Sound off! Photo and video censorship

When Maarten Dors posted a photo on Flickr of a steely-gazed ‘tween smoking a cigarette, the Dutch photographer was trying to make a statement about life in Romania. But without notice, Yahoo deleted the photographer’s work. The powers-that-be deemed it inappropriate. The photo “promoted smoking” he was told. Dors was able to convince Yahoo that the photo wasn’t about glamorizing cigarettes. It was simply a glimpse of the poverty on Romania’s streets. The photo was reposted only to be deleted months later by another Yahoo employee.

Dors isn’t alone. A number of parent bloggers have found their photos and videos of their breastfeeding infants removed from sites like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube under the guise of “offensive” or “suggestive” subject matter. But last summer, hundreds of parent bloggers organized. Websites like The Maternal League of Justice launched and many a blogger took to their blogs to asking themselves, their readers and the mentioned services, “how could various photo and video hosting sites ban certain images, yet leave other images that were either violent or overtly sexualized?”

This raises the question, “what about free speech?”

Currently, service providers govern and set the rules for users. They cite their guidelines as being created and enforced in order to provide a safe place for the general audience (with a mind’s eye on minors) as well as brand protection. Typically, service providers censor photos based on spamming, copyright infringement or child porn.

But as people like Dors and many others are finding, some cases of what’s deemed “ok” versus “obscene” or “inappropriate” can wildly range based on a gatekeeper’s whim. As we’ve seen with the uproar created last year amongst the parent blogger community, rules aren’t always clear – not only to those using the service but to employees of the service. While some services try to train content-watching employees, enforcement isn’t always consistent and a user can find their photos/videos removed without notice.

“Could it be some pimply faced intern was uncomfortable with a tandem nursing mom but not the thousands of pictures showing more breasts than a chicken farm? And don’t forget that there are over 250 pro-ana (Pro Anorexia) sites on Facebook. But a mom feeding her child is violating the policy?”, writes a blogger from The Maternal League of Justice.

According to the Associated Press and The Washington Times, “The governmental role that companies play online is taking on greater importance as their services – from online hangouts to virtual repositories of photos and video – become more central to public discourse around the world. It’s a fallout of the Internet’s market-driven growth, but possible remedies, including government regulation, can be worse than the symptoms.”

Some people make the argument that if you don’t agree with an enterprise’s censor policies; find a service you do agree with. (Or start your own.) Others think terms of use should be clearer cut and consistently enforced. (An example would be to mention the unwritten rule amongst certain providers to ban images of children smoking.) Many bloggers are also calling for services to improve their appeal processes. But what also puts these services into a tough spot is the fact that the internet is worldwide. Many service providers have had to rework policies in order to accommodate other countries’ demands. (That’s another discussion open for debate!)

What do YOU think about this issue?

This post was written by Lisa. She also writes for Midwestern Mommy and Midwestern Mommy Reviews.

News sources:,, Maternal League of Justice, Washington Post,


3 Responses to “Sound off! Photo and video censorship”

  1. As someone who has more than a few pictures in her photostream of people smoking, I’m guessing Dors’s photo was removed because it was an underage smoker. I’ve seen the picture, and don’t think it was at all inappropriate. The problem is Flickr is a photo sharing, rather than a photography site, and promotes itself to be family friendly.

    Given the choice, I prefer their self-censorship rather than NIPSA’ing accounts that were deemed unsuitable. (I was NIPSA for a while for having “non-photos” in my stream, and I didn’t even know it.)

  2. hmmm. . . when it comes to nudity: a mother nourishing her child, or a teenage girl starving herself?

    our so-called values are so messed up.

  3. Yes, Kathy that photo that created a stir was pulled because of an unwritten ban on photos of minors smoking.

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