Manners vs. Mores

Until her Supreme Court nomination turned Elena Kagan into big-time news fodder, there was not an abundance of great pictures of her to be found on the Web. Among the better ones to be found were a couple I had posted on Flickr a couple years ago, when she was still Dean of Harvard Law School. Here’s one. Here’s another.

The second of those (cropped a bit) was put up on Wikimedia Commons, and for awhile accompanied her Wikipedia entry, and continues to be used in a number of places.

Both shots have a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 license, meaning anybody can use it, and should also give me credit for having shot it. And both shots have appeared since then in many publications. Some, like Wikipedia, do a good job of following the license. Some, for example Outside the Beltway — in this piece stirring the shit about Ms. Kagan while accusing CBS and other news organizations of bad journalistic practices — do not.

None of that is troubling, or even very interesting. Instead what prompts this post is a comment under one of the two photos, from an entity called TEA PARTY LEADER. It’s a diatribe that verges on hate speech, but (in my amateur judgment) doesn’t quite cross the line. The question for me, when I saw the comment, was Should I kill it?

My photo pile on Flickr isn’t a public space. It welcomes comments to the degree that it simply allows them. It has no rules (of my own or defaulted by Flickr) regarding comments, beyond the ability Flickr provides for editing or deleting them.

I asked fellow Berkman Fellows list for their thoughts, and those went both ways. Some said the space is mine to manage, and if somebody is rudely spamming the premises I should feel free to delete their icky work. Others said doing so indeed would violate free speech principles, even if I would be within my rights in doing so. I was also probed with questions about whether I would delete the comment if its positions were more agreeable to me — though with manners just as rude.

I’ve been inclined from the start toward leaving it up, and that’s where I’m staying. But in the meantime I thought I’d pass along the same questions.

What would you do, and why?

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  1. John Wunderlich’s avatar

    The comment seems to be a couple hysterical assertions followed by text cut and pasted from other blogs. Depending on the rights asserted on the other blogs, these might be copyright violations themselves. Setting that aside, I suggest that the best way to combat hate speech or speech that tries to perpetuate division and discord is to let them talk. Either there is a rational basis for their point of view (unlikely) in which case a real debate can occur, or they will reveal the unfounded prejudice at the base of their comment and will invalidate themselves.

    The only strong line that I would enforce would be hate speech that exhorts to action. That crosses the line and should be confronted wherever and whenever it occurs.

    This comment doesn’t cross that line.

  2. Bernie DeKoven’s avatar

    I’d kill it. Strangle it. Then step on it. Then drown it. Then burn it. Then take the ashes and mold them into a laughing Buddha.

    Why? Because it’s a violation of your space. As well as your spirit. And it’s your prerogative. And you’d gain nothing by leaving it up, except to invite more boneheaded comments.

  3. Ed Steenhoek’s avatar

    Hi Doc,

    Being a Flickr user myself, and reading your blog, I spend some time looking into your dilemma.
    According to the ‘rules’ of Flickr, you have the right to delete comments you don’t like. Next is the question if you should.
    For that I believe you should look at the intend of Flickr. According to their FAQ it is the best way to store, sort, search and share your photos on-line. So, it’s not a blog where you express your opinion and others can respond to that (like I do now).
    The Freedom Of Speech principles are often misinterpreted as the right to say anything anywhere you like. However, they are not absolute. You can not say just anything you like. There are limitations. Some limitations are by law. Some come from good manners. If a woman asks you how she looks, the last thing you want to do is to become impolite and based on your Freedom of Speech, tell her that she’s ugly. You just don’t do that.

    Commenting on Flickr should be polite and in line with the intend of Flickr. The one thing you can say without doubt is that the comment you’re referring to, is impolite and not in line with the intend of Flickr.
    But that is just my opinion.

    What I would do, is not even go there. I would categorize it as ‘off topic’ like is done on forums and remove it just because of that. It does not contribute to the photo as such.

    Best regards,

  4. Mike Warot’s avatar

    It’s spam… the exact same message appears elsewhere in that person’s photo stream…. they are trying to sell their viewpoint based on the popularity of your image.

    Furthermore, the comment is not oriented towards the photo itself, but rather the subject of the photo.

    Spam should always be stomped on. 8)

  5. Jan Searls’s avatar

    Because it is the first comment below the photo it holds the place of a caption. I agree with Bernie – the comment (or rather, rant) reflects on you. Please remove it. If you have free speech issues, I suggest you put the comment in its entirety here, in this space, and replace it with link to this discussion under the photo.

  6. George Metesky’s avatar

    Kill it. You’re a civil person Doc. That space has your name on it. Yahoo gave you the power to delete comments, use the power.

  7. Dan Gillmor’s avatar

    Doc, it’s your living room. If someone comes in an pisses on the rug, you have every right to invite him to leave.

  8. Martin Budden’s avatar

    I’d take it down. Doing so is not infringing on this person’s free speech rights – they are perfectly capable of putting up their own web page or blog post with their own comments – you’ve even given the rights to use your photo.

    “I was also probed with questions about whether I would delete the comment if its positions were more agreeable to me — though with manners just as rude.”

    I tend to delete rude comments, whether or not I agree with them. As for comments that I disagree with – I welcome them. I learn more from someone who disagrees with me than from someone who agrees.

    Deleting this post is no more infringing the poster’s free speech rights than painting over graffiti they spray-painted on your house. It’s *your* flickr page.

  9. David Jones’s avatar

    Remove it. It’s just a rant, doesn’t contribute anything and we all know that loonies exist. You’re not suppressing speech – they can always write their own blog post.

  10. Solo500’s avatar

    That rant is spam. The content is annoying but the length is disrespectful when added to the high pitched tone. You wd be well within your rights to edit out & block any commentard who abuses your page in this way.

    Hard to see this as a free speech issue. I see it more as an abuse of your comment space.

  11. Derek K. Miller’s avatar

    While it’s perfectly fine to delete it, and might be what I’d do, I also think it might be more useful to let Tea Party Leader look the fool (which doesn’t appear to be hard), and perhaps to point that out.

  12. Robert Rose’s avatar

    I’m with @MikeWarot – it’s your private space on Flickr – and discussion on that site should be about the photo – not about what the subject of the photo does (or does not) represent.

    I’d kill it not for being objectionable – but for being off topic.

  13. gregor’s avatar

    I think it’s your site, your voice. We have personal responsibility for what we have control over. It seems to me that choosing a free speech policy for your own site is giving up your voice. I think the free speech argument is the top level– that looks at the aggregation of all voices. If you were a hosting provider, it’s different– you’re providing the soapbox, not the voice; for your own little piece of it you either take responsibility or don’t.

    Does it change matters now that the image has become popular? Has the voice become a soapbox? I don’t think so.

    Do what you think is right, and leave rationalisation to your biographers.

  14. Rick DeNatale’s avatar

    Free Speech Principles?

    The first amendment restricts the Congress from making a law abridging the freedom of speech.

    It does not prohibit a private citizen whose house has been ‘decorated’ with hate graffiti by, say the KKK, from painting over that graffiti, if he or she doesn’t agree with the sentiments expressed.

    I think that’s a pretty good analogy to what has happened here.

  15. Dave’s avatar

    Doc, I’ve struggled with the same issue on my blog at times (getting racist comments while New Orleans was still flooded post-Katrina, for example). I’ve ended up with a position close to Rick’s. Support for free speech doesn’t hamstring me to be the smiling host while someone shits in the punch bowl. I’d say kill it if it brings you down or makes your space a hostile place.

  16. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Interesting that all the comments here agree that I should take it down. Emails among colleagues run about even. Email responses to this blog post include the suggestion that I leave it up because it exposes what’s both ugly and silly about the Tea Party movement. Also that the comment may someday have a kind of historical significance. Any thoughts on either of those?

  17. Kyle Kimberlin’s avatar

    I would remove it. It’s anonymous drivel which doesn’t contribute to the dialog. The author has no more reasonable expectation of respect for free speech than s/he has an enforceable copyright. Besides, we all get enough of flaming and snark.

  18. Mike’s avatar

    I’d keep it up. I forget who or what event someone was talking about – but they said a key turning point in civil rights happened when people saw the ugliness and violence broadcast on the news…

  19. Joe Crawford’s avatar

    The only difference between this spam and typical spam is that it’s political.

    Of course, now that you’ve turned it into a conversation about it, maybe leave it.

  20. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Here’s why I’m leaving it up.

    1) I have over 34,000 photos on Flickr. These comments are on just two of them. And these photos are not like blog posts, where there’s a linear stream of them, with conversation below each post. It’s more like flowers set out in a field, some with a few notes attached, but most with none. The level of harm, if any, is not high.

    2) For the reason above, these icky comments are not like pissing on a living room rug, but more like a small pest in a vast arboretum. And not a big one. Yes, a bunch of visitors came during one brief news burst, but that was it.

    3) The comments have some historical value. If anybody wants to research what went wrong with the Tea Party movement, and when, these comments might still be around to provide some evidence. In addition to which I am quite sure the writer persuaded nobody of anything, other than what a jerk he or she is for posting the comment.

  21. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Ok, Doc… I respect that decision.

    Well said.

  22. Russ Nelson’s avatar

    i would delete it, because it is clearly an attmpt by some anonymous leftist to use your picture’s attention to falsely impugnTea Parties.

    Gotta remember that tea parties are an event open to all comers, not the name of a group with a known policy and membership. There is clearly a philosophy opposed to limited governmen, and they are using this fact of history to try to diminish the appeal of tea parties. Like the now-popular sign says, “No matter what this sign says, you’ll call it racist.”

  23. Jonathan Peterson’s avatar

    I’m late to the game – agree that it should be removed as off-topic and political spam. I’d hate to see flickr degenerate to the kind of pig-sty that youtube comments have become.

    BUT – I’d copy the comment, add it to THIS post for archival purposes and link THAT photo to this post as a redirect. I’d probably link to his photostream as well –

    Doing that is the equivalent of moving an off-topic thread in a message board into the right forum.

  24. Martin Budden’s avatar

    I agree with Jonathan Peterson: if you want to keep the post up because it may have some historical value, then I’d move it to an archive and link to it from Flickr.

    You might also be interested in Norm Pattis’s opinion snide comments on his blog. (Norm Pattis is a criminal defense lawyer.)

  25. Justin Redfern’s avatar

    Doc Searls, Sir,

    I guess it would come down to why you took the photo to begin with IMO.

    If you took the photo because of its artful nature…its truly aesthetic beauty, then you have every right to take the comment down. It merely detracts from this purpose.

    But, if you took the photo of Ms Kagan because she is/was a leader in her field or a way to link her face with her accomplishments, then the post is the unforeseen ripple effect associated with the evolution of her station in life. This becomes a much more politically/historically charged decision to pull it or keep it at this point. If “TEA PARTY LEADER” is truly a mad spammer with a faceless agenda, then it comes down. If the “TEA PARTY LEADER” is a truly inflamed politico with a lively opinion, then it should stay up with the argument attached—a great historical viewpoint.

    I think that the comment has been taken down now… I am always late.

  26. How to Develop Film’s avatar

    Heh – I always attribute when the CC license calls for it. For somebody else not to is unfair on those that do attribute (I use CC clip-art as my profile picture on web sites sometimes and having to include an attribution is a minor inconvenience – but at least I get to use the image semi-freely!) and possibly illegal.

    I’d just remind the web site owner of their obligations under the CC license. Remember, if it wasn’t for CC and copy-left, they wouldn’t be able to use it at all.

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