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The Terrible Secret of Livejournal, part 3: what to do?

Thu 9 Aug 2007 by mskala Tags used: , , ,

Link to Part 1.

It should not be thought that Six Apart have completely clean hands here. I'm not by any means a big fan of Six Apart.  It's partly because I'm not a fan of Six Apart that I've left Livejournal and given up my paid account.  Nothing in the previous section should be taken as my saying that Six Apart are perfect.  I think they're basically doing the right thing, but what have they done wrong?

Six Apart should have done better

The "interests equals likes" thing was handled wrong.  Not only was it a mistake in the first place, but when it came to light, they tried to defend it.  They tried to say it made sense and it had always been the rule.  It really wasn't defensible.  As soon as it came to light that that was the standard someone had used, they should have publicly recanted it without attempting to claim that it was ever okay or legitimate.

Banning without warning.  I don't believe that was ever really a necessity.  If someone has posted illegal material and Six Apart officially knows about it, they have to remove that material, but they could do that without banning the account.  They should have issued warnings - especially because they had declared "warnings first" to be their policy.

Banning without notification.  It seems some people found out they were banned only when they tried to log in.  That's wrong.

Banning, and restoration of accounts, in secret.  There was no public acknowledgement of just who was banned, on what grounds, who was reinstated, when, and for what reasons.  That kind of secrecy makes the ban process look like some kind of Star Chamber.  It's very easy for everything to get out of hand when the most reliable source for specific information on what's happening, is the rumour mill.  If there were a page on the Livejournal site where you could see a list of all the usernames banned or reinstated in the last month with a one-line summary of the reason (e.g. "Posted picture of children engaging in explicit sex."), that would go a long way to reassuring everyone that the process was not being misused.

Eliminating the strikethrough.  I don't even understand exactly what this issue is about - again, the rumour mill is more reliable than the official channels, and that isn't saying much - but it appears that after the Strikethrough 07 debacle, someone had the brilliant idea that it wasn't the bans that upset fans, it was the strikethrough.  So they changed things to avoid striking through banned usernames, as if that would somehow be less offensive.  Bad idea.  As I said in my the law is not magic posting, people don't appreciate it when you try to play silly games with them to avoid the real issues.

Minor insults.  It feels like Six Apart doesn't take Livejournal seriously.  Livejournal isn't their priority.  The handling of the recent data centre power failure illustrated that beautifully - when trouble arrived, the problem-solving resources didn't go to Livejournal first.  There are, of course, technical issues behind that.  In particular, human effort isn't necessarily the limiting factor.  It takes some servers a long time to boot up no matter how much work you put into bringing them up.  Also, the people who were working on other services wouldn't necessarily have the skills to bring Livejournal back up even if they were assigned to that task.  It's not necessarily true that Livejournal went down for longer just because it's not considered important; it may be that it just unavoidably needed more time.  But the optics are bad, and there are a lot of other minor insults that are harder to explain away.  Six Apart has consistently sent the message that they don't take Livejournal users seriously and they don't value Livejournal users, and far too much of what they've said - and failed to say - in this recent series of episodes has contributed to that message.  Livejournal users now are disposed to see Six Apart as the enemy, even though, as I said in the previous section, Six Apart is a better friend of fandom than you think.

Update: on the "pro-anorexia" flap

Pro-anorexia is legal, even if it horrifies you.  Child pornography and copyright infringement are illegal, even if you like them.  Six Apart bans people for posting illegal things, when they're absolutely forced to, and attempts not to ban people for posting legal things.  Even if they were willing to ban legal but horrifying things, like pro-anorexia, that actually wouldn't be a good plan and you shouldn't advocate for it.

Six Apart has been very stupid in presenting a defence of pro-anorexia as being okay, instead of saying that it's legal and that's the end of the issue.  By even considering the question of whether pro-anorexia is okay in a moral or social-responsibility sense, they (first) invite argument on that point, which they will inevitably lose; and (second) allow people to think that illegal fandom material could be tolerated if it were argued to be okay in a moral and social-responsibility sense.  Six Apart should be directing attention to the law, saying that they'll follow the law and no other standard, and they should be refusing to engage in debate on the morality and social responsibility of hosting any given content.

Conclusion

I think both sides of this issue are trying hard not to acknowledge the terrible secret that a lot of fandom material really is illegal.  Six Apart doesn't acknowledge it because it would mean the end of their business.  Fandom doesn't want to acknowledge it because they refuse to think about it.  I think maybe we should start thinking about it.  We should start thinking about what the law actually says and the difference between what the law says and what we think is right.

Fandom people, if forced to admit that there's a conflict between fandom and the law, seem to think that Six Apart should take a stand against the unjust law.  That would actually be a really bad idea.  Six Apart doesn't have the power to change the law; they would go down, and they would make things a lot worse for fandom and for social networking Web sites in the process.  There's room for someone to take a stand, but it'll have to be fandom people who take the stand, not Six Apart.  It'll have to be you.

Defend your idea of what's right.  Show the mainstream, by example, that you're not a freaky pervert.  Tell your legislators that you oppose the child pornography and intellectual property laws.  Demand that those laws be repealed.  Accept the risks of taking that stand.  Accept that some people will think you're a freaky pervert, just for being a member of fandom at all before you even start talking about changing the law.  Find real hosting somewhere else (not on Livejournal or any other ready-made site) for your questionable material, and face the fact that you may get in trouble for it.  Use a little discretion about what you post in public.  Understand that you're not anonymous.  Join the Freenet project.  Join the EFF and Peacefire.  Stop deluding yourself that this is about other people instead of you.

Someone's got to do those things.  Will you?  Or will you just keep whining?

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