Westmont Public Library 8:37pm, 2 August 2006
Over the past few days, we recieved the following email in the inboxes of our director and all our board members:

>> "We are curious as to the policy the Westmont Public
>> Library has concerning the access of online social
>> networks. Specifically, we are concerned with the use
>> of a Yahoo photo sharing website called Flickr. It
>> seems that there is an entire subculture within that
>> particular network which poses a grave danger to
>> children. We have recorded thousands of hardcore and
>> even child porn images being displayed to millions of
>> kids for over a year now on Flickr, the whole time
>> pleading with Yahoo to end the filthy flow. Recently,
>> we have turned our attention to the disturbing number
>> of public libraries that utilize this "service" and
>> thus, expose children to this sick venue. Here is a
>> page related to your area's financed public library
>> that resides on that site.
>> That is no place for kids. We wouldn't even put
>> pictures of them there.
>> Thank you. "

After asking around, we found out that a number of other libraries have recieved this same email, with the specifics changed to pertain to their library. I'm curious to know if any of you have recieved similar concerns/complaints, and what responses you've provided.

For the moment, our plan to to provide our Internet policy as well as Flickr's own Community Rules and Terms of Service, pointing out that such material is forbidden for public use on Flickr, and that avenues exist for reporting those that skirt Flickr's rules.

But with the clamor over social networking in general, not to mention DOPA, I'm sure that such a response can only do so much to assuage some of these concerns.

Whether or not you've run into similar statements, I'd like to hear your thoughts on how you have responded (or plan to respond) to these concerns. I hope that by keeping the discussion open, we can effectively respond to such outcries while working to convince people just how useful social networking sites like Flickr (or MySpace, or del.icio.us, or any of the others) can be, both for libraries and communities in general.

Toby Greenwalt
Public Services Librarian
Westmont Public Library
Wouldn't you know it, Michael Stephens (Hi, Michael!) addressed this issue a few days ago on the ALA Techsource blog:

Spotrick [deleted] 10 years ago
This is simply ridiculous. I should imagine that library directors receive letters of complaint on a regular database, on any number of topics, and I'm sure they don't immediately panic and shut down everything in response.

This letter has all the hallmarks of a typical pantywaist fussbudget spending far too much time thinking about porn. OK, people are right to be concerned, but they are wrong to condemn legitimate social discourse because of the actions of a few. Otherwise we'll all end up staying home with the curtains drawn. The world is not a fearful place, even though there are areas to be avoided. That's the message we need to give to our children.

Incidentally, I just spent fifteen minutes trying to find something resembling porn on Flickr, and turned up only one image which (in my definition) fits the bill, for which I prompty clicked the "may offend" button. Lots of pictures of scantily clad women, sure, but nothing I haven't seen on prime time free to air tv.

The best response to this kind of letter is a polite "thank you for your concern" reply. Then file it.
brianbrarian 10 years ago
I've looked into this stuff a little bit ...

My library hasn't received one of these emails (AFAIK), but someone forwarded one to me. The one I saw appears to be from the same person who created this webpage, which sounds the alarm about porn on Flickr in the context of Yahoo's cooperation with the government of China. It wouldn't surprise me if all these messages sent to libraries were from the same individual or group, using a variety of email accounts.

If you read through that webpage (including comments), you'll find the author claiming that the suits at Yahoo and the U.S. government are taking part in a conspiracy to corrupt children with Flickr, so I'm not sure what good s/he thinks that reporting Flickr-ing libraries to the Dept. of Justice is going to do.

You'll also see that the person is upset that the "pornography" can't be easily found by searching within Flickr. Part of the conspiracy.

I visited a handful of the URLs listed on the webpage or email -- Research! I saw some arty semi-nudes, some non-nudes, some exhibitionist pics, some art depicting sex acts but showing no genitalia. I've seen pictures in art museums that are more explicit. I didn't see any hardcore porn. One URL I checked was for an account that no longer exists.

I also searched Flickr for the tags used for some of the exhibitionists' photos and paged through all the results; the "naughy" pics were all NIPSA, as they're supposed to be.

Then I searched Flickr for words one might expect a teenager to use to find porn-ish photos. Found a few arty semi-nudes and pictures of President Bush mixed in with my results, but nothing I'd call pornography in at least the first ten pages of thumbnails for each search.

Finally, I read through some past discussions about porn, etc., on Flickr forums. I'm satisfied that Flickr is responding to reported violations of the law and of Flickr's TOS appropriately (e.g., child porn is removed and reported to the feds).

So, to sum up, I wouldn't be terribly concerned about this email and suggest just meeting the minimum FOIA requirements for a response. I wouldn't waste time trying to draft a reasonable and logical reply. It might be prudent to have a nice answer ready for any residents, reporters, or board members who might see the email, though. Just in case.

I sent an email to a Flickr staffer (staffr?) asking for a statement describing how they respond to reports of legal or TOS violations, since that might be handy to have around. I'll post in this thread any reply I get.
mstephens7 PRO 10 years ago
Thank you all for starting this discussion here!!
libraryman PRO 10 years ago
Hear, hear!!! The discussions and content in this forum, combined with Michael's very impressive ALA TechSource article (mentioned by the Westmont PL above - www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/07/flickr-libraries-scar... ) have been a demostration of the sort of engaged community that proves the value of Flickr and electronic community. This is a point surely missed by some folks who are busy being sweepingly critical.
Librarianguish 10 years ago
Just a two cents worth here - I've noticed a decrease in "objectionable" material since I've started on Flickr a few months ago...I believe there will always be people that work hard to find something offensive and then try to spoil it for everyone else.

I'd rather my 12 year old son spend his time on Flickr than MySpace, for what it's worth.
Phil Bradley 10 years ago
Without wishing to re-ignite this debate, but equally to keep people informed about developments in this area there was a recent article from Hitwise that reported that Flickr was the #1 photography site in the UK at least in part because of soft porn searches. The article is available at tinyurl.com/zozp6 in case anyone wishes to read it.

While I agree with previous posts that reference the way in which Flickr ensures that pornographic material is not immediately available I also feel that it is worth pointing out that hard core images ARE held on the system. Most of these images are 'behind closed doors' as it were, but one only has to join specific groups to be able to view them.

I believe that it can and should be argued that this is all that is necessary - in order to view such material it is necessary to seek it out, and to make a specific choice to view it. Equally however, to imagine that it is NOT quickly and easily available to users would be incorrect and naive.
lorireed 10 years ago
Parents should be more concerned about the photos that are emailed or IM'd to their children rather than what they find on Flickr. I can't tell you how many tweens and teens I see that have Hotmail accounts that get full of spam with graphic images and the kids open them to see what they are.

Young people are going to be exposed to all kinds of things. 20 years ago it was Playboy or Penthouse passed around school now it's a little easier to access online but the key is that parents need to educate their children so that they can learn to think for themselves.
Local Studies, Swindon Central Library PRO Posted 7 years ago. Edited by Local Studies, Swindon Central Library (member) 7 years ago
Just to add to this old thread, yesterday we have just received a similar email to that received by Westmont. It was cc'd to other parts of our local authority.

The email was without name or other contact details but used a particular username and email address which seems to endlessly crop up online in what seems to be a one-person crusade related to the relationship between Flickr's owners Yahoo and China.

Has anyone else had this recently? How was it dealt with? Was there any subsequent action taken?

Best wishes,
Swindon Libraries
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