now.

Here's the kind of "research material" kids can find on Flickr everyday [sic], either through the predators of that system or outside search engines. These are just a few of thousands of possible examples and all this info, along with any public libraries sending kids there or publishing their pictures on it, is going to be reported to the US Justice Dept starting next week. This careless and negligent endangerment of children has to stop immediately. We have pleaded with Yahoo for over a year to end this but they refuse to listen.

The message goes on to list a bunch of URLs of Flickr images that include nude or scantily clad people, some artisitc, some not. The message is from someone who, in looking back at this person's history with Flickr, etc., has been waging a war against social software for a while. It looks as though Flickr discontinued his or her account some time ago. If you have received a message from this person, search on the e-mail address and follow the links. Look closely.

Please be aware that Flickr is NOT "Yahoo's Flickr adult oriented amateur porn website"—it's a photo-sharing community that offers a way to make connections and have conversations. I've "favorited"images and commented and tagged. And Jenny and I have demonstrated its use all over in the Roadshow. I've flagged images that "may offend" before, and I've advocated that libraries use Flickr as well.

Folks, this is like walking down the street in any medium (i.e., in Second Life) or larger town—you'll come across varying folks with varying interests and lifestyles; you'll come across the seedy neighborhood with the triple-x storefront; you'll come across the library, where, hopefully, you'll find a busy building, brimming with patrons outside and in; you'll likely find something for everyone.

I ask that you do not make any spur-of-the-moment, reactionary decisions, Flickr'ing Librarians! What I sincerely hope will not happen is the libraries and associations that have started using Flickr will abandon the site because they are scared... come on! Don't let this type of e-mail campaign derail you. Look at the big picture of how this site and many others are used and can benefit your online presence. Let's teach our users about the good and bad of online communities, BUT LET'S NOT just close the door and lock it!

Karen Schneider wrote this week here about library practices that mystify her including:

  • Libraries that block instant messaging/gaming/Flickr/YouTube and so forth because computers should be used for serious purposes. Have you ever browsed your new-book shelves? Danielle Steele, Jan Karon... let a thousand flowers bloom, but don't kid yourselves that you have an intellectual renaissance going on over in the stacks. Libraries serve important roles in society, and one role is that as provider of recreational information. Whether it's in a book or on a screen, let people explore their worlds.

Librarian, tech trainer, author, and social software advocate Michael Stephens. Amen.

So What Can We Do Now?

  • Be aware that in this 2.0 world, folks can make connections and find others that share their interests, passions, and views. There will always be a few bad eggs that try to ruin it for everyone. Knee-jerk, seemingly mollifying decisions can damage a library more than one can envision in the near term.
  • Call your senator about DOPA. Now!
  • Educate your staff, your board of trustees, and governing agencies about social sites and the issues surrounding them. Learn about the legal ramifications.
  • Read Flickr's Terms of Use and check out the Report Abuse page.
  • Compare one or two threatening anonymous e-mail messages with the good that Flickr and other social sites have brought to your institution or your users.
  • Educate your users—your community—about the good and bad of social software. I'd much rather give a roadmap and some guidance to someone instead of blocking access.
  • Unlock Flickr, other social sites, and social tools so people have access and can check out this online world IN THE LIBRARY!
  • Don't be afraid.

I'd like to hear what other librarians are thinking and how they've responded to these threatening messages. This is a conversation that should play out now—in the open—with libraries, users, our association, everyone, before rattled folk start an online witch hunt for social sites! I truly believe the good outweighs whatever bad might be found there.Technorati tags: DOPA, Flickr, library 2.0, library-20, social networking, web 2.0

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Comments (18)

I think the point being made

I think the point being made is that someone's comments were used without their permission. Here is the section from the privacy policy ( "Any information you choose to provide on the website will only be used to provide or improve services. ALA guards your privacy and appreciates your trust." Is taking someone's email and posting it to a blog considered fair use by the author here? Please justify and explain your actions as they relate to the ALA privacy policy.

Actually, I use Flickr a lot

Actually, I use Flickr a lot and have reported 3 people who had porn shots loaded. I wasn't looking for it but was looking for nature shots and I got nature all right! There are a lot of questionable images on this site that kids shouldn't see, so hoorah! to the filters!

Ninth Life: Why don't you

Ninth Life: Why don't you visit your local library and ask the librarians (bless their hearts) there to help you research the law? Here's a place to start: Ask the librarians to help you find a particular federal statute, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), using this citation: 18 USC § 2511. Then read (3)(b)(ii): "A person or entity providing electronic communication service to the public may divulge the contents of any such communication— with the lawful consent of the originator or any addressee or intended recipient of such communication. They three key words to note are 'or' and 'addressee' and 'recipient'. Sorry to learn that you don't understand the law. This is one of the key aspects of American life that fails us constantly as a society. When someone like you claims to know the law and then spends a lot of time trying to get folks worked up about your viewpoints, then finds in truth that they have no idea what they are talking about, we all suffer. The lose of time, reputation, etc. I'm sure that you will be disappointed in your pursuit of your own goals and agenda. It is very difficult to get a federal statute changed to favor your own personal opinion. This particular federal law is intended to protect American society. I'm very pleased that it exists so that we can engage collectively in a debate about freedom, access to information, privacy, and Flickr. Life must be hard there in MO. Best wishes on getting a life that is more satisfying.

"Plonked?" The real word

"Plonked?" The real word is censored, actually. We are NOT threatening anyone, nor are we looking for any sort of fight here at all. Quite the opposite actually, as we've always thought libraries should be trusted to regulate themselves. We're not affiliated with the government at all and really don't even know much about "DOPA" as is being assumed. Our personal histories and most sensibly hidden identities, protected by rights to privacy, are not any business of the ALA or any illiterate trolls slithering about here on their site. We asked a simple question about library policies on children's use of the internet in privately transmitted e-mails, and this is how we are inexplicably being treated. If our centering on Yahoo's Flickr is what is making you people here attack us like this, then fine. We'll pick any other social network that easily illustrates our point and legitimate concerns, which still remain unanswered, by the way. Myspace, Fotolog, YouTube, or any other negligent corporate pimps profiting from exploitation of kids, that anyone may prefer. We have nothing further to discuss with anybody here on this page about the issue. We just expect the stolen private property of our e-mails removed from this page immediately. Publishing them here was a crime and that is a fact which is completely irrefutable. These e-mail messages were all sent through websites that contained Privacy Policy statements and were never to be shown to third parties without permission, yet we have found them published here without our consent or prior knowledge. All anyone had to do was contact us instead of committing this inexcusable criminal act, and that same lack of concern only reinforces the contempt and malice being shown. Once again, we find this harassing and inappropriate behavior unacceptable and will be pursuing every way possible to see that it stops. That's not really a threat at all, as much just a simple request for a retraction and some explanation which is perfectly expected, given what's been done to us. We are private US citizens protected by laws which these shockingly rude people here seem to unexplainably care nothing about. Whatever your political agendas here are, please leave us, and our stolen words out of these immature and unprofessional games being played. That conduct only serves to insult us and show dubious intent by these "members" here. Public Relations here at the ALA are very disturbing, indeed. What's next, ferreting out our personal identities and information so you all can publish that too and send folks to harass us in our homes as well? You all should team up with the NSA. You could call the new program "Check Out America" and we can all be implanted with RFID library tags so everybody can feel safe and connected to the network. You people have no clue who we are or what we're about, so why don't you just leave us alone, please? It's our rights to privacy which override any so-called freedom of speech being claimed here. Seeking compliance to the law is also our right as well. We hope that is perfectly clear and we very much expect an immediate end to this questionable behavior which is only adding insult to injury. Please simply remove our e-mails and references to us from above and this won't have to become a legal matter which will not prove to be helpful for anyone. Thank you.

"Get ready to answer for

"Get ready to answer for that major mistake." Threats? From someone going by "Ninth Life" with the only other identifying detail a Flickr forum he was plonked from? Um, yeah, sure, bring it on... Oh, and to discuss Michael's main post, what a big surprise that in the days preceding the DOPA vote suddenly some of us saw porn on Flickr.

The mistake we refer to is

The mistake we refer to is the violation of our rights to privacy by publishing our e-mails without permission, to begin with. Then we'll move on to libel, slander and defamation to name a few other charges we could claim now. All on a government sponsored website we help pay for, to boot. Yes, we were absolutely livid to find our confidential e-mail messages being published here without permission or even a respectful request. Our simple legitimate questions and concerns sent in e-mails that were supposedly protected by stated Privacy Policies, were not addressed at all. Instead, after tracking back the trolls sent to ridicule us on our own web log, we find "our" e-mails here, being picked apart and our intentions scrutinized or belittled by people we don't even know and obviously know nothing about us. This doesn't stop all of you here from jumping on this unbelievable display of unprofessional disrespect over biased, personal political issues and agendas. Yeah, how the hell do you think we feel, coming here and reading this slanted bastardization of our very own words without so much as a hello or kiss my butt first from people curiously taking up an issue against us? Just lucky we stumbled on this outrageous display or else we would of never known about this abuse and disrespect aimed right for us. Freedom of speech does not include stealing people words to use against them without their knowledge to trash them and their own thoughts. It also doesn't mean perverts can publish whatever porn they want to kids and it's OK because you all say that it's important to do so. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, actually. But in this situation, we'd have to say it is fairly clear it's wrong in the way it's expressed here. We don't think anybody would appreciate what has been done here, happening to them at all. We do actually think it would be great if the companies running social networks showed the responsibility it would take to make those places safe for kids to use but that hasn't happened and this really isn't about our personal opinions at all, or any of yours. It's only about children. Why is it so hard for anybody to see that simple fact and why must every person confronted with this situation deny and dismiss it? We've witnessed first hand over the course of two years the damages done and the price is undoubtedly way to high right now. Children are getting killed. Please stop trying to push something before its ready (or least less negligent) just because of selfish wants and needs that aren't as important. Children's lives are at stake here which far outweigh any technical advances or even corporate profits from dumb 2.0 business tactics. Michael Casey, Michael Stephens can say whatever he likes here as long as he doesn't use our privacy policy protected words and doesn't violate any other of our rights in doing so, as may you. Beyond that, why don't you all try to get to know people before trashing them online behind their backs? Simply contacting people is better.

When it comes to tagging and

When it comes to tagging and assuming Flickr and similar services become mainstream (Flickr says about 2 million users vs. the Yahoo user base of over 400 million (two numbers but Yahoo can promote Flickr and other social services to this growing group daily) watch the spam begin to overpower the posts. We've seen it with web pages (remember the option to add a meta tag to add your own page?That was abused by spammers so it's no longer used. Now, splogs or spam blogs are all over the place. The future for many types of image retrieval is content based image services like Riya and many others. Also, I don't think it's that much of a burden (I agree however it's too much work for the typical user) to ask them to fill in a form for location of image or names of people in photo, etc. Tagging is fine for personal use or even small groups but on a massive scale and with spammers being who they are, not a rosy outlook IMHO.

"The message is from

"The message is from someone who, in looking back at this person's history with Flickr, etc., has been waging a war against social software for a while. It looks as though Flickr discontinued his or her account some time ago. If you have received a message from this person, search on the e-mail address and follow the links. Look closely." Get ready to answer for that major mistake. We don't appreciate this kind of unprofessionalism. Is this what our tax dollars are going to, being attacked publically over your bias about political policies? This page needs to be removed now or there will be legal recourse. Hope this is all worth it.

"If that's the case,

"If that's the case, librarians should be ready to go to various specialty databases that offer imagery for a selected topic." Oh we can be ready, but really, if someone is looking for butterfly or sunflower pictures and need "reference pictures for a drawing" I've found the quality of the flickr photos to be much better than either the databases we have (not much there) or Google Images (not all photos, often less relevant than a flickr tag). I think the backlash against libraries offering access to Web 2.0 sites is really going to harm any efforts librarians might make towards helping people evaluate information they access on the web. My library currently only requires filtered access for patrons under 17. Patrons over 17 have the option of filtered (completely unfiltered, as long as the material is legal) access or unfiltered access. We're not there to parent, we're there to be librarians (or associates, as I am now) Courtney

Michael, Thanks so much for

Michael, Thanks so much for saying what needed to be said. The current hysteria over social networking is just another smokescreen to distract from real-world problems. Sure, child predators use the Internet, but they use cars, too, and we don't outlaw cars (although I sometimes wish we could).

francis said: >>"Shouldn't

francis said: >>"Shouldn't we be working on a more structured form of tagging." No, because then it's not tagging. As soon as something like Flickr becomes too library-fied, the average person will cease to use it. Please think about what Flickr is and why it is popular, then re-read your whole post and feel foolish. -M

Of course, many libraries

Of course, many libraries and school libraries will not allow any image database to be viewed. In other words they are all blocked. But that\'s another issue. If that\'s the case, librarians should be ready to go to various specialty databases that offer imagery for a selected topic. Btw, I took your advice and when I went to Flickr and just casually browses for \"library\" I\'m just not sure how they relate to library or libraries. When I added another term (school library) I come across items like these: or this with RSS Again, the issue is not with Flickr but if this and other services with tagging are to help users find what they are looking for (quickly) and assuming more and more people use them I think will be looking at a massive database that\'s out of control. Shouldn\'t we be working on a more structured form of tagging.

The National Library of

The National Library of Australia">National Library of Australia has a Flickr project happening to feature photographs in the Picture Australia collection. There are so many good things coming out of Flickr - Click ‘n’ Flick – PictureAustralia needs your pics! Thanks Michelle, for alerting me to this.

It's not the library

It's not the library director saying that about Flickr, it's the complainant, in writing to the library director, who claims Flickr is an "adult oriented amateur porn website".

I'd like to publicly thank

I'd like to publicly thank the hysterical (in both senses) library director you quote in this post. Thank you so much for perpetuating the stereotype of librarians as technologically illiterate, willfully ignorant prudish control freaks. Thanks to people like you, libraries will become more and more irrelevant until they wither up and die. And that's gonna be awesome for my stock. I mean, seriously, adult oriented amateur porn website? How does one come up with stuff like that? It's so over the top. Flickr is at least 99% boring vacation photos and pictures of other peoples' cats. You have to be trying pretty hard to find any porn on there -- I use flickr all the time and I've never come across any. Interesting how these people who are so offended by pornography always seem to be searching so hard for it.

Thanks for a great post,

Thanks for a great post, Michael! Sadly, Flickr has been blocked here since it was first released, but I would hate to see others fall under this pressure. I was at a school last week to do a workshop on using blogs for authentic discussion in ELA classes, only to be told that the tech coordinator had outlawed all blogs (and everything else) as they were illegal and would prevent the school from getting e-rate funds. And that was before DOPA was House approved. I said it before, and I will say it many more times in the coming months: Filter a website, and you protect a student for a day. Educate students about online safety in a real world environment, and you protect your child for a lifetime.

For the record, Ninth, this

For the record, Ninth, this is not a government-based Web site for which you claim to help pay for; ALA TechSource is a unit of the non-profit ALA, yes, but ALA TS publishes content from the revenues the unit earns by selling librarian-authored content via the periodicals Library Technology Reports and Smart Libraries Newsletter.

Get ready for what?? Are you

Get ready for what?? Are you upset that he spoke his mind? That he exercised his right of free speech? Legal recourse for what? You, 9th Life, have every right to argue against what you perceive to be threats to you and your children's safety vis a vis social networking websites. What you do not have the right to do is stifle speech which you find objectionable but that is, in fact, clearly protected opinion.