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Eric: For those playing along at home, I think the subject on this post broke the RSS feed.

Several weeks ago, suddenly and without warning, a swath of Livejournal accounts were suspended without notice, their materials taken down, over reports of depictions of child pornography and other violations of their Terms of Service. The methodology used by Six Apart to determine what constituted a violation of the terms of service was extremely suspect (in many cases, they apparently used the list of interests on someone's profile page, so for example a survivor of incest or pedophilia who was an activist in the abuse recovery scene might find their journal banned as promoting the activities they were most opposed to), and many, many people got really, really pissed off. It was a monumental public relations nightmare for Six Apart, which desperately tried to deal with the monumental fallout for several days. Many long time users of Livejournal got very upset, whether they were directly impacted or not. Several got accounts on other journaling communities that used similar code (sometimes the same codebase, as LJ's engine is open source). Places like Greatestjournal. Deadjournal, or Journalfen got a sudden boost in users.

But, Livejournal managed to come out from under it. "We're sorry," they said. "We did this all wrong. We have undeleted most of the deleted journals, so we can begin to do this properly. But please understand, this is a policy that we're going to implement, and many of the journals we've restored are going to be deleted again."

It's several weeks later. And now, a whole new block of journals have been deleted again. And people are very upset. They're upset because it's apparently the LJ Abuse team who decide what constitutes artistic merit in the case of depictions. They're upset because there's apparently no appeal, and protests that a given picture actually depicts eighteen year olds or otherwise consenting adults have no effect.

And I?

I find myself oddly apathetic. Because this is exactly what I expected would happen. And people should have known that after the last incident.

Six Apart is not the Federal Government. There is no right to Free Speech, or right to Freedom of Expression on Livejournal. There are terms of service -- particularly for those who have paid Six Apart money -- but those terms of service are subject to change, and those changes only need to be posted to the Paid Accounts community to represent appropriate notification. (And to my knowledge, most Paid account holders don't subscribe to that community. Christ knows I don't.) This is a private company, who owns private servers, and they have every right in the world to say "here's business we're not going to accept," or "here's content we're not going to host," or "here's a person who we don't want having a journal on our system."

Every. Right. In the world. Period. It's their ball, their bat, and their baseball diamond. And they made it absolutely crystal clear several weeks back that they really, really don't want to be in the slashfic or slashpic business.

Now, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the position of the folks on the other side of this equation. These are people who have used the community building tools that are Livejournal's stock in trade, sometimes for many, many years. They've paid money to Livejournal. They've built up significant online identity with Livejournal. Livejournal, they feel, is theirs. At least in part. They were there back when Brad Fitzpatrick owned the thing. They feel they've done nothing wrong and they've acted in good faith, and that this is total bull.

I sympathize. But they don't have a leg to stand on, here. It's Six Apart's playground, and they can tell anyone they like not to play any game they like. They can charge for access to the slide. They can tell any group they wish that the teeter totters are off limits. They can, in short, push my dumbass metaphor to the limit in any way they wish.

Now, the justification that Six Apart is using is, of course, protecting the children. Or restricting child pornography. Or whatever other buzzword is being used this week to make people react emotionally instead of rationally. Whatever. But what they really mean, to be frighteningly blunt, is we don't want slashfic here. This week, it's alleged depictions of pedophilia. Next week or next month, it'll be copyright infringement. Or any number of other legal grey areas that will let them quietly (well, let's be honest, loudly and hamhandedly) excise materials they don't like and don't want to be associated with.

This is entirely their right. And fanficcers, slashficcers, writers of sexually charged fiction and potentially even straight fiction writers should be taking strong notice -- because they could in fact be next. Because the one thing Six Apart can't do is promise something in their terms of service and then not deliver it -- which means that if person A has his work taken down as a violation, and he reports person B -- even if person B isn't violating it in the same way (or if there's question if person B is violating it at all), Six Apart, to try and avoid legal trouble, is going to ultimately take down Person B's work too.

What does this all mean? Am I happy that Livejournal's going down this path?

Not really. I'm not a slashficcer and I'm at best an occasional fanficcer, but I am a writer and I use Livejournal a lot. I use it as my RSS aggregator. I use it to keep in touch with friends. I use its social networking controls, at least in part because almost everyone I know is on it. And I don't want to see a massive exodus of the people in my life away from it because it can't be trusted.

But I have no control over that. SixApart gets to make that call. And Livejournal can't be trusted at this point.

So, I'm apathetic about the new round of deletions, because I saw it coming and I think everyone else should have, too. Which is a little mean of me, but that's the way it goes. People should have been moving to Journalfen or Greatestjournal to begin with. Or, someone with tech savvy who loves all of this stuff should be taking the open source code base, getting hosting or a server or whatever (and grabbing appropriate sponsorships), and making this into an LJ style system counterpart to fanfiction.net. Because this is the course Livejournal's on, and at this point there's no going back. You can't trust them with your slashfic or your NC-17 art. Period. And that's going to creep into fanfic in general, or erotica in general, or porn in general. And then from there, it may creep into regular fiction and writing. You don't know it won't, and it's clear they're not going to be on your side as this goes forward. That's what a loss of trust means. They're going to do what they feel is appropriate to make their business into the kind of business they think it should be.

I'm sad because it means the glory days of Livejournal as a place where people met and wrote and journaled and connected with one another are over, and Livejournal has passed zenith and is moving towards nadir. Which frankly, we knew. Other social networking sites passed it long ago. Which is the tragic side of this decision on Six Apart's part -- they're not in a position to be alienating large chunks of the user base they have left.They need those chunks of user base, because it's not just the pornographers who are going to leave. It's any number of people who think Six Apart's wrong in this. Or just folks who think this means Six Apart can't be trusted any more, and their journal is way, way too important to them to be in the hands of someone they can't trust.

Am I going to continue using Livejournal? Yes I am. Because I don't use it for those purposes. I use it to keep up with friends' journals. I use it to read RSS feeds. I use it because I like the mechanism of the Friends' List and there's no real way to replicate that Friends' List elsewhere yet. But if enough of my friends go somewhere else, I'll end up going there too in an effort to keep what I want in a site like this live.

At the same time? There was a time when I'd use a Livejournal community to put together fiction writing projects of certain kinds. I don't use it that way any more. Any of my creative work I'm going to have on a site where I'm paying for the hosting and can set up whatever I like -- and even then I'll keep robust backups in the unlikely event that Dreamhost catches a severe case of Dick.

And sadly, it's very unlikely this same community of users will come together anywhere else in a singular sense. Which means I'll need to follow several different communities to keep up with everyone, and I'll have to pick and choose where I'll post my own Livejournalish style posts. And ultimately, I'll end up only following one other journal service because dude, I have a life, and that means I'll lose some connection to folks. I'll fill in some of the gaps with RSS feeds and the like, but what was once a really cool thing will fade out of my life -- as Usenet, Listservs and the like did before it. And several years from now, when I'm reminiscing with several geeks of my generation, the talk will turn to Livejournal, and we will talk about what had been cool about it, and what ghastly mistakes will have been made on it. And someone will say "is it even still out there?" And someone else will say "yeah, I look at it every now and again. There's a few thousand die hards on it who refuse to go anywhere else. They're convinced everyone will come back." And there will be a few derisive snorts at these dinosaurs who won't let go of the past, and the kid geeks at the next table will have no idea what we're talking about.

Which, if you get right down to it, was an odd path for Six Apart to decide to walk down, but hey -- they walked down it.

And the folks who continue to walk down it with them shouldn't be surprised when it leads places they don't like.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 6, 2007 11:23 AM

Comments

Comment from: HKR [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 11:58 AM

And the worst part is, I've looked at other community sites like GJ, DJ, Vox, MySpace etc and I've found I hated them all. Live Journal is so damn simple and clean looking.

I have a few friends who have moved on after this fiasco, and it makes me sad, because you're right, I'm not going to try and follow 20 different journal sites to keep up with everyone, because I have a life.

If the majority of my friends move elsewhere, I don't think I'll follow any of them. I'll probably be one of those few thousand users who still use the place, simply because I'm too stubborn to move anywhere else.

Comment from: The Right Reverend Wishlish [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 12:15 PM

The problem with all free services is that, in the end, you don't control what happens with your content. Use MySpace, and NewsCorp gets some ownership rights. Use SixApart, and you're subject to random outages and deletions.

If your words are important to you, don't trust them to a free service. I highly recommend using WordPress and a paid host. There's tons of cheap ones. (My host, Laughing Squid, is particularly good at hosting controversial sites, it seems.) Is it free? Well, no. But I control the damn thing, and I can make continuous backups so that I never lose my content. And, if I want, I can sell ads or products to make up some of the cost of hosting. If my hosts plays around with me, I'll find another.

As for RSS feeds, I'll stick with Google Reader. The Firefox extension Sage is quite good if you only use one PC to read feeds.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 12:38 PM

But if enough of my friends go somewhere else, I'll end up going there too

That's, I think, the reason the migrations to GreatestJournal, JournalFen, InsaneJournal, et cetera...aren't going to work. It's a question of critical mass. Not enough people are going to leave to cause other people to decide to leave; and even if they did, there's no one destination to move to.

the glory days of Livejournal as a place where people met and wrote and journaled and connected with one another are over, and Livejournal has passed zenith and is moving towards nadir.

You may be right. And yes, that's very sad. And disappointing, really.

Comment from: Joshua Macy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 1:35 PM

I think you grossly overestimate how many people are going to care about this, and so how big the exodus is going to be. LJ has reached mass-market numbers of users (nearly a million accounts that have updated within the past 30 days), and like most mass-market purveyors they care somewhere between squat and diddley over the handful of truefen who are going to be looking for some more slash or porn friendly place to have an online community and the even smaller number of people who though they're not interested in slash or porn themselves will jump because of the principle of the thing.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 1:49 PM

It's not numbers, Joshua. It's demographics. Just like in most mass media.

The vast majority of LJ users are people I have no interest in. The vast majority of the people I do have an interest in have some interest in this issue.

If LJ loses the creative types (whether fan/slashficcers or not) to other sites where they figure they'll have an easier time, that won't mean they'll lose the "post a pic of yourself to apply to join our awesome community" kids. But I'll have no interest in reading them.

And as populations shift to places where they feel more at home, and their friends shift to continue to stay in contact with them, the core communities that are the strength of LJ will decline. Between that and the fact that LJ honestly is losing ground to more modern social networking sites are factors which will lead to LJ's inevitable decline.

This is not the decision that will kill Livejournal. But it's going to push its descent and nadir that little bit more quickly, and it's a really bad decision right at a time when LJ needs to be maximizing the ways they're a better alternative than MySpace or Facebook or their kin.

Needless to say, I stand by my contention.

Comment from: Remus Shepherd [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 1:58 PM

Next week or next month, it'll be copyright infringement.

Prescient. About a week or two ago, the very popular mightygodking's journal was erased because he posted spoilers of Harry Potter book 7.

I have a paid account at LJ, but I will not be renewing it. I'll keep using the service until a critical mass of my friends leave, but they're not getting any more of my money.

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 2:31 PM

I do not agree with the statement that "what they really mean, to be frighteningly blunt, is we don't want slashfic here." I don't think this is about fandom at all. Yes, fandom is being affected by it, but so are actual pedophiles. Did you read about the guy in California who had created a website for some sort of "girl love" association? Have you noticed how many school shootings turn out to have been done by people with MySpace pages?

I believe that SixApart is taking steps to prevent pedophiles from using Livejournal to get together. They're doing it with too wide a brush and hitting some fans, but I don't think the fans are their motivation. They're just the ones who are shouting about it.

Comment from: Michael Weaver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 2:51 PM

I'm with you on this one. I use LiveJournal regularly, and I've been there for years. Mostly I just do essays, reviews, and rambling, but I've done the occasional fiction piece. No-one really reads any of it, and I don't mind that much. But I doubt I'll write more fiction on there, nor will I get a paid account. Not unless there's a drastic change in management pretty soon.

Because even though I don't care whether people read what I write, I do care about keeping it live, so they can read it if they want. What happens if that broad brush they're using strikes my account at random? Then I'll lose everything I have on there, fiction or not. Even with it backed up, it's still wiped off the map. I don't think it's likely, since I don't write anything close to what they're targeting. Still, they've acted on rumor and impulse before, so what's to keep them from doing it again?

I'll keep the account to keep in touch with folks, but a paid server's looking really good right about now.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 5:35 PM

Montykins wrote:

Have you noticed how many school shootings turn out to have been done by people with MySpace pages?

You show me a highschooler that doesn't have a blog somewhere on MySpace, Xanga, or LJ, and I'll show you someone who's being raised by parents who believe computers are the devil. Even kids who don't own computers have these accounts somewhere.

I only point this out because your sentence seems to imply that having a MySpace page is a condition to shooting, whereas I'd argue that in HS having a MySpace page is a condition to having a pulse, and committing a shooting has no correlation.

***

As for the rest, I'm with The Right Reverend Wishlish - you get what you pay for. If you want to post content you even think might be questionable on a free or cheap site, pony up the cash to post on a site that will accept it... or set up an email list and trade your fanfic that way, the way we all did before that gol durn intraweb thinger was invented in the first place ;)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 6:20 PM

I only signed on at LiveJournal to keep up with people I'd met here in the comments at Websnark. Then I found some of my pals from #drwhochat and alt.drwho.creative, and a few of my buddies from '80s Moebius Theatre, and I joined some Doctor Who fan communites and have recently returned to prose fanfiction after several years' hiatus, and... yeah, what you said.

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 9:07 PM

I only point this out because your sentence seems to imply that having a MySpace page is a condition to shooting, whereas I'd argue that in HS having a MySpace page is a condition to having a pulse, and committing a shooting has no correlation.

Yes; I should have been more clear. The problem from the corporate point of view is that no sooner does somebody shoot up a school than there are news articles linking "MySpace" and "Shooter". There's no meaningful correlation, but that doesn't stop the columnists from calling it "another MySpace killing", and that makes the owners unhappy.

Also -

or set up an email list and trade your fanfic that way, the way we all did before that gol durn intraweb thinger was invented in the first place

Email? Bah! Get yourself a mimeograph machine!

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 9:28 PM

This has just gotten Interesting. Brad Fitzpatrick, creator of LiveJournal, respected among the same people who are singing pirate shanties and cursing Six Apart, has just announced he's leaving LJ--for Google, say the technogossip rags.

Note to self--keep my LiveJournal backed up at all times. If it dies, I'm not losing my creative input.

Comment from: Sandalphon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 11:40 PM

Not to be pedantic, but even using a paid service-- be it a blog host, ISP, or what have you--won't necessarily protect your account and the content therein from deletion. Paid services, just like free ones, have terms of use, and as Eric says, they have the legal right to give you the boot without recourse. Sometimes this is morally and legally justified, as in the case of accounts unabashedly promoting child porn (with actual as opposed to fictional subjects), illegal goods and services, libel, terrorism, or extremist hate; sometimes it isn't (as with the fen stuff). Regardless, "I paid for your service" plus a dollar will get you a can of soda.

Comment from: LurkerWithout [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 6, 2007 11:50 PM

You know I DO subscribe to the paid users com and I can't recall any TOS changes being posted there...

Comment from: Polychrome [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 7, 2007 1:41 AM

One of the people who was upset about this actually took the time to think about things pointed out that this is really a customer service issue not a free speech issue. LJ said that they would amend the ToS to make things clearer after the fist incident. As LurkerWithout pointed out, there have been no changes to the ToS. Adding to the ire involved was the fact that one of the persons banned had just bought a permanent account in a sale that was part of their attempt to make up for the first screwup with the proceeds going to various charities. Charities which turned out to be closely tied the venture capitalists who funded SixApart's purchase of LJ.

Comment from: idonotlikepeas [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 7, 2007 10:38 AM

Hokay. Speaking as an LJ volunteer, there's a lot of stuff I can't say because I signed an NDA. But I can say a few things since they've been said publicly already.

It's not about slash. Honest to God, it isn't. It /is/ about what SixApart has decided is OK on their service. And one of the things they've decided is not OK is pictures of children getting it on, whether they're photographs or drawings. Can I guarantee that porn won't be OK next month? Of course not. I have no decision-making power. But all of the people I've talked to on staff have been pretty desperate to make that distinction.

People in fandom have an understanding about Harry Potter slashfic that includes the idea that a drawing of Harry Potter and Snape having sex is OK. People in the outside world (including people in government who make laws and people who would be on juries) do not necessarily have this understanding. Without making a statement about who is right, 6A pretty much has to get rid of that stuff because if the site gets shut down, nobody gets to talk there at all anymore. Making a stand is great, but you have to do it the right way; writing to your congresspeople, for instance. Now /writing/ a /story/ about the same kind of thing has much better legal protection for whatever reason.

Nothing about copyright complaints has changed either; we're processing those exactly the same way as we always did (although people may be paying more attention to suspensions for a while because of this). I'd prefer it if there had been warnings and if the policy had been more clear, but I think you're being overly alarmist about what this actually means. It's not an attack on creativity; it's very narrowly targeted at underage sex.

I'd also like to note that even if your account is suspended you can still pull all your entries via a convenient journal export tool, so unless content is actually deleted you can still get it. It's not a bad idea to back up your journal, because heaven knows what kind of technical glitches may happen, but 6A isn't going to randomly delete peoples' entries unless something legally requires them to.

Comment from: The Weasel King [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 7, 2007 12:50 PM

Prescient. About a week or two ago, the very popular mightygodking's journal was erased because he posted spoilers of Harry Potter book 7.

Actually, that's not quite true. Bird's an old RL acquaintance of mine, and straight from the horse's mouth, what got him deleted was *NOT* the Harry Potter spoilers. What got him deleted was a DMCA takedown notice from his "improved_archie" community, in which people re-captioned Archie comics.

And the first DMCA takedown notice on I_A was bullshit, but he complied immediately. The DMCA takedown notice on Harry Potter was unambiguously complete bullshit, but he complied in their requested timeframe. The second DMCA takedown notice on I_A was over a equally noninfringing parodic work, but that doesn't matter: Livejournal's policy is apparently that three DMCA notices mean you're out, period, regardless of the validity of the allegations, because at that point you're a pain in their ass.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 7, 2007 6:33 PM

I have a Live Journal account just to piggy-back other comments made in a few journals, or to make some comments in Websnark's Live-Journal entry, but I'm not going to make my own journal entries. Journal entries are meant to be kept private, eyes only kind of deals. I guess I don't quite get the whole "hey, here's what happened to me" kind of day.

Journal-essays, I do get. Which is why I like Websnark so much. But I don't get a lot of the other stuff.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 8, 2007 10:01 PM

I hesitate to comment, mainly because I have been studiously avoiding the matter. I'm still not sure that erasing the fanfic demographic entirely would significantly hurt LJ--there are a lot of communities that build up on such sites, many of which none of us have probably even heard of. I'm also not seeing how there's a target now painted on fanfic (or pornography, or potential copyright infringement).

I use LJ to keep up with several groups of friends and acquaintances, but I honestly wouldn't be traumatized if my journal disappeared--I've hardly written anything important on it.

Comment from: Alexandra Erin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 18, 2007 11:10 PM

Well, I picked either the wrong time to join Livejournal with a sexually (im)/(ex)plicit ficition blog on LJ, didn't I? :P Especially as the story deals with such complexities as non-human characters that age and mature at different rates, and an immortal spirit in an adult body that has only been around for seventeen years...

The first time I read this entry, I kind of scoffed at the cynical predictions... but then I thought, "But... wouldn't it suck?"

So I set up a WP blog and copied everything over, at first thinking, "I'll just mirror everything here so that if somebody decides to be a dick, I'll be prepared."

Then I thought, "But having two unrelated comment tracks for each story would be weird."

And then I thought, "I can have donation links and Project Wonderful on my own blog."

And then I thought, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

Anyway, I guess it's probably inevitable that the legitimately creepy people will try to scuttle into the gray areas, forcing them to be painted black and creating new ones, until finally somebody says, "Okay, that's it!" and we get a truly draconian zero tolerance policy.

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