Violet Blue

SAN FRANCISCO, 22 February — Journalist, sex-blogger, and author of Open Source Sex Violet Blue has had her work “restricted” by Flickr.

Flickr has decided, without cause, not exactly to “take down,” but to “restrict” the content, the online identity, the resume, the persona, the web2.0 presence, that she has built thru years of posting to Flickr. It’s a devastating state of affairs which you can read all about here:

(interesting sidenote on the open/privacy wars (basically corporate take is that users should have neither personal privacy, nor use rights to anything) – I haven’t signed up for Google Buzz, but just to be allowed to comment on Blue’s post, I had to agree to an openly accessible Buzz profile:

Tragic as Blue’s situation is, I don’t want to talk about her personal loss, she’s articulated that well in the linked post, rather I want to talk about our collective predicament.

First, yes, I confess up front that I am among the lucky, self-indulgent minority. Only about a quarter of the human beings on earth are currently wired. By new media standards, 75% of the human race has no voice at all, and the term “World Wide Web” is pretty presumptuous.

Even so, I do believe that at this moment more people, a higher percentage of the human race, has a voice, than at any time in human history. The great vision of participatory democracy is far from complete, but it seems to be making progress.

Or is it?

Photo of Wall Street Journal featuring an image of Violet Blue

As Blue’s case makes clear, we may have a voice, but that voice is hanging by a thread. The great irony of the new mediascape is that while the majority of online users live in Western Liberal Democracies, they have surrendered their virtual lives to the rule of Authoritarian Dictatorships. And these dictatorships are hardly tiny banana republics: The population of Facebook is equal to the population of the United States. The acreage of Second Life is larger than the acreage of San Francisco.

Regardless of what nation you happen to live in, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ve got a beef with your legal or political systems. As Blue’s “restriction without redress” situation makes clear, however crappy your judicial system may be, it’s probably better than having no judicial system.

Welcome to the world of Web2.0!

• Non-Democratic
• Authoritarian Dictatorships
• No Rule of Law
• No Judicial System
• No Due Process
• No Habeas Corpus

We may long to see regimes like this purged from the physical world, but they are sprouting up all over our virtual worlds, and we are increasingly spending our lives there.

In the past 4 days I have seen the following:
• Blue’s online life cut across
• A University Professor’s wiki featuring a semester’s work by hundreds of students taken down for “excessive use”
• An academic SL region taken down by LL with less than 24 hours notice, because of a “communication error”

Add to this the relentless take-downs of YouTube videos and Facebook’s continuing policy of executing avatars on sight, regardless of how much “real money” they spend, and we have an ephemeral landscape where creativity is constantly under attack and erased. may have a WayBack Machine that can take you back in time, but the sad truth is, a hundred-year-old paper print of your great-grandmother has a better chance of living into the future than the Flickr photo of your daughter that you post today.

(And this doesn’t even begin to consider Flickr’s ability to rewrite history by, for example, taking-down the photo of you shaking hands with Barack Obama, because, for example, it was posted from the same account that you posted a photo of your naked belly when you were pregnant with your son and which some faceless Yahoo/Flickr autocrat has now, by whatever Byzantine process, determined is in “violation of community standards.”)

If you read thru Blue’s post and all the response comments, it very much sounds as if she’s just sunk, that there is no redress for the arbitrary decisions of Yahoo/Flickr autocrats. Years of her work and countless links of her online existence are simply severed. As you’ll also hear thru the comments, Flickr is, for those lucky enough to temporarily operate freely in it, perhaps the best set of image sharing tools, and without strong competition, or the expectation that alternative sites will be more benevolent dictatorships.

What kind of lives can we expect in a future filled with thousands of tiny fiefdoms… or… dare I say it… Burbclaves?

I don’t see a path out of this quagmire. I don’t have a vision of a road to a democratic future. I guess like most of us, I’ll just keep making jaded, smart-ass, self-referential YouTube videos till the gatekeeper daemons drag my sorry ass thru the trap door in the floor and throw my shredded carcass on the pyre beneath the Black Sun where, perhaps, I always belonged.

R E L A T E D . M A T E R I A L S

Violet Blue / Flickr
Violet Blue’s website
Violet Blue / Wikipedia
Violet Blue / San Francisco Gate

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

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