Likes, Favorites, and Other Obscenities

by Ellen Freeman ’11 and Patrick Phelan ’11

Over the past decade, the words “like” and “favorite” have been annexed.  Although they are still used as signs of affection (”I like…” or “My favorite…”), they’re now commonly on the receiving end of clicks.  Websites and social media make and encourage us to make our likes and favorites public.  We count, and the things we like count because our “likes” can be counted: with the click of a mouse, viewers and readers can vote their digital affections and pledge their allegiances.

Not all votes are weighted equally though.  In September, we volunteered to supply artist Nancy VanDevender with found images for use in a wallpaper design, her contribution to curator Stuart Horodner’s Haverford exhibition Sex Drive.  We wanted to place our images in a public space so Nancy and Stuart could access them, and we chose Flickr because of its general familiarity.  However, when we uploaded the images—images we had downloaded from many different sites—some of them became “favorited” by other users very quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly: our account was suspended.  Twice.  Flickr’s guidelines require that all members “be respectful of the community and flag content that may not be suitable for ‘safe’ viewing.”  In our case, they were first liked and then flagged; i.e., although jeffpanida liked La chaste Suzanne, someone else must have thought it ‘unsafe.’  And Flickr didn’t like that.  The “likes” and “favorites” secure nothing; a flag can trump them both.  Flickr decides that some images are for liking and/or ignoring and that others are for no one.

We were neither notified nor warned before our account was deleted, and so for this project we abandoned Flickr.  But the votes remain: thank you meyka52, jeffpanida, and sahugn for your favorites, the final remnants of an otherwise invisible archive.


some of our images were popular with other Flickr users
The first ominous e-mail came in.
the first ominous email came in