The power of networks, part 1382.2c

UPDATE: 12/2/09 I received an email from one of the subjects of this post detailing how the issue living on in search engines was causing significant problems for him personally. After much thought I decided to edit the post with two considerations in mind, the first being that yes it will live on in search caches for a long time and by following the links included anyone so interested will be able to quickly discover the names that I have redacted today but eventually my post will fall off the top search results for this persons name, and secondly, the actual names of the parties really are not that important to the overall narrative I am writing about. This has not been an easy decision for me to make but I don’t ever wish my writings to cause personal and extended harm to any individual, and in the final equation we all have to recognize that people make mistakes (who among us has not done something profoundly stupid at one time or another?) and there is nothing to be gained once the mistake has been addressed and apologies issued to those offended to let it live on.

Two seemingly unconnected events caught my attention over the last week and it was only this morning that I put them together. The first is the now well covered Photo’chopped photos that Reuters carried and then retracted, and the second was the less known case of [redacted] v. [redacted].

In the first case, a blogger uncovered a case of photo fraud at the news agency and the subsequent uproar from the blogosphere forced Reuters to withdraw all 920 images from the freelance photographer in question, although I would hope it was less about the uproar and more about restoring the integrity of Reuters’ brand. At any rate, score one more for the blogosphere.

In the second case a popular Flickr photographer, [redacted], accused [redacted] of inappropriately claiming [redacted]’ work as his own (keep in mind that the images in question were offered under Creative Commons so it’s not like there are any monetary damages being claimed, it’s about being honest). [redacted] then sues [redacted] for defamation, and this is where it gets interesting. The subsequent comment thread attached to the attorney letter that [redacted] posted includes individuals who have identified additional cases of images being inappropriately claimed by [redacted] as his own.

Whether or not [redacted] is guilty of these offenses is unknown, but the evidence is stacking up against him pretty quick. Thomas Hawk does a great job of detailing the reputation issues in his post on the subject. The loosely coupled community around [redacted] did the investigative work for him and identified offenses that previously would have gone unknown, and then there is the whole issue of [redacted] reputation and the damage done to him (by himself apparently).

“I think I found some pretty good evidence of another plagiarism look here at a screen-shot of the guys flash page ( I can’t give a link because of poor use of flash ) now look at the same photo found on flickr notice that this is “[redacted]'” only photo with the Fuji at the top and bottom yet all of Stitche’s flicker photos have it ( from scanning in actual film? ).”

Now back to the Reuters topic, it occurred to me that the best thing that Reuters could have done in this instance was to open up their entire photo archive to scrutiny from bloggers and other photo professionals. It’s no longer enough for Reuters or anyone else to simply say “trust us” in an age where photographic evidence is less than absolute. We have all grown up in an age where photos can be cooked and reality (film, not just photos) can be created. Reputation is now the linchpin for credibility, not just a catchy photo, and reputation has to withstand peer scrutiny and review if it is to be legitimate.

My prediction is that reputation systems of all kinds will increasingly become a focus for anything in the public view, and they will rely on techniques that capture the power of community to derive trust rather than a brand manufacturing it.