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On wank
So, this whole LJ versus fandom thing then?

For anyone who has somehow managed to miss all this, here's a very brief recap. An artist posted a picture of Severus Snape felating Harry Potter, for which his LiveJournal got permanently suspended. This then led to wank, drama, drama, wank, and more drama.

Firstly, the picture itself: I haven't actually seen it, but from what I've heard of it, I doubt I'd have a problem with it. I can't see how particularly hurts anyone, so even though I have no interest in such pictures, I'd happily let it stand on the grounds of free speech.

Of course, LiveJournal isn't governed by my moral principles; it's governed by the laws of the USA and the state of California. And they say that child porn is anything that:

(A) depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse, or sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex; and
(B) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

Now I'm certainly no lawyer, but based on my reading, I'd say that the picture in question is, at best, legally ambiguous. I don't know what would happen if this particular case was brought to trial. Possibly it would be determined that Harry Potter in the image did not appear to be a minor. Possibly it would be determined that the picture had serious artistic value. Or possibly not.

With this in mind, I certainly can't fault LJ in their decision to suspend the account. Protecting people's rights to post morally- and legally-ambiguous pictures of Snarry porn (which is also probably a copyright violation, remember) does not seem worth risking a potentially nasty lawsuit over to me.

(See also this post from synecdochic who is far more informed about the legalities than I could ever hope to be.)

(As an aside, I don't think it's a good law. However, I do have some sympathy with the legislators here. I can't imagine that writing laws could be easy. There are always going to be grey areas with any law. And what if the same bit of wording that could catch this bit of cross-generational Harry Potter slash art also catches something else which could actually lead to actual sexual abuse of an actual child? I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be able to write a law that could unambiguously catch anything "bad" while leaving anything "good" untouched.)

That said, though, I don't think that LiveJournal/Six Apart have handled this issue particularly well. The communication hasn't been good, and a lot of the policies aren't coming across as particularly clear. I can certainly understand why people are upset, and why people are fearful that they might be next, even if they don't think they've done anything wrong.

However, it does seem to be turning, in part, into a bit of a witch-hunt. There seem to be elements from within fandom who are eager to find fault in everything that LJ does or says. People doing big write-in campaigns and then complaining when they receive form answers, for instance, is particularly silly. Of course LJ are doing some things wrong, but equally of course they're doing some things right. Many people are just looking as hard as possible for the bad and ignoring the good at the moment. (here's someone trying to focus on the positive.)

I also particularly dislike the slippery slope arguments that people are using, saying that while it may just be porn involving pictures of children now, possibly it will be $other_thing next! Slippery slope arguments are dangerous, people. If you start using slippery slope arguments, then before you know it you'l be errecting straw-men and making ad hominem attacks!

However, some people have been compelled to move from LiveJournal, and I don't have a problem with that. I'd never want to stop people from making a stand for what they believe or from leaving somewhere they were no longer comfortable with. The one thing that I absolutely cannot fathom, though, is why people seem to think that moving to GreatestJournal (GJ) is a good idea. For starters, GJ is also hosted in the USA and is therefore subject to the same laws. Do people really think that GJ would make a stand to protect Harry Potter porn? Do people really think that the same forces that have led LJ to things like theses suspensions and display of ads and so on wouldn't be equally as prevalent on GJ? Plus, GJ hardly has a stellar record as it is. For starters, there's the way they violated LJ's copyright by lifting the dystopia site scheme and LJ's FAQ wholesale; that is, using parts of LJ that were quite explicitly not licensed as free software. Then there was the big database SNAFU they had a while ago where they accidentally managed to make their entire database of usernames/passwords publicly visible. To put it bluntly, I think that GreatestJournal sucks, and that moving there is barmy.

What it really comes down to, though, is this: when hosting your content, you can have either the convenience of a big site, with the centralisation, and the social networking, or you can have the security of hosting your own stuff and being in (near-) total control. You cannot, at the present time, have both.

Sure, there are things like OpenID (add that to the list of good things that LJ have done) and RSS syndication, but they aren't there yet. If everyone moved off to their own servers, then sure, they could emulate LJ's friends page with RSS, and they could emulates LJ's security settings with openID, but it would be a pain. LJ works not because it's a blogging engine, or because it's a social networking tool, or because it's an aggregator; it works because it's all of these at once. Having someone else dictating what is and is not acceptable content is one of the trade offs you have to pay here.

Now, personally, I'm hoping that RSS, openID et al are going to take strides forward in the next few years, so that I can, for instance, add somebody's blogger blog to my LJ friends list as easily as I can add another LJ user. When we get to that point we'll properly be able to have a more distributed social network, rather than a centralised one, which I think will be a Good Thing. (It is worth noting, however, that LJ is (with the exception of friends-locked entries, etc.) nice and open, as opposed to the walled gardens of Facebook and the likes.)

Which brings me onto another point: this old(ish) post by insomnia where he claims that LJ is dying. While I typically take anything that Insomnia has to say about LJ with a truckful of salt due to his past enmity with the company, I've no particular reason to doubt his statistics here. Is LJ going to be around forever? Of course not. Is it going to be around in anything like it's current form in 5 years? I've no idea. This is the web, for Pete's sake. On the web, 5 years is a long time. It's also worth noting that the web itself was born in August '91, with LiveJournal coming into being in March '99. LiveJournal is old. It's been around for over half the lifetime of the web already!

Regardless of how many people are leaving in there here and now, I think that treating LiveJournal like a sinking ship is premature. Sure, it's not going to be around forever, but I don't expect it to be. It's going to be around for the foreseeable future, and that's good enough for me. When I start seeing any signs that it's going to collapse imminently, or that it's going to start suspending people entirely without reason, then I'll start thinking about moving. For now, though, I'm staying firmly put.

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(Deleted comment)
Oh, for sure. I don't think the law allows a whole lot of discretion in this sort of situation, though. I think (standard disclaimers, not a lawyer, etc.) that if LJ did that, and if the user then posted more similar content, and if it was then found to be child porn, then LJ could be in legal hot-water.

(Deleted comment)
I'm genuinely curious, what makes you think that homophobia has anything to do with it? I just don't see it myself. I've not seen any evidence that there have been comparable images with an opposite sex couple which were reported and which didn't have any action taken on them. I've also seen no evidence of any LJ staff making homophobic comments. I just honestly do not understand this accusation.

(Deleted comment)
I've seen this argument being made in plenty of places, and it makes me furious. I can assure you without any qualifications at all that the people who make these decisions are not suffering from homophobia, internalized or explicit. Why? Because half of them self-identify as queer to begin with, and the other half are allies. It is not their fault that they have to act on things that are reported.

(Deleted comment)
I don't know if it's still true, but for a while, one of the neat little, just happened to be true things about the abuse team was that every other abuse team manager was either gay or bi (and usually a bit more on the gay side of bi when bi) and the other alternating ones were straight. I'm not sure the abuse team has ever had a time when it didn't have members in homosexual relationships. I figured it was because LJ as a whole attracts a lot more liberals and a lot more... unusual people... than is representative in the general population. A lot of minorities are represented more in Abuse/Support than in most places. People with disabilities (often quite severe ones) have played a large part in the LiveJournal volunteer system, often because it's something you can do even if housebound. It's one of the things I really like about LJ. And people who volunteer often find themselves interacting with people in drastically different life circumstances.

Of course, if you include support, I'm sure you can find someone who volunteers and is homophobic, at least somewhat, if you have hundreds of people involved in something, you'll find some. LJ isn't a utopia free of bigots. But I really see a lot less bigotry there than in general. Well, in general in the greater US. I live in the bay area, so I personally don't see a whole lot of bigotry on a day to day basis.

I think the homophobia is not on LJ's part, but in fact from whoever is reporting things. If all that's getting reported is slash, well, that's not LJ's fault.

*deposits eyeballs ont he table*

The internet is for wank.

Dammit. Now I've got a certain catchy song from Avenue Q stuck in my head. ;P

(Deleted comment)
In all honesty, I did feel that Pond was treading a very fine line with some of her art, and that it would only be a matter of time before something like this happened. This said, I was surprised it was that particular pic, because she HAS posted more risky pics in the past (before the initial strikethrough thing). I understand that they have to follow the law and all that, I'm just pissed off with the way they're handling this. Conversely, I'm kind of embarrassed by the way that a lot of fandom are reacting to this. Personally, I just want some clearcut guidelines in place, and a clear explanation of the reasons for Pond's bannination, because the whole thing is just too vague. A lot of people just want to know where they stand. Hell, a lot of people would be happy to comply with LJ and remove unsuitable material from their journals if they know what they're supposed to be removing.

In all honesty, I'd have more respect for them if they said 'we own the servers, we don't want this stuff on here'. At least it would be clear and honest and people would know where they stand.

I also am staying firmly put. I like the community and social network I have on LJ and see no point in uprooting. So far as fandom goes, if I need to I will move my fannish activities elsewhere, but everything else stays here.

(Deleted comment)
My own view on this is that, given the current level of paranoia in society about paedophilia, it behoves one to be careful and exercise discretion. I tend to avoid anything to do with kids on principle myself simply because, to many of the Daily Mail readers of this world, even if being gay isn't quite tantamount to being a paedophile, being transsexual and gay obviously means I'm some sort of dangerous pervert. While I resent any such inference, I'm aware that my personal resentment is going to do nothing to quell the public taste for the current air of a witch hunt around this whole issue, and so I try to ensure that my own conduct is "whiter than white". I avoid placing myself in a situation where the malign or ignorant could feasibly create a link to paedophilia or child pornography, or anything of that ilk.

Given that atmosphere, it is entirely understandable that LJ/6A do not wish to place themselves in a position where there is any risk of them being painted as an "Internet child porn site", or whatever. we can stand up and rant about the principle of the thing, and our rights to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and yadda yadda yadda until we're blue in the face, but in the current climate that's about as useful as an umbrella in a swimming pool. Shit happens, and the best strategy in this case seems to be to make sure that it happens to someone else.

I suppose the really chilling thing about all this is that there is case law in the US (I'm told) in which fictional kiddie porn (even actual non-ambiguous child figures) is not included in the above rules because no actual child is harmed. (BTW, I'm not in favour of this in the case of real child figures as opposed to late teen figures, because I think that introduces kiddie porn as titillating and acceptable and breaks down social resistance to it. But I digress). So LJ is not in legal danger by hosting this material at all. And that's why fans are worried about whether text will be next, or all porn, or whatever else it finds distasteful to potential investors.

Er, by fictional I mean like drawings and anime. You know.

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