An update on Shepherd Johnson, who lost 1,200 Flickr images over comments on White House photos: Yahoo said the activist's pictures are gone forever, offered him $25 and blocked his messages. And Flickr's founder called him "a dick."
Johnson, at least, has received a more clear explanation for why his account was summarily deleted with no warning: Heather Champ, Yahoo's VP of customer service, told him he had been "spamming" the White House photostream. (Johnson has said he posted an initial batch of approximately 10 comments, then another 10 or so when those were deleted. Yahoo has declined to address Johnson's case directly with us.)
Champ also told Johnson the image he attached to his second batch of messages was too graphic. The picture, which you can see here, was from the Abu Ghraib prison and was linked over by Johnson from another Flickr account. Johnson, who has attended his share of political protests, was trying to draw attention to Barack Obama's support for a controversial bill that would have suppressed government torture photos.
Champ broke out both the carrot and the stick. She offered Johnson a $25 gift card he could use for a new Flickr Pro account. "She tried to shower me with platitudes like "Oh I know you are passionate about this issue,'" Johnson told us.
But she also told him there was no way to retrieve his old photos; that seems unlikely, as it implies Yahoo has no backups of Flickr's content. Champ also blocked messages from Johnson's new Flickr account on the internal FlickrMail system. Following a phone conversation with Johnson, she had posted a picture indicating her day wasn't going well, and Johnson had commented underneath the picture, "this is like watching a slow train wreck." She then blocked him.
So Johnson turned to Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield (above), seeking help in reaching Champ. Butterfield left Yahoo last year, but he said he could tell what was going on from a distance: Johnson must be in the wrong. Their correspondence:
Yahoo's cuddly new head of PR, Eric Brown, might want to start exercising some message discipline over this situation. Does the company regret its actions (gift card) or stand by them? Does it really have no backups of old pictures? What are the guidelines for commenting on the popular White House photostream? People will inevitably criticize Yahoo's answers to those questions, but at least they'll have them.