An Open Letter to Elisa Steele EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Yahoo Inc. on the New "The Internet is You," Yahoo Marketing Campaign

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    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?

    "I hate your freedom?" Really Elisa? This is the marketing message that you as Yahoo's Chief Marketing Officer want to send out to the world as you rip apart an online community dedicated to free speech. It's distasteful and it's offensive.

    You see Elisa, all the money spent in the world on bus stop billboards cannot make your marketing message ring true when the real voices, real human authentic voices online, ring out that the internet (at least at Yahoo!) is in fact very muchnot under our management at all. In fact our feelings are not taken into consideration one iota. We, thousands of us, are tossed aside, thrown out like garbage. Our hard work destroyed by you. Not only do actions like this invalidate your message, they create enormous ill will against Yahoo that will stand for many years going forward.

    A number of help forum threads (now all conveniently locked down by your staff) were created over the destruction of this group. I will quote you the official Yahoo! statement, again from Ms. Champ stated in one of those locked threads:

    "Flickr is a community with fences. If you want the open range, then unfortunately, what you want to do is beyond what we allow."

    You see how that reads Elisa? It does not read that Yahoo is all about "you" at all. It's a patronizing statement that says Yahoo is not about what "you" want. It's about what "we" want. I hope you can see how this statement directly contradicts your current marketing slogan that the internet is under new management, you.

    I'm sure you are familiar with John Gilmore, Elisa, a well respected thinker who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a quite respected organization that fights for freedom online. John Gilmore once said, "the Internet perceives censorship as damage and routes around it." And that's what many of us have now done. Many of us in the community that was destroyed have now decided that we will no longer use Yahoo for our community experience. Yahoo simply cannot be trusted to not destroy thousands of hours of our work in the future. Instead we will be using community space hosted by one of your competitors, FriendFeed, a site owned by Facebook.

    You see, despite not having a large glitzy "the internet's about you," campaign, to my knowledge FriendFeed has never censored anyone. They have this really cool feature allowing users to block somebody if you don't like what they have to say instead. It's great. When you do that they just disappear entirely on the site for you. Poof. Magic. Rather than pay for salaries and benefits for a team of censors, they just let their users block content that they don't like and let me tell you, it works *alot* better that way.

    Interestingly enough Elisa, FriendFeed was founded in part by the very guy who came up with the Google (another one of your competitors) slogan, "don't be evil," -- as a marketing exec I'm sure you realize how powerful of a corporate message that has turned out to be, much more powerful than everybody needs to wear purple.

    I'd hope that you could see how nuking an entire group over what was a skirmish between maybe two members in the group might not make sense. You used a shotgun to kill a gnat.

    Many things could have been done to more responsibly address the Yahoo concern in question. Admins of the group could have been warned and given an opportunity to take corrective action on their own, the single offending post could have been deleted rather than destroying thousands of posts 99.9% of which were entirely unoffensive, you could have simply removed what you found offensive and locked the group down, leaving a rich collection of user data to at least exist in an archive format for future reference for those who had created it.

    It did not need to be nuked.

    I do hope you take a moment out of your busy day to address this situation personally Elisa because it is damaging to both Yahoo's brand and your own campaign that you are spending significant shareholder money on.

    And as long as these are the types of actions that you and your management stand behind then your current campaign is very much meaningless indeed. I do also hope that you do not allow your staff to personally retaliate against me by nuking my own flickr photostream for writing to you what is in fact a very respectful letter.

    Thomas Hawk

    Philosophy Fetish, Capt. Tim, and 68 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    View 20 more comments

    1. Pine Ridge Photo Club [deleted] 55 months ago | reply

      Censorship : (noun) to suppress that which you feel is unacceptable.

      Well Mr. Hawk, by suppressing Cody and TVJ you are doing quite the same thing as Flickr, in blocking them and suppressing their free speech. What are you afraid of ? the truth ? Its obvious that your friend feed isn't going to be nuked, so why not just allow the conversation to continue ? In your comment to TVJ a couple of days ago you even mentioned finding a way to block TVJ from making any further comments on your blog. Let me quote you here :

      "Maybe at some point I’ll even be able to find a WordPress plug in that allows me to ignore comments on my blog like I can at friendfeed."

      That would be censorship, sorry to say

      No Mr. Hawk, you are a quite a hypocrite indeed....

    2. Thomas Hawk 55 months ago | reply

      Pine Ridge Photo Club I'm not sure where you are getting your definition of censorship but feel free to site it. Here is Merriam Webster's definition by the way:

      "Censorship: 1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors; especially : censorial control exercised repressively"

      of course that means very little without also a definition of what the word censor is. Merriam Webster again:

      "Censor: a person who supervises conduct and morals: as a : an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter b : an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful."

      Nowhere in that definition or in any definition I've ever seen of the word does it indicate your definition above.

      Under your definition above, if I was watching a TV show and I felt it unacceptable and I then went and turned the TV off I'd be guilty of censorship as I'd be supressing something that i felt was unacceptable.

      Really, Pine Ridge Photo Club they are not the same thing at all. On the other hand. If NBC decided to yank a TV show off the air for *everyone* that would in fact be censorship.

      My reference to my blog, again note, was not to block TVJ on my blog. I can already do that. WordPress allows me to mark a commenter as spam and they wouldn't be able to comment. That would be censorship. No, the WordPress Plug In I was talking about was more one that would allow me to filter TVJ out of my blog for my eyes only. It's a very different thing entirely.

      If I walk by a movie theater and see that a movie is playing there and notice that it's rated R. And if my own personal morals are such that I don't want to see rated R content and so I don't go inside the theater and instead decide to go see the G rated film, I have not censored the R rated film in that act.

      Likewise if I choose to view some content on a website and not to view other content on a website that's my choice too.

      I go to the Los Angeles Time's website every day. I read the news there. Now I *never* read the sports section. I hate the sports section. I'm not interested in sports. This is not me censoring the sports section of the Los Angeles Times, it's merely a personal choice to choose not to consume it.

      Nothing hypocritical at all.

    3. Pine Ridge Photo Club [deleted] 55 months ago | reply

      No no not at all Thomas, not at all.

    4. peejaybird 55 months ago | reply

      Great. More heavyhanded overreaction. I am sorry that you were a victim, and it seems like it never ends. Thanks for writing this open letter.

    5. Philip Botta 55 months ago | reply

      doublespeak? Have you been reading 1984?

    6. Thomas Hawk 55 months ago | reply

      yes doublespeak is unfortunate. Yahoo should either ensure that their practices match their marketing campaigns or drop their outlandish and false representations.

    7. Alexandra Christina Photo 55 months ago | reply

      Would yahoo go as far as censoring people for simply participating in this discussion? I don't know, but I wouldn't put it past them since they feel the need to shutup everyone that has a problem with their policies of restricting and or deleting people's work.

    8. Tramway_John 55 months ago | reply

      Hi, I'm an admin for a group called DISCUSSION: Politics and current affairs {Australia, the US, and, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    9. SF Lіghts 55 months ago | reply

      It should be noted that Heather's Tweet (which Thomas shouldn't have even associated with Flickr in the first place, and shouldn't have been so self absorbed to be positive that it was about him) wasn't actually about him at all. It was about something else.

    10. BellaGaia 55 months ago | reply

      Thomas, if i didn't love you before, and i did,as an artist; I have a new found respect and admiration for you as a person. you can rock a phrase as well as a camera.

    11. tomraven 55 months ago | reply

      Couldn't agree more! Yahoo Inc "We Hate Your Freedom" are destroying Flickr!!

    12. Neo Saguaro 55 months ago | reply

      I made tracks away from Flickr/Hoo some time ago.

      It is a damn shame to see what Flickr has de-evolved into.

    13. Eric Jorrin Media 54 months ago | reply

      Spot on TH - although a relative newbie to the Flickr community, I have had a Yahoo email account for nearly 20 years (Jeez- is it really that long) but their constant redesigns and increasingly pushing ads and their content in your face by trying to get you to sign up for this and that, while reducing intelligent and thought provoking content to the lowest common denominator kind mean that I will be leaving. Own website with pics, own email address, on own server. As you say - try and censor me and I will just walk around you.
      The truth is - we do not need Yahoo. But Yahoo does need us. And for all the bullsh1t some of the commenters above wrote, like 'you're only one of thousands/millions' etc. Well, hey - many pennies make a pound, rivers start with a single raindrop, and Gandhi, King, Jesus, Mohamed, and so on were also only a single person. I'd rather align my views and actions with theirs than with people too afraid to leave a group.

    14. @PAkDocK / www.pakdock.com 54 months ago | reply

      Totally agree with you!!

    15. klrabbit 54 months ago | reply

      First, I don't participate in Flickr forum, so everything I 've learned about this issue is by following you Thomas Hawk on Friendfeed. Based on that information I say bravo. Yes, Yahoo as a private company has the right to allow or not allow anyone or thing they want, I have no problem with that. My problem is their method, if they have a problem with a thread or forum, then quarantine it and inform the forum, the problem, so the forum can fix it, or at least pull out their information if they choose not to fix it. To simply shut down and destroy the whole forum, sometimes based on one post or thread, is capricious and arbitrarily and definitely opposite of the marketing campaign logo (edited for spelling)

    16. Paul Parkinson LRPS (parkylondon) 54 months ago | reply

      Just wondering - since this was published has anyone from Yahoo or Flickr made any kind of response? Public or private? If the answer is (as I suspect) no - then that says bundles about their attitude.

    17. Thomas Hawk 54 months ago | reply

      To the best of my knowledge, Yahoo has not responded to this in any way. They certainly haven't contacted me either privately or publicly. I think it's mostly part of their practice of not giving a crap about their users. It would be nice to see them address the issue.

    18. Ѕhims 51 months ago | reply

      This needs to go.

    19. SF Lіghts 51 months ago | reply

      He'll never agree to that.

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