Random (randomsome1) wrote,

(hoping for) a fistful of change

First things first: I am biased. I am perhaps less biased than some, because I can almost make sense of the actions of all sides and I’ll mock all involved should their lack of logic displease me, but I am still biased. I believe that wrongs have been done and I believe that it’s for the greater good should I illuminate them in a long-winded, link-laden, and mostly chronological fashion. By no means should this be considered an all-inclusive resource and I fully intend to add to the mass as I find and remember more things, but be warned: Link-hopping from here will literally kill hours of your time and way too many of your brain cells.

So without further ado . . . The long and really f’n long of Strikethrough ’07.

The windup to Strikethrough started around May 25th, 2007, as this forward was circulated among multiple Livejournal users and communities:
    LJ is being pressured to purge right now. This isn't LJ's fault, so please don't stand up and beat your breast against them.

    Because of the recent FanLib thing and the wank over the MJ figurine, fandom is in a pretty bright public spotlight right now, and it's not that great for us.

    Outside forces are pressuring LJ to delete journals and ban users. It's been going on for about 12 hours now. It is FANNISH people who are under the microscope.

    If you have the words 'rape' 'rapefic' 'incest' or 'underage' in your LJ interests and are able to do so, EDIT YOUR USERINFO to remove them. Any variations of these should be removed, too. If I were you, I'd get rid of anything like 'wincest' or 'malfoycest' or the like. Also 'chan' -- because as soon as these mainstream folks figure out what 'chan' is, they're gonna come down on us.

    If you have underage or 'cest fic posted public in your journal, I'd lock it. (This is my Yin's personal recommendation and not that of anyone 'official.') Any squeeing over 'cest fics or fic with any underage characters should be kept behind a lock, too.

    This is not going to be a long-term thing. A little hiding and editing of our interests while the black cloud passes over, and we should be fine.

    If you want, this can be reposted in your journals, but PLEASE filter out RL people and folks who will make a public stink about it. Someone risked their job to let the LJ fen know what was going on, and we want to keep the fact that we have this info as quiet as possible.

    The LJ outages today almost certainly are because of this. It is NOT LJ's fault -- LJ has almost always been welcoming and wonderful to LJ fandom. Please be sure to emphasize this if you pass it on. If you know any names of who knew what or who leaked what, KEEP THEM TO YOURSELF.

Some people covered their butts as a just-in-case measure. Some people, myself included, didn’t take it seriously. We dismissed the warning because of its wording . . . but were proven wrong.

On May 29th, users found that hundreds of communities and users were suspended because their interests lists had included terms like “rape,” “incest,” “underage,” “child sex,” and “child rape.” A list of the struckthrough, as reported by pedoblogtracker.blogspot.com (possibly containing malware), may be found here, and included RP journals for villainous characters, personal journals of rape and incest survivors, BDSM fetishists, and a community for discussing Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita. Within hours, the proverbial finger had been pointed at a small anti-pedophile (if pro-White power and far-right wing) group called Warriors for Innocence—and innocence_jihad, a community dedicated to opposing the bannings, was created. And by May 30th, the community had dark_christian elaborated on innocence_jihad’s outing of Warriors for Innocence as a right-wing hate group.

As could be expected, the outcry was tremendous, complete with gratuitous trolling and spamming, huge text, walls of macros, and multiple copy&pastings/variations of a song from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Two days later, on May 31st of 2007, Barak Berkowitz (barakb25), then-CEO of Six Apart (since stepped down, Sept. 14th, 2007), publicly apologized for how the entire mess was handled—but not until after talking to the news source CNET, which created more discontent among users. At this time, the vast majority of the banned members (as cited by pedoblogtracker) were reinstated.

One notices now that the vast majority of said bloggers are no longer on Livejournal, for one reason or another.

Life went on. On June 20th, barakb25 posted in lj_biz about the upcoming permanent account sale. It is to be noted that this happened just days after his public apology and assurances that everything would be all right with fandom. He ended this post with the comment that “While there is still some work to do on edge cases and implementation approaches to ensure consistent application of policies, I do believe we can provide you a good deal of clarity on the policies we intend to implement before the end of the day in California today (Wed.).”

The clarifications came on Thursday—July 19th. burr86 posted twice to lj_biz, with one post being on illegal and harmful activity and the next being “more clarifications.” These clarifications showed a change of what-for—underage smut might be a bannable offense, but only if it didn’t do ok by the Miller test. burr86 admitted that the test’s standards were all extremely subjective, but flat-out stated that “our policy prohibits obscene images of minors in graphic sexual contexts.”

However, the law still allows for art. As vorpal_blade explains here, works featuring children having sex are not necessarily obscene or child pornography. sunflower1343 also brought a citation of the somewhat recent case Ohio Supreme Court in State vs. Tooley, dealing with how content—either fic or art—involving fictional minors must be judged obscene before being deemed illegal, and that kiddie porn sans kiddies isn’t kiddie porn at all:
    "The state still must prove all elements beyond a reasonable doubt, including that a real child is depicted, to support a conviction for possession of child pornography under R.C. 2907.322. In a state prosecution, the inference will not override the actual content of the image. If the evidence establishes that the defendant possessed an image generated without the use of a child, the defendant should be acquitted. Despite any appearance or representation, if no actual minor is depicted, there is no violation of R.C. 2907.322.”

On July 20th, burr86 brought further clarifications to violet_quill’s journal about what was and wasn’t all right. This discourse was soothing to many worried fans—but his specifics proved to be meaningless in less than two months as the next set of bannings started.

Friday, August 3rd marked the beginning of Boldthrough, as paid account user ponderosa121 and permanent account user elaboration were both suspended without warning for sexually explicit Harry Potter fanart posted at pornish_pixies. Neither had posted age disclaimers on their works; ponderosa121 later claimed neither right nor wrong in the matter and that she had no particular age in mind for the artwork, though elaboration claimed innocence, stating that she does not draw chan. The name Boldthrough replaced Strikethrough because somewhere in that month and a half, livejournal’s coding was tweaked so the names of banned users wouldn’t show up as struck through as they were before. Also, the bolded users were suspended rather than just deleted, so they and every post and comment they’ve ever made on Lj were erased from public view. To say some users expressed displeasure to find that years worth of RP journals and/or comments in personal journals had been wiped out would be a gross understatement.

Users flooded every open post in news again. Again, there was no response. But on the next day, burr86 added fuel to the fire by posting a comment in efw about the deletions. Many found this action offensive, especially as Lj staff had still not come through to explain the most recent round of bannings—and the mod of efw found the subsequent explosion of comments to be offensive, deleted said post, and posted a complaint of her own.

Finally, on the seventh, a new general staff account posted in lj_biz about Illegal and Harmful Content Policy Clarifications. Clarification-wise, this post was an utter trainwreck. It stated that “From reading the recent comments there's a lot of misinformation regarding the two users who were permanently suspended on Friday,” but what this misinformation was never got clarified. It stated that paid accounts are non-refundable, though this law site says otherwise. It linked to a definition of child pornography which flat-out stated that This definition does not apply to depictions that are drawings, cartoons, sculptures, or paintings depicting minors or adults. It stated that Lj staff knew the difference between fanworks and child pornography—a statement they contradicted later on in the post, that staffers (particularly rachel) contradicted in correspondence with users, and that was proven false in the following days. It then outright refused to update the TOS to illustrate these more restrictive terms—which is illegal.

The post’s five thousand comment cap was reached in under twenty-four hours.

What probably sent this mess into its out-of-control spiral was Livejournal’s refusal to police all content equally. Though the most recent round of bannings had been done in response to visual representation of possibly underage characters, users who reported sexually explicit fanfics featuring definitely underage characters were told the works did “not violate our policies on acceptable content”. And even though the TOS says users are not allowed to “promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities, promote physical harm or injury against any governmental entity, group or individual, or promote any act of cruelty to animals,” (XVI:13) and though the community pro_self_harm was suspended, Lj refused to do the same for the pro-anorexia community—even going as far as to defend it as helpful. Lj staff member coffechica was quoted multiple times specifically defending pro_anorexia (which happens to be the largest pro-anorexia—not anorexia education—site on the internet)—claiming that giving bad advice is not illegal and at one point saying that “it's not illegal to aspire to be thin.” This comment was featured at the community stupid_free.

Users’ response to this attitude and the uneven application of the TOS was near-unanimous disbelief. thevelvetsun’s post on August 8th calling for a signing-off on users’ disgust for this treatment—viewed by many as condoning a mental disorder with a 20% fatality rate in a community that openly encouraged children under the age of thirteen to break the site's rules to join—got more than a thousand replies in just a few days. Some fandom members saw this as a reason to lash out at everything else objectionable, with a number of posts at innocence_jihad pointing out problematic communities and users, and a number of responses trying to shut down those out to trample on others’ not-censored status.

Other problems came with the heavy implication that the suspended fanartists were reported to NCMEC as child pornographers, with rachel out and out plagiarizing other users’ comments, and with how users pulled more citations of communities that promote child abuse which have been left untouched, even though they’ve been reported and even though their principles have led to the deaths of real children—not fictional ones.

On August 11th, self-deleted user bad_wolf_bitch reported that the California State Attorney General intended to get involved due to a number of customer service complaints against Lj, and bubble_blunder started a (since friends_locked) mailing campaign to the higher-ups and staff of Lj and Six Apart. The number of fandom members who lambaste bad_wolf_bitch for drawing legal attention to fandom (and who apparently see themselves as doing something illegal in writing/drawing for fandom) should be noted, as their collective tone quickly becomes one of shrill hysteria, illuminating their misconception that fanworks are illegal (they’re not unless you try to sell them), their certainty that a customer service issue with a company will bring down the wrath of unrelated copyright holders (no matter that a number of copyright holders have already had their say on adult-oriented fanworks), and their belief that they’ll be (insert gratuitously terrible fate here) should t3h Fedz see what they’re doing on their livejournals.

Meanwhile, further investigation brought out tales of how a real video of a racially-motivated execution is ok, and that obedientgirl’s trolling communities with possibly real-person under-aged porn & Pokemon porn, where the characters are between ten and thirteen, is all right as well (August 12th, found at the genderqueer community). The lack of condemnation of these types of posts by Livejournal staff brought about rampant speculation that Livejournal was just deleting homoerotic works. obedientgirl’s suspension (by August 21st) told some that Lj wasn’t just acting out of homophobia—but then again, multiple users reported the one real-life picture as true child porn.

By August 14th, the new two-strikes system had gone into effect. HP fanartist cluegirl received her first warning for fanart she’d taken down the week before. Likewise, vikingcarrot also received a warning for her artwork at pornish_pixies. Her communication with Lj staff is found here. She’d changed a character’s stated age from sixteen to eighteen in a f_locked post on pornish_pixies—but the abuse determined that the change itself wasn’t a problem; instead, “the subject himself appears much younger than 18.” Thus, Lj’s staff has determined themselves to be art critics of a much more insightful caliber than the artist themselves.

Again, the barrage of questions maxed out the comments in a number of posts at lj_biz. This time communication was kept between staff and particular users, leaving the rest of us to wonder what the hell was going on.

Once the initial storm had died down in lj_biz, “sponsored” Pepsi advertisements (which were visible to all users) cropped up in the news post on August 17th—though as per bradfitz’s September 30th, 2006 post says, paid users are not supposed to see ads of any kind, including sponsored stuff.
    don't worry, we (at least most of us?) realize sponsorships are the same as ads. and we remember which account levels see ads and which don't.
Many users knew that Livejournal's indoctrination of ads and advertising has been a steady process under Six Apart, remembered how barackb25 tried to smooth their ruffled feathers before the paid account sale, and cried foul. Other users demanded to know why changes to the TOS were hidden in the less publicized lj_biz, rather than put out for all users as news-worthy. A good number of users also spammed news with the free Pepsi “v-gift” ads in protest, effectively causing Livejournal to DDOS itself—and by August 28th, an apology was issued to paid users, and users received the new option to disable sponsored gifts.

After August 17th, things got quieter. Disgruntled users still stirred, shuffled about, transplanted themselves, suggested the creation of new services entirely, created massive links lists, and swore profusely, and maintainers at pornish_pixies kept busy locking posts, deleting posts, and verifying the age of their users. A few staffers continued to hold conversations with individual users, but in news and lj_biz there was silence. The one-on-one conversations, while well-intentioned, have since proven to be problematic as well.

On August 25th, pornish_pixies mod femmequixotic posted the new rules as she’d gleaned them from conversations with Lj staff. She and bubble_blunder both stated that the staff of Lj/Six Apart were no longer communicating with them in regards to their unanswered questions, as rachel had promised on August 17th to get back to femmequixotic about these questions, but never did.

And on August 29th, liz_marcs posted her conversations with Lj abuse prevention member Alice on whether or not having a hotlink to potentially illegal material would be grounds for banning, with emphasis on a link changing after its being posted. Alice, speaking for livejournal, said that users should check all their links on a regular basis to be sure that none have changed—an impossible feat for many heavy-duty linkers. In this case, it’s easy to see both sides: Lj said that linking to illegal things is bad, and that they’ll use a different warning system (where strikes will not apply) should they believe the user didn’t intend to link to illegal material. But from a user’s standpoint, the only way to be sure of a safe link is to not link at all, ever; and in light of Lj’s previous bannings and suspensions, one finds it hard to trust their collective judgement.

On August 30th, dogemperor (who reports that Warriors for Innocence may still be behind the current Lj bannings and who remains vocally against the child abuse promoting communities trainupachild and babywise) got a response from Lj staff regarding the abuse reports against trainupachild and babywise. In the response, Livejournal contradicts itself again—this time saying that its abuse team has no grounds for making judgements about what is and isn’t legal, and that linking to books and sites that promote child abuse is all right, no matter what liz_marcs was told. dogemperor went on in the comments of the post to explain how California law involving the mandatory reporting of child abuse—and how Lj has effectively blown off dogemperor’s concerns—may have just put Six Apart in deep legal shit.

Most recently, on September 3rd, users’ multiple complaints to the BBB were addressed. Chris Vail (representing himself as General Counsel for Six Apart) defended the company’s actions by saying absolutely everything that was deleted without warning was “related to child pornography, pedophilia,” and so on. This blatantly libels the RP journals, the incest and rape survivors, and the Lolita community, clearly shows Lj’s lack of differentiation between fanworks and child pornography, and makes it exceptionally plain that Lj’s staff did not take any users seriously when they complained about being repeatedly called pedophiles and child molesters. Vail also did not address complaints of news not being directed to the userbase at news, did not address Lj’s warnings of vikingcarrot or of cluegirl, and did not address complaints about burr86’s statements in efw.

It seems this wreck is far from over.

Most of us understand that Six Apart is (at least theoretically) trying to take responsibility for its content and keep itself safe from lawsuits. Should someone take them to court, no matter how frivolous the reason, they automatically lose—not the case, but thousands of dollars in legal expenses. No matter the number of users that’ve joined fandom_counts, the court costs from one lawsuit to a major company (the average was $30,000, as quoted to me by a Cedar Point rep. a few years ago) could still outweigh the gains from keeping this vocal, somewhat feral segment of its customer base.

One wonders if this wave of bad press has factored into their calculations. One wonders if Six Apart expected people to find links to and pick apart their promises, contradictions, and commentary; if they expected a full dissection of the Miller test; if they expected people to find how the charities they were promoting were really closely tied to the company itself. One wonders if they clearly grasped the nature of what they were dealing with.

Overall, there has been much discontent with the shifting policies, outright lies and hypocrisy, lack of communication, and accusations of child pornography and pedophilia. A number of users have left for other journaling sites, such as Insanejournal, Greatestjournal, or Journalfen. A number of other users have declared themselves sick of the entire mess and have repeatedly told the dissenters to STFU. In these cases, it appears that the point has been missed: Had Livejournal been clear and upfront about what it would and would not allow to begin with rather than hedging about with loophole-ridden legalese (“No underage sexuality in artistic works, period. If you have a question about a particular thing's status then ask,” versus “It’s probably okay, but only if it’s not obscene, and this says what’s obscene by undefined community standards as not set in this site which also says that art does not apply”) all of this mess would have been averted. Had they not tried to stifle all naysayers with the label of “child pornographers,” then things wouldn’t have gotten nearly as ugly within fandom. And had they responded to frantic fen within a reasonable period of time, then things wouldn’t have escalated to the point that entire communities and movements were formed to oppose them.

So to the naysayers: No, sorry. We can not forget. We can not accept. We can not let go. I understand that it is harder to educate than it is to condemn . . . but if one must speak of things in terms of morals, one must understand that the fastest fix is by far the least effective. Banning without warning and without cause to "protect the children" has created nothing but months of trouble. No matter the label Livejournal has repeatedly slapped them with, the people speaking out here are not a bunch of pedophiles fiending for their child porn. They're offended artists and people concerned with the implications of censorship. The majority of the entire kerfluffle centers around customer service and running a business with a modicum of good sense, and how Lj has made a giant trainwreck of such.

What should alarm people here is the classic slippery slope. Yes, Livejournal is attempting to take responsibility for its content, in an extremely uneven fashion—but where is the line drawn between art of fictional characters and real-life victimization? No one in their right mind believes an action in a novel equates to the same action in real life—if that were true, yours truly would be a mass murderer multiple times over. Yet the standards for visual representation are different. One supposes this is because a child can understand a picture more readily than a big block of text—but as I’ve said here, the average child won’t understand a dirty picture unless it’s explained to them. And in this, it's no different from written artworks—or possibly even less problematic, as a good smut writer will let the reader know how things feel, thus flat-out saying that it's supposed to be a good thing, where the art just has two naked people with indicative-of-who-knows-what facial expressions. Does Harry look happy? No, Harry looks sick. He's drooling all over himself and his butt's leaking.

The only thing an average child will be sure of in this is that Harry Potter is not real. I'd even wager that they'd understand the difference between a real-life murder and one in a book, and wouldn't think the author of said book was a murderer because of it.

And should the proverbial children (of which we must be thinking) be romping about unsupervised on the tubes of the internet, and make it past filters and warnings and blocks and into the meaty bits of pornish_pixies to find Snape with his fingers up age-tag-free Harry’s bum . . . then I would go as far as to say that the problem is not Six Apart’s, but the parents’.

But in a society that refuses to accept personal responsibility while demanding that instant fix, the frivolous lawsuit (for scarring little Johnny’s eyes and warping his view of sexuality forevermore) may still be eminent.

But in a society that eschews personal responsibility, the lawsuit will come anyway. It’s just a matter of when. The argument is thus circular; the danger can never be averted without social reconstruction. Pretending this fix will cure all is the logical equivalent of forcing a normal woman into a burqua to “protect” her, then putting her in the heart of a city where honor killings and rapes are daily occurrences. The danger has not changed, though it may be averted for a time if that person or entity is lucky.

Should Six Apart be an entity concerned with actually protecting real live children, whether it be from offensive images, sites that encourage them to starve themselves, or sites that promote hating and killing their neighbors, then they would move as such—promoting an even enforcement of the TOS and to-the-point discourses. But Six Apart is a company, a business. No matter the charities they espouse, their primary concern is making money. Simply put, they don’t care unless it looks like they’ll lose major sources of revenue or be sued. Unless those on LiveJournal who oppose this policy change can demonstrate that their economic value is greater than other parts of the communities, LiveJournal would see no reason to take them especially seriously, the copy&pasted knee-jerk robot responses shall stay on office clipboards, and the censorship shall continue.

For what it’s worth, here’s to my time, content, and revenue going elsewhere. randomsome1 @ insanejournal is up, running, and pretty funny-lookin'. But it works, and Squeaky the admin is made of fully transparent win and awesome, so that’s where I’ll be updating.

*sings pirate song for good measure, in a terrible and off-key way*
Tags: attack of the massive linkage, badness, insanity, ohshit it's meta, strikethrough '07, wank, y helo thar metafandom
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