Editorial -- Livejournal Tries Again to Placate Fans
Leva CygnetView all articles by Leva Cygnet
To recap, in late May, Livejournal originally incensed a sizable chunk of fandom by first suspending 500 communities based on complaints filed by "Warriors For Innocence," an organization with a stated goal of protecting children online and very questionable tactics and background. WFI is allegedly connected to rather despicably nasty Neo-nazi and religiously motivated hate groups.
The suspended communities and journals included a number of forums centered around fanworks of questionable taste, fans roleplaying villains with journals for said villains that were clearly labeled as fictitious, the journals of survivors of incest and rape, a community discussing the novel Lolita, and assorted other more-or-less innocent parties. They also suspended some legitimate pedophiles but a significant percentage of the users impacted were in no way, shape, or form child predators.
Fandom's reaction was utterly predictable to anyone familiar with typical fan behavior: fans organized letter, e-mail, fax, and comment writing campaigns, signed petitions, adopted a fight song, posted images of varying degrees of work-safeness, and contacted major and minor media web organizations. Since fans have been organizing campaigns since Star Trek: TOS got canceled, with varying degrees of success, the swift and efficient way which fans organized wasn't even a surprise to this member of fandom.
The "user revolt" made a number of high-profile media sites including Cnet and caused enough traffic on Livejournal's servers to crash them. Eventually, Livejournal relented, undeleted the suspended journals, and apologized.
Fans were assured, at various times, by various important people who worked for Livejournal, that fans would be warned before being deleted in the future for "questionable" cases of adult content. Note that no official statement of this policy was made that I'm aware of, but assurances were posted in the journals of various prominent fans in response to fan questions, by high ranking LJ staffers. Here's one example.
Subsequently, Livejournal had a lifetime account sale. Users willing to cough up $150 could buy a permanent membership. Livejournal assured fans that their concerns would be addressed, though they even noted in the posts discussing the sale that their policies would not be clarified before the sale was over. The term "buying a pig in a poke" came to mind when I saw this post.
A few weeks later Livejournal deleted two artists for "child pornography" or "lack of artistic merit" depending on which response from Livejournal one believed.
Look, I've seen both pics though I'm not going to link to them -- you'll have to find them yourself if you're really curious. Neither clearly represents kiddies; both were ambiguous as to age. They were absolutely tasteless in this fan's opinion, but not clearly underage.
Ponderosa's art has Harry Potter and Snape in a pornographic scene that made me want to scoop my eyeballs out with a spork but I'll allow that Harry Potter could arguably be an adult in it. My reaction was that he looked under eighteen, but others have argued, long and strenuously, that he doesn't. Ponderosa addresses the subject here, and also provides some of her rational for drawing chan here. I can't say as I entirely agree with all of her comments, but I'll allow that she makes some interesting and thought-provoking points. I'd also like to note that she has been notably polite and graceful during this whole mess, even when Livejournal staffer Rachel stated, "I also read that she herself even commented over at greatest journal that it should have been pulled," and Ponderosa had said no such thing.
Elaboration's artwork was an equally eyebrow raising image of the Weasley twins. She states here that it was not intended to represent underage characters. Her art is very obviously influenced by anime and manga and, as I've noted before, this artistic style makes determining age difficult.
Despite the uncertain ages of the fictional people represented in the art, and the fact that Livejournal does allow porn representing over-18 characters, and in direct contrast with previous assurances by Livejournal staffers that users in questionable cases would be warned first, they were both immediately banned for life. Both artists were paying customers who (apparently) believed that what they were posting was allowed by Livejournal. Elaboration had a lifetime account and Ponderosa had been a paying customer since 2002.
Fan wank was immediate, loud, and contained many cat macros and protest icons. In turn, Livejournal's response was less than professional, which fed the fan uproar. Staffer Abe Hassan -- an engineer who's made policy statements on the lj_biz community -- publicly mocked fandom in a humor community. Even if his words were only joking, they were still showed very poor judgment. Vice president Anil Dash posted a rude comment with an unclear target on his blog; he later clarified that it wasn't aimed at fandom, but it was very easy to see why fandom (which was already in an uproar) took it to be a new insult. Meanwhile, Coffeechica, in a response to why pro-anorexia communities are allowed, indicated that "aspiring to be thin" was not against the TOS. Then, brilliantly, she responded to fan mockery on the snarky Livejournal community stupid_free (the purpose of which is to make fun of stupid things people say) and the user response was absolutely predictable. Meanwhile, Livejournal's president Brad Fitzpatrick resigned (he was hired by Google) and then called the art in question "child porn" in his journal, something that, at best, lacked tact given the fever heights that fan outrage had already reached.
Fandom's general collective complaints included that Livejournal was inconsistently enforcing the Terms of Service by allowing communities that encouraged violated the TOS by encouraging anorexia and some rather egregious examples of religiously sanctioned child abuse, among other examples, while banning the above-mentioned artists; that policies about what was and was not acceptable were extremely unclear; and that Livejournal employees from the top down missed the point on many issues and were not behaving in an appropriately professional fashion.
Livejournal's first post on the matter left a lot of questions unanswered, as fans indicate in the comments. 5,000 replies were made. (Note: Unless Livejournal has deleted the offending content, there are some not-safe-for-work images in the comments.
More fan wank promptly ensued.
Last night, August 13th, Livejournal posted the policy change which addresses at least some fan concerns. To wit, they:
1) Will be creating a single policy document that will be linked to in the footers on every page on the site. It's not done yet, but this is honestly the sort of document that takes some time. And, in truth, I don't want them to rush it.
2) They are making a policy distinction between photography and non-photographic art, and they state:
My personal opinion is that this is a fair policy -- and one that's been long overdue. They should have implemented this a few months ago, but at least it's in place now.
Additionally, Livejournal staffers have now started identifying themselves as employees when they respond to questions in the comments. Thank you, to Livejournal, for this. Before they started doing this it was never clear who was speaking and if they were actually responding on behalf of Livejournal.
As of posting time for this article, Elaboration's lifetime account had been restored but Ponderosa has not been unbanned. She indicates that she no longer wants to be a Livejournal customer so she may not have appealed. Can't say as I blame her.
Anyway, at this point, the status of the Great Livejournal Debacle is that:
1) Livejournal has clearly stated, beyond any shadow of any doubt, through actions and words, that they do not want pornographic art of minors on the site,be it drawn or photographic. I personally have no problems with this stand, and, in fact, it's a personal selling point for me remaining with Livejournal.
2) In cases of art where the age of the characters is uncertain, they'll warn first. Fair enough. An open question remains about what they'll deem "questionable" and how they'll determine age, but I would not be a bit surprised if they'll be a bit gunshy and err on the side of caution in the future.
3) They're working on a policy statement that will have a link on the bottom of every journal. If it's clear and concise, this will be a very good thing.
Additionally, I hope that Livejournal's employees have learned the value of professional behavior when making comments where the customers can see.
I will also note that Livejournal has some very valid legal concerns that smarter fans than I have discussed and my sense is that a significant segment of fandom does not want to admit that. Also, it's important to note that the US Federal Government is actively funding efforts to find obscenity online -- though they don't seem to have had much luck yet getting anything prosecuted and I'd venture the opinion that there might be better ways to use the grant money.
Based on the latest lj_biz post, and with a clear understanding of the issues at hand (which are so much bigger than fandom) regarding the legality of the issues I am not, yet, canceling my accounts, though I'm watching Livejournal with a keen eye for future stupidity. (Stupidity from a small but loud segment of fandom is a given, as anyone who's spent much time around fandom should know; if Livejournal wants fans as a customer base, dealing with fans while remaining polite themselves is all a part of the customer service game.) I also can't blame anyone who does cancel their accounts based on past treatment by Livejournl; after I saw Abe Hassan's post I very nearly deleted my accounts then and there.
I'm going to give them until my private journal's paid year runs out next spring before deciding if I really want to move. (See, I know the value of "private" versus "work" identities.) My "official" journal, ljcygnet, is a month to month paid account and I can cancel it at any time -- so I'll literally be taking it one month at a time.
Ultimately, even though I think the company has some serious issues that they must address, I like Livejournal. I like the platform itself, most of my friends are on it, and I'm not at all morally opposed to getting rid of the chan. It's the method and Livejournal's piss-poor customer service, the fact that Livejournal staffers have been patronizing and rude to their customers, and a general sense of Livejournal not getting the big picture that has left me very irritated.
With considerable wariness I'm going to give them one more chance. After all, the worst that they could do is delete me.
Note: Moderation is on, site-wide, at the moment as we were having some problems with really annoying trolls. Please rest assured that polite, on-topic comments (agreeing or disagreeing) will be released just as quickly as I can get to it. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Addendum posted 8/16/07: Livejournal's trend of astoundingly poor customer service continues unabated, with two artists given their first warning. On the surface, this is consistent with their promise to warn first in questionable cases -- except that as she indicates in her blog Vikingcarrot's artwork was an anime-style drawing with an age statement indicating that the character was overage and Cluegirl's warning was for something that she had already deleted so that she would be compliance with their new guidelines. Her blog is here; she has multiple posts on the matter.
As I've previously noted, anime/manga style artwork can give the illusion that characters are underage due to the fact that male characters are often drawn with a slightly feminized appearance. This is simply the style of the art and is not generally meant to represent underage characters. Manga novels with very adult content and characters drawn in the same style can be purchased right on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles and Waldenbooks and are legal.
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