A warning about flickr groups

Warning! This post is not about LEGO bricks but about the community on flickr. If you have no interest in the flickr LEGO community then please just ignore it.


I went to visit one of my LEGO flickr groups the other day (Jan 29) only to find the above message. I’d got through a couple of minutes of before so I was a little bit suspicious. Inspection of my group list showed that LEGO 16+ had vanished from there too. Apparently it had spontaneously disappeared.

As the creator and an administrator of the group I was first in line to hear about it if something had gone wrong. I’d heard nothing. Over the following six days I’ve pieced together what happened. In LEGO 16+ we had a thread for leaks. All discussion in the group was only available to members of the list and one of those members had reported this thread to TLG. They had taken their usual action (lawyerly email) to flickr and Yahoo! (who are directly responsible for these issues) had decided to simply delete the entire group. Not the thread, not the links but the entire group.

I’ll note that I didn’t hear this from flickr but had to piece it together myself (with help). Immediately upon discovering the issue I contacted flickr about it. They finally got back to me today (six days later) with the following:

Hello gambort,

Thank you for contacting Flickr Member Support.

In joining Flickr, our members agree to abide by the Yahoo!
Terms of Service and the Flickr Community Guidelines:


Your group was brought to our attention through Report
Abuse. Upon review, we determined that your content and/or
behavior was in violation and your account was terminated.

Thank you again for contacting us. If you have any other
questions, please feel free to reply to this email.

Flickr staff

which is extremely helpful. Having heard various horror stories about Yahoo!’s attitude to its users I’d already anticipated this response and was, sadly, not surprised. Incidentally the guidelines basically says that if Yahoo! don’t like what you do they can do what they like. This is standard but most sites choose to explain things.

So what has this got to do with you?

Well firstly if you were interested in what went on in LEGO 16+ you might want to know what happened to it. It’s gone but we’ve moved to AFOL 16+. NB. you must be 16 or over to join this group and it does contain bad language, bad taste and other things some people don’t like.

Secondly, if you run or actively participate in a flickr group you should be very wary of this. If you allow or actively encourage leaks there is a chance the entire group could be deleted. It’s totally unreasonable but Yahoo! have a reputation for behaving in just this way. You might also want to be careful reporting people.

Consider it a lesson learnt the hard way by me so you don’t have to. Yahoo! do not care about you, your group, or anything you have done. Make sure you have a backup in place for any vital discussion and try to back up your flickr photostream.

EDIT: I realise my original post doesn’t make my issue entirely clear here. The loss of LEGO 16+ was a minor irritation as it wasn’t really a resource so much as a discussion forum. It had been replaced by a functional equivalent within hours. The loss of some of my other groups (eg. LEGO Techniques) would be far more tragic and I’ll be making sure it’s unlikely (certainty is impossible given Yahoo!s arbitrariness) to keep it off the radar. I recommend others do the same. Yahoo! do not care.

24 comments on “A warning about flickr groups

  1. gambort Post author

    And before anyone tells me it’s flickr’s right to behave this way I’ll point out the bleedingly obvious that it is my right to behave this way too.

  2. dshaddix

    They clearly aren’t thinking about the Communi-TAY! …What about the COMMUNI_TAY???

    I guess we now see who was really in charge of your 16 autocracy. Flickr/Yahoo! and a pissed of parent or a kid who got booted.

  3. dshaddix

    Oh, and don’t feel bad about not posting about LEGO or MOCs. You have a kitchen pass for this sort of thing after that helpful Bricklink advertainment piece the other day. ;-)

  4. Creative Anarchy

    I feel your pain. Yahoo wiped out the entirety of my Yahoo account over a complaint about something I posted to Yahoo Answers, no discussion and no interrest in helping me recover account information. I strongly advocate against putting any effort into an endevor that Yahoo has influence over. In fact if you’re ever given a chance to rob Yahoo of somehting they hold value in without consequence, don’t hesitate.

  5. worker201

    I find it disheartening that we are encouraged to turn our lives over to an online service or community, only to find out that we can have all our rights and property taken away for minor infractions. Not just on Flickr, but on Facebook and MySpace and Gmail and even The Brothers Brick. I’ve had a Yahoo! mail account for over 10 years, and I’ve never even considered the inherent vulnerability of that trust until now. I encourage everyone to take responsibility for their online presence – nothing on the net that you don’t also have at home. Because you could be the next victim of someone else’s zeal.

  6. Andrew

    Glad you posted this here, Tim. LEGO 16 may have been our own raucus, frequently profane little corner of the LEGO communi-TAY, but it was also an important, unmoderated and independent part of the LEGO world. It’s loss is annoying, but the more critical lesson is just how ephemeral such strongholds really are when ultimate control is in the hands of one or more multinational corporation.

  7. Starwars4J

    This is old hat for LEGO. They’ve acted this way before with pretty much everyone out there who has encouraged/allowed leaks, so none of this is really a shock to me. What also isn’t a shock, is that they got someone to report you. When LEGO made their Orwellian announcement not long ago about having you report on other LEGO fans, I figured it would be used by three groups of people:

    -People who were genuinely shocked and appalled at seeing a toy a little early.
    -People who wanted all the “fun”, who would hard-save leaks and then report on the sources, so they were the new “source”

    I’d wager you, my friends, were victims of the third category. There’s a bit of irony in that, given how LEGO 16 operated (proud of the troll community), but it seems when one of them decided to take it out on the rest of you…you suddenly didn’t find it as funny.

    Ultimately I think this should have taught you a valuable lesson (not about not trolling, that’s WAY too deeply ingrained): get a better grasp on who you can trust, and be more selective with membership.

  8. gambort Post author

    ^ Actually a lot of the reports I’ve seen have been by Ambassadors, presumably for brown-nosing purposes. And unless it was you who reported it (shall I inform the lynch mob?) I don’t think you can really make any judgement on motivation.

    The chief lesson I’ve learnt from your post is that you have some form of obsession with trolling and moderation. I’d rather leave people be (in AFOL 16 ) and suffer for it ocassionally than rule with the iron fist of ADMIN! And if it happens again I’ll do the same thing again.

  9. Andrew

    (Amused that WordPress can’t handle the plus symbol…)

    That Orwellian letter to the community deserves its own public scrutiny.

  10. Starwars4J

    I choose my words carefully, Tim. I said I wagered it was a troll, because that’s how a lot of the online community operates. Clearly you’re not so naive as to think there aren’t those out there who would do something like that, if only for the perverse pleasure of screwing with a large group of you.

    As for what you’ve learned about me, you’re only half right. I really don’t get trolling, as we’ve talked about on numerous occasions before, it just seems so…stupid to me, huge waste of time. So that part is partly correct, though where you draw the “obsession” from is anyone’s guess. As for moderation…you couldn’t be further from the truth. As you yourself had admitted, someone you let into the group “ratted you out” as it were. That’s a fact. I’m on the belief, and always have since you’ve missed it, that the admins and moderators need to take less of a “we’re above you, and control you” stance than they often do. We’re all equals, after all. Since you were around for the past 5 years, you should at least know that much about me ;)

    There’s just a certain level of common sense in trying to be more selective with who you let into your playpen, after what happened last time. You know what I mean? If you don’t take some sort of measures to ensure you weed out the guilty party, you’ll likely just have this whole thing happen again the minute more leaks go up. If that’s what you want…fine I guess? I just figure you’ll run out of synonyms for “LEGO 16 ” pretty quickly if you take that route.

    Not sure where your reaction to my post is coming from, as nothing that I said was anything but pure old fashioned common sense. I think LEGO’s actions are as ridiculous as they get, that’s why you just have to be smart about getting around it.

  11. gambort Post author

    ^ Sorry. I think I have misread you. If there’s one thing guaranteed to raise my hackles it’s telling me to moderate my pet (largely) unmoderated group. That’s where the reaction came from.

    I’d wager you’re wrong in your assessment. I’m a highly cynical user of sites and was absolutely expecting to see the leak thread deleted at some point. But the ridiculous and unwarned overreaction even caught my jaded eye by surprise. Having a thread deleted isn’t even good fun if you hate something

    There were over 700 members of LEGO 16 including several TLG staff members and a number of Ambassadors as well as many people that probably shouldn’t have joined in the first place. Those TLG-related people I’ve heard from have denied (and I believe them) that they didn’t report it. But I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if someone saw an opportunity to suck up to TLG by reporting a ‘secret’ leak thread. Some people really are that sad.

    But I totally disagree with your idea of being more selective. I also totally fail to see how “admins and moderators need to take less of a ‘we’re above you, and control you’ stance than they often do. We’re all equals, after all.” (which I agree with) meshes with “selective with who you let into your playpen”. Censorship by exclusion is just as bad as censorship by deletion.

    Besides, I don’t need to worry about synonyms, I’ll simply keep switching back and forth between the two. I chose AFOL 16 this time to avoid issues of using the brand name.

  12. jeffmcneill

    Definitely distressing behavior on Flickr. Isn’t there another photos sharing community site that could be used and would be at least a bit more evenhanded/less ironfisted?

  13. Starwars4J

    You know your site and group a hell of a lot better than I do, I was just trying to help (believe it or not). If you think that’s the reason someone did what they did, then the next step is to think of a way to prevent that from happening in the future. Or not. I wasn’t aware you could keep switching between the two, I figured once the group was deleted it’s name was still held in reserve (I assume, perhaps mistakenly that you can’t have two groups with the same name).

    As for the confusion regarding my seemingly conflicting beliefs, I can see how that might seems contradictory. I believe that mods and admins, rather than being there to stand over the common user should be there to, when necessary, perform proper maintenance and keep things in line to keep the area (site, group, whatever) running smoothly. What I see happen all too often is that the person in “power” tends to think themselves above the other users, to the point of verbal abuse, even banning or other misuses of “power” if members even disagree with them. It really creates the wrong kind of vibe, IMO.

    However as part of keeping things running smoothly, if you have someone trying to sabotage the community (either just for lulz, or to suck up to LEGO for…god knows what reason), then trying to make sure that person can’t keep doing that is a part of the duties. The community itself, in my perhaps naive world, could continue along with all members being neutral inside, but still maintain an effort to keep those with a negative intention from ruining it for everyone else, as happened this time. Not that it would be easy, or always right, as people never are, but at least some sort of step to keep the same person from continually pulling the same stunt, whatever their reasons are.

    But hey, it was just a suggestion. It’s your group, and as a fan of leaked images and freedom of speech, I’m for anything that keeps it going.

  14. gambort Post author

    Thomas> Interesting reading on your blog. I’ve been wondering a little if Yahoo! are actually trying to piss off flickr members. It’s possible that the website doesn’t make any money and they want to mothball it.

    An alternative image sharing and discussion site would be great. I really like the way flickr works but with behaviour like this it’s just no longer safe.

  15. worker201

    Justin, if you regularly visited the Lego16plus group, you’d know that no one has ever had their post edited, and no one has been banned from the group (who was over 16). As an admin/mod, I’ve sent 2 Flickr messages to people who had posted broken image links, asking them to fix the links. That’s it. I understand how other groups and sites are run, and how that causes problems, but it just doesn’t happen in the this group.

    Not that the group has been drama-free. And when mockery ensues, nobody is truly safe. But at the end of the day, public opinion is our only true moderator.

  16. Catsy

    I’ve been online for more than 20 years and have seen far too many services come and go to have any trust for the permanence of content that is not physically under my control. That goes double for anything at the mercy of Yahoo, which has demonstrated time and time again with actions like this that whoever defines their processes is far too lazy to deal with user complaints on their individual merits and have zero respect for their users.

    Here’s the thing: there really isn’t anything better than Flickr right now for Lego. Full stop. There are alternatives, and some of them are good–but none of them have the combination of features and established community that makes the Flickr Lego community so active and useful.

    With that said, I would recommend that anyone who has the ability to do so regularly back up your photostream. I realize the following isn’t an option for everyone, but there’s an excellent iPad app that I use called Photo Pad, which connects to your Flickr account and syncs your photos to the iPad. I’m pretty sure these are converted to the iPad’s max resolution of 1024×768, so for preserving higher-res photos you’ll want to use one of the desktop apps out there to back them up to your computer, but it makes a nice portfolio, lets you quickly browse through your sets and collections, and provides an excellent backup at an acceptable quality for display.

  17. jakerome

    How did you figure out it was due to the leak thread? Based on past experiences, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to this bit in your new group rules,

    “4) Don’t harass anyone, even the suspected-molester Eric Sophie. Especially don’t harass the suspected-molester Eric Sophie.”

    Also, I’d recommend changing the group to 18 , since groups open for users under 18 should be appropriate for 13 year old kids. If you make it 18 , it enables you to have a (slightly) more freewheeling atmosphere. Sorry your group got nuked, good luck going forward.

  18. Cole Blaq

    Censorship without explanation is a slap in the face!
    The freedom of the community is one big achievement and a major reason for my commitment.

    I agree with Catsy that Flickr is actually the best platform, but it also depends on where the community moves. It used to be Brickshelf, later MoCpages, now Flickr and tomorrow?
    As soon as I see a considerable alternative (image organisation, notes on images, favs, groups) I’ll move out of Flickr even at the cost of lesser feedback and no stats ;-) As long as there is decent feedback I don’t mind the noise. I would like to still be in a general photo community and not only Lego for outside the box connectivity.
    And if some major players of the scene will move too the rest will follow… Basically it’s the activists who lead the way even if rejecting any connection to leadership.

    I don’t give a f*** for TLG and their marketing attitude (only exception are most designers). Their orwellian leaks encouragement considering children toys (and therefore targeting the kids and their associated) rings the alarm bells.
    If you see this considering kids freely posting stolen images and creations on TLG’s fan-homepage, which seems totally fine for TLG, but leaked previews are obviously much worser – I just don’t get the values conveyed by this?!

  19. Starwars4J

    Leigh: In case I wasn’t clear with my wording, I wasn’t saying anything like that happened in the LEGO 16 group, but I have seen it elsewhere. I was using that as a qualifier as to what I don’t like, and what I’m not suggesting, so that my actual suggestions didn’t get misunderstood. Seems I wasn’t clear, as both were, instead! :P

  20. Creative Anarchy

    Anyone who’s been ticked at me here before probably knows I don’t pull punches when bitching about The Lego Group’s policies. However in this case I don’t think they’re as big-bad in this case. TLG must know that fan sites are free advertising. Their legal team is just carrying out orders. I’m sure they didn’t understand the consequences. I’m sure that if they understood they would crash the flickr troup and piss off fans by sending a copyright order they would have handled the situation more carefully.

  21. eti

    I don’t know how much Yahoo really has to do with it. Flickr already had this kind of attitude before they became part of Yahoo. They set up a great website but are not always friendly to their customers. From the beginning on, they liked to nuke accounts without warning. Of course it’s their bloody right, but a little warning with a chance to correct an error would be so much friendlier.

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