After Egyptian protesters seized Amn el Dawla documents a flurry of photos have been uploaded on social networking sites and other web platforms including Flickr. Given the volume of the documentation seized it has been difficult to effectively design mechanisms to ensure authenticity and redaction of sensitive personal information. When Flickr removed content from uploaded from a CD of photos taken from state security offices posted by Hossam el Hamalawy (Egyptian blogger arabawy), the site did not mention these issues of authenticity or sensitivity. (Issandr el Amrani details the seizure of files at The Arabist)
Flickr is a site intended for the sharing of photographs, but given the large Flickr community, tagging capabilities, and social network structure the site was used by Hamalawy to post the Amn el Dawla documents. That was until Thursday March 10th when Flickr removed all documents posted by Hamalawy and notified him that the images constituted a breach of community guidelines. The company cited the fact that the documents were not original content created by Hamalawy content and informed him that the entire set, entitled “SS DVD,” was removed.
This seemingly targeted enforcement of Terms of Service raises many questions about the implications of individuals using free (but private) platforms to broadcast and share content that is politically sensitive. These services are private first and public second. While the intentions (and explanations) of Flickr are unclear, what is clear is that activists must diversify their web presence, and consider the advantages of open source hosting that is protected from the whims of private companies. Not only are sites like Flickr forcibly removing content, but companies like Twitter are being forced by court order to share personal details connected to accounts to pursue a case against WikiLeaks. As collaborative efforts using free online services successfully engage with offline political contexts, the willingness of private services (and the governments regulating them) to retain a hands-off approach becomes increasingly less likely.