Creepy comments and favourites on Flickr photos

Sharing photos of our creations on our blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts is almost second nature to most of us now.

From outfit posts to in-progress shots, our photographs add to the conversation and create inspiration for other members in the community. But the Internet’s not so clear-cut and, well, nice as that. Take the Reddit storm which erupted recently, regarding the unmasking of a user who championed the “creepshot” – posting compromising pictures of women taken unawares.

Obviously in our little community it’s a completely different kettle of fish. We willingly share images of ourselves and our projects. There’s nothing sexual about what we do, right? Well, as some of us taking part in Me Made May ’12 found, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

A couple of months ago, I logged onto my Flickr to find someone had added quite a few of my photographs to their favourites. For those not on Flickr, you’re able to add pics to your favourites or cultivate your own galleries dedicated to certain themes. In this case, my pictures showed up in a gallery cultivated by someone with a clear fetish for scarves.

Clicking through to their profile, I saw they had added any and all photos of me wearing a scarf to a favourites filled with clothed and half-naked women draped in the seemingly innocuous accessory.

I didn’t really know what to make of it. A huge part of me obviously felt creeped out. These pictures weren’t taken for that purpose, after all. Another part of me felt like I shouldn’t be judging someone else for whatever rocked their boat – but then, I didn’t particularly want to be involved in it. So, I blocked the user, which prevents my pictures from appearing in their feed.

Feeling “creeped out”

I’m not the only whose photos have ended up in unexpected Flickr galleries. Roisin of Dolly Clackett noticed it when she started submitting photos to the Wardrobe Remix Flickr pool.

She said: “I think the worst one was someone called TIGHTSFACE, whose profile had lots of photos of naked men with tights on their heads. None of the comments have been aggressive or anything but it does creep me out when someone comments to say ‘I’d like to smell your feet’!”

Then there were the knitwear fans. “I did get a number of knitwear fetishists favouriting my photos and adding me to their galleries – the strangest one being someone who favourited a load of totally innocent photos of me wearing cardigans and added them to a gallery that included drawings and photos of naked girls wearing cardigans, and people having sex in knitted gimp suits,” she said.

There’s a whole thread on the Me Made May ’12 group on this subject, started by Gillian, who wanted to know if this sort of thing was happening to other people too. As a teacher, Gillian is at pains not to post anything she wouldn’t be comfortable with her students seeing.

I contacted her for more information, specifically, how did these “off” comments make her feel?  “It’s very insulting, demeaning, and hurtful,” she said.

“The sewing community is generally so kind and positive that it’s a real shock to realise that lurkers and creeps are out there! Luckily, I feel relatively in control with Flickr – It’s easy to block someone, and I can delete comments as well.

“Once it’s dealt with, I forget all about it. It doesn’t affect what pictures I post.”

It seems almost harmless, really. Especially when you think that some people are posting demeaning upskirt pictures of women taken when they weren’t looking or  wishing death on each other via anonymous comments. Except I can’t help but think sexual comments and Internet catcalling is the next step – in fact, I’ve seen a comment here and there which definitely weren’t about how well the drape of the fabric works.

I think there’s a mentality on the Internet that if you post pictures of yourself dressed to the nines and in some nice make up, as many of us did during any of the numerous sewing challenges, then you “deserve” this kind of unwanted attention. But people say the same thing when I dress up in real life and get catcalls and unwanted comments. Not to mention, the reality is, the most successful blogs have this personable element to them which is difficult to achieve if you’re hiding behind your mannequin.

Gillian agrees with on this one. She said: “Sure, I could make all of my pictures “private”, but that defeats the point of social blogging. I could change what pictures I put up (no head, for example, or low res crappy pics), but again, why should I have to?

“Unfortunately, there is no clear solution to harassment and sexism in either the real world or the blogosphere… so until then, I appreciate the support and commiseration of the sewing community!”

I expect to be able to walk down the street in garments I’ve made without being called sugartits – so why is the Internet any different? It all comes back to this notion of the online world being beyond any sort of social conventions we expect in day-to-day life.

Also, as Roisin points out, there is a worry that by taking offence to our pictures being added to fetish-themed gallery, we’re being judgemental of someone else’s sexual preferences. She said: “I’m trying not to be too judgemental about the creepy things people comment about. I choose to share the photos in a public space and I don’t want to be judgy about people’s sexual practices, but it definitely does make me feel uncomfortable to know that there are people out there getting kicks out of a picture of me in a cardigan.”

I’m sure there are a few people out there who sew and maybe even read some of our blogs on a regular basis but don’t want to put themselves out there for fear of this kind of reaction. As much as I love the diversity of Flickr’s community, this mixture of the innocent and the more suggestive can be hard to deal with when the two collide.

Two sides

One of my Cardiff Twitter contacts Martyn Kelly, who’d also experienced some of this on his own Flickr page, probably put it best. He said: “Flickr is one of the few communities where it embraces the dualist nature of the web in terms of filth/underbelly and friendly/safe/social, and does so with grading/rating photo streams, mature audience flags, logged in only content, etc. and advice on how to manage that.

“But things break when: 1) Someone comments something a bit creepy… or 2) The Flickr-specific problem – if a creeper favourites a photo. Because a user’s favourites are public, you find your image has been curated by a man in a mac, erection wavering outside your digital window. It all gets a bit weird.”

I emailed Flickr months ago to ask what they’d advise users do if they’re uncomfortable with a comment, but they haven’t answered. But here’s what it says in their community guidelines:

Don’t be creepy.
You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.

Your thoughts, as always, are much appreciated.

10 thoughts on “Creepy comments and favourites on Flickr photos

  1. redfyre says:

    If someone has a sexual fetish, then that’s their business. But when they snaffle photos of a non-consenting third party, then that is unacceptable. Goodness knows, there are porn sites a-plenty out there, catering to everything under the sun. If you feel uncomfortable, knowing someone is associating your quite innocent photos with whatever excites them, then you are justified in being upset, angry and even contemptuous of their affinity (after all, you were non-consenting, remember?).

    Too often, people are plagued with guilt at the thought of being insensitive or politically incorrect, when their personal boundaries are infringed upon by other people. When in fact, it is the perpetrator who should feel guilty for infringing in the first place. So call a spade a spade. If this person has creeped you out, then,their behaviour makes them a creep. Unfortunately, the public nature of blogs means the creepy kinds can do things like this, but if you catch them, then you are perfectly justified in blocking, them, complaining about them ( or to them!) or calling them out in public.

  2. Neil Cocker says:

    I have a friend who regularly receives visitors to her blog (which she can track coming in via the stats plugin) via the search term ” naked pics”. Must be really disconcerting, especially as she does absolutely nothing to court any such sexual interest. Very sad.

    I try to redress the balance by visiting her blog via the search term ” fully clothed” or ” in a clown costume”.

    😉

    And it’s not just women. One of my pics of a male friend in a normal tracksuit top got faved on Flickr. Following the user showed up someone with a really weird men-in-nylon fetish. There’s some sleeping-bag-bondage stuff in there that I’ll never be able to un-see.

  3. yesilikethat says:

    Interesting post. I had the knitwear lovers favourite a lot of my Me-Made-May photos. It doesn’t really bother me as it’s easy to block them, and the rest of their photos were fairly innocuous. The one thing that did creep me out was a photo I took of a vintage market-stall which had some old leg-braces on, that got Flickr favourited by loads of creepy disability fetishists.

    The thing is this situations are just going to keep increasing as the internet takes over more and more areas of our lives, and different communities rub up against each other (no pun intended) online. When you set images afloat on the internet sea, you lose all control over where they end up, and when things like this happen on Flickr, we get an uncomfortable reminder of that fact.

  4. Roisin Muldoon says:

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this for days now, Elena! Thanks for writing such an interesting post – and @redfyre, I hadn’t thought about it in the terms you’ve described – it does make sense to be uncomfortable when someone includes you in a sexual thing without your knowledge or consent.

    I find that I get lots of hits on my blog from people searching for fetishy type things – seems to be mainly people looking for photos of women having their skirts blown up by the wind! That makes me feel a bit strange, too, but I don’t usually get comments from weirdos. I like to think of myself as the great ruiner of wanks – people go looking for wank-materials and find a picture of me standing on a step in a dress and a cardigan!

  5. Jessica says:

    I figure it’s just a part of life – I took the photos, and I can’t control what someone does with them. So yes, I get creepy tights dudes etc, but as long as they don’t try to communicate with me I don’t care. The one who asked if I wanted to send him my old tights? Blocked and reported. But otherwise I don’t let it bother me.

  6. Kerry says:

    Bit late to the comments here – but I deleted my Flickr account this week as I seemed to get continually favourited from people with a wide variety of fetishes – cardigans, feet, tall women and had quite a shock when I clicked on someone’s profile and was treated to a close up shot of their penis – bleurgh! But just as horrible is being messaged by someone to be asked ‘so, how tall are you?’ Ewwww.

  7. Laila Rodriguez says:

    Thanks for posting this. I manage my office’s Flickr business account and noticed that last week we had 75,000 views. All these views came from creepy accounts related to leg fetishes, people with disabilities, amputees and men with ties. I was appalled. I will block those people -as you did- as I would not want the people I represent to find themselves in creepy galleries. Your post was the only one actually addressing these issues, too bad it wasn’t Flickr itself. Thanks!

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