Many “community” sites allow users to upload pictures as part of their profiles. These pictures are often required to be non-pornographic (can’t let the kiddies see porn) and must be images of the individual profiled (can’t allow for copyright violation). I received an email today from a Friendster user who had her image removed from Friendster for being deleted as a violation of their policies.
This brings up an interesting issue. What does it mean for these sites to censor images? There are two categories of images that they must not allow: porn and copyrighted material. As we all know, porn’s legal definition is simply a judge’s statement “i know it when i see it.” Copyright is a bit clearer, but the question is how to determine whether or not an image is copyrighted unless the copyright owner notes that it is not part of the public domain and thus must be removed.
By choosing to censor images in the grey area, Friendster is putting itself in a really questionable realm. By monitoring this material, they are declaring what is appropriate speech and extending a public statement that they are responsible for what is on their system. That’s an interesting and precarious position.
For those who are interested, the image in question is a photoshopped portrait of the woman depicted in the profile. Upset with Friendster’s decision, she attempted to contact Friendster. To no avail. She wrote again. No response, no action. From her letter:
My primary profile photo is suddenly “not approved”. I’m very curious to know why. May I contest its removal?
“We suggest you upload a high-quality photo of yourself that is clear and current.”
The “Zombie” photo I was using until somebody (I guess with differing aesthetic opinions) reviewed it is both current and clear, and is most definitely ME, simply with photoshop color-enhancements.
The guidelines themselves state that “your photo may be as creative as you like.” Having read this, I see no reason why my main profile picture was taken down. I’m not exposing any naughty bits or using profanties. There are no children or animals in the photo, nothing forbidden by your site. Granted, it’s an odd photo, but it’s an expression of who I am, and it hurts no one.
Friendster’s lack of response to her objection to their policy is also quite interesting. Given that the site is censoring material, what responsibility does it have to correct its own mistakes and poor judgement?
This situation is a clear reminder of why trouble is brewing when an external source tries to maintain and “own” one’s profile, social network and presentation of self. In privatized spaces, is there such a thing as freedom of speech?