Friday, May 18, 2007

News escalation on the web

I’m not going to comment on the story itself because that has been done to death, and the issue appears to have been resolved (at least with Flickr). But the series of events surrounding the alleged theft (and subsequent sale) of photographs from Flickr photographer Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir is a classic example of how the plight of one individual can end up on an international news site such as the BBC.

It started when Rebekka discovered that a company in the UK had been selling prints of her images without her knowledge or consent. In protest, she posted an image on her popular Flickr photostream and outlined her situation in the description.

There was an outpouring of support from the Flickr community who posted comments beneath the image. However, some apparently went to far with their use of language and threats were made toward the company at the centre of the row. Flickr staff subsequently deleted the photo as a result of the threatening comments.

To keep a long story short, suffice to say Rebekka was outraged at Flickr’s response. She posted this photo in protest, and the story was also picked up by blogger Thomas Hawk. This article was also submitted to, one of several news sites where the more a story is read and given a ‘thumbs up’ by the reader, the higher up the news listings it moves. Within an hour or so it was on their homepage.

In addition to this, a thread was started on Flickr’s main forum, which again received hundreds of responses, and eventually there was an official response from Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield: “...we screwed up -- and for that I take full responsibility...”.

A couple of days ago I casually mentioned to a friend that this was the sort of thing that would end up on BBC News. This morning it has appeared in their technology section and I’d imagine it will be mentioned at some point on BBC News 24. Quite a lot of exposure starting with one photo on Flickr.

This sort of thing is happening all the time. Web 2.0 (I’m sick of that hearing name, but that’s the umbrella term) empowers the individual like never before. I think this means that companies and corporations need to be more careful with their dodgy dealings. Rather than just one disgruntled individual who is unable to afford a lawyer to deal with, the accused company, Only Dreemin, has been named on an international news website. That’s a whole lot of bad press.

This is a small company, and – I don’t know – they could be ruined by this. The question is, when it comes to larger corporations, do they really care about public opinion?