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LJ United -- Standing Up For LiveJournal's Future!

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Asking for your support [May. 5th, 2008|09:43 pm]
LJ United -- Standing Up For LiveJournal's Future!


Hey folks. insomnia directed me over here because I'm running for the English-speaking LJ Advisory Board position (I got the required 100 comments of support earlier today) and I've been active in the battle to get LJ to honor its committments to its users for a while.

I'll be frank and say I orginally got involved in all of this because of Strikethrough and Boldthrough. Those were events that affected a community that's been deeply important to me, but they also made me concerned about LJ and its policies on a broader level. I thought LJ's actions in that debacle were, even presuming the best of intentions as their basis, heavy-handed and indicative of an unwillingness to understand the cultures that create the content that brings the users that in turn generate revenue around here. What seemed like LJs quick capitulation to an extremist religious group and an apparent double standard as regards queer content and female sexuality were also distressing.

Of course, if you've been on LJ any length of time, you know that's not the only problem we're facing. LJ hasn't kept promises to its users. Among other things, tt has at various points violated its own ToS and has an abuse reoprting/redress system that is frequently a nightmare both for users in need and well-meaning volunteers. The recent uproar over the elimination of free accounts made the situation even more us vs. them and threatened to change the character of LJ in a way that would have, at best, been disappointing.

I think I'm in a pretty unique position as far as people running for the LJ Advisory Board. For one thing, I have experience being in the sticky position of being part of a community and also part of (or perceived as) the powers that be. I know all the ways in which it can be not fun, and I'm okay with that. LJ and what it's meant to me and everything I know is worth that.

And, while I'm active in fandom (Harry Potter, Torchwood/Doctor Who, World of Riverside, for those who care), I'm also a professional writer with a publisher who advertises my book on this site. I can represent some very sticky user concerns while also conveying a lot of legitimacy in terms of a corporate perspective.

These days I work as an actor and writer, but my professional background is in journalism, marketing and public relations, which are certainly skill sets that will help speak to the business and hopefully help educate the business on how to communicate with us, the users.

Finally, I'm in support of this community's positions the issues I've seen insomnia identify in its founding. The privacy of user information should be non-negotiable. No user should ever have to see ads if they don't want to (and yes, I have a hard time imagining who would); this includes receipt of unsolicited emails from LJ. I also believe the broadest definitions of freedom of speech aren't only the best ones for the LJ community as a whole, but actually the most workable ones from a corporate perspective.

I am not a particularly kind and gentle person, but I do try to avoid gratuitous nastiness; I mean what I say and I say what I mean, even if people don't like it. The willingness to call it as I see it combined with my odd niche in various LJ communities and my professional background, gives me hope that I can actually make some positive changes around LJ.

So, I'd love for you guys to consider supporting me in this, individually and collectively. And, regardless of what you decide, I'd love feedback on all your LJ concerns, most especially those related to usability and uptime: I haven't encountered the problems I know large swathes of the userbase has on this front, and I need to get fully educated on these points.

Thank you for reading what has become, I realize, a very long post.

[User Picture]From: winterthunder
2008-05-06 03:25 am (UTC)
Hello and welcome! It's certainly nice to see someone with a background in fandom come forward; I was beginning to be concerned that no one would. There are not many (myself among them) that seem willing or able to take on this role.

When you say you are in support of the broadest definitions of freedom of speech, do you mean that there should be no limitations on potentially offensive material? Do you believe that the traditional fandom attitude of "I'll put it behind a cut with warnings and you don't click it if you don't like it" is adequate? What are your views of the "underage character" issues that led to Strikethrough and Boldthrough?
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 03:42 am (UTC)
I believe that if it's legal in the jursdiction(s) by which LJ is bound it should be permissable in some form on LJ.

I understand that visual representation is historically held to a different standard than that of words and that that is how part of the art situation went down. I've seen at least two of the images involved, and my own opinion of them, for what it's worth (which isn't very much; just as LJ shouldn't be the arbiter of what is and isn't art, neither should I be) is that one didn't seem to involve anyone underage at all (the Harry/Snape one was LJ basically freaking out about the conventions of manga that they didn't understand). The other image, the Fred/George image, I did find personally disturbing, but it also reminded me of the work of Egon Schiele. It did not portray real people and it's intent was not to justify anything that would be unacceptable out here in the real world with real people.

Representations of fictional underage people engaging in sexuality aren't illegal -- thank god, or the novel I'm working on would be more up shit's creek than it already is.

Do I think that some fandom communities are better served by being friends only and having an age test? Absolutely. Both for fandom's sake and for the comfort of the larger community.

But to my mind these are more issues of courtesy than legality. They are issues that can and should be addressed by LJ policy, but I feel strongly that adults exploring legal artistic expression and sexual discussion have a place here on LJ. If they don't, it's a slippery slope that potentially affects all of us negatively.

LJ's conduct in the wake of the concern never gave the fannish community a chance to work with LJ and find a way to come to a solution that made sense to everyone. The result has been the splintering of where fannish content resides and, in some cases, and this is unfortunate, less willingness from fandom to be appropriately courteous and discrete with explicit content.

I said this in my nomination post. LJ shouldn't be here to parent; it should be here to be a forum for expression. LJ creating tools to help parents and sensitive viewers? Awesome. LJ deciding they don't want to do that work and being disruptive to communities here instead? Not cool. The flagging solution they eventually came up with? Not terribly useful, at best.

Actual pedophilic content on LJ when it occurs obviously needs to be addressed swiftly and with extreme prejudice (something I know LJ was not effective in doing in the past). But those are clear cut cases of extreme illegality.

When you say you are in support of the broadest definitions of freedom of speech, do you mean that there should be no limitations on potentially offensive material?

On a personal note, I met my partner through fandom. I have friends who were first able to address their gender and sexual identities because of the support of the fannish community. Yeah, a lot of fandom is chicks having fun writing porn; I will freely admit that and say that I think that's awesome. But I also know fandom, like the Internet as a whole, can save lives just by virtue of helping people on the margins realize they are not alone.

Everything is potentially offensive to someone. And therefore "potentially offensive" can't be the guidelines any of us use to solve these issues.

Edited at 2008-05-06 03:45 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: winterthunder
2008-05-06 03:55 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you for such a quick response. I think you've hit one of my most important concerns with regards to LJ's conduct and refusal to compromise, or even to make an attempt to fully understand the issue before acting. I believe a lot of the concerns we have as a community stem from a lack of transparency on the part of LJ's management.

I fall firmly into "chicks having fun writing porn" category of fandom, so I'm glad to hear that your views on that type of material are reasonably close to mine. Good luck with the nomination and voting process!
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[User Picture]From: eruditeviking
2008-05-06 11:50 am (UTC)
I'm the other side of the argument. What about author copyright versus fandom? Specifically, if the author, owner, or creator of a fandom specifically asks you to remove material they view as being in violation of their held copyrights? Do you include the idea that fandom is a right, ala 1st amendment, or do you acknowledge the rights of the creator?
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 12:05 pm (UTC)
I think courtesy demands that you take the stuff down.

I also think the legality of fanfiction in this and several other jurisdictions remains unclear and at this point in time, as a business, LJ needs to err on the side of protecting its business, with, of course, thorough communication with the users affected. I absolutely do not think that LJ should be going after fanfiction content when no complaints have been received.

On a personal note, you should know I'm a member of the OTW, but there's a difference between what I advocate the legal interpretation be and the realities of what it is as present.
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[User Picture]From: eruditeviking
2008-05-06 12:22 pm (UTC)
I assume you're referring to http://transformativeworks.org/ as the OTW.

I don't think the legality is actually all that murky on the whole if the authors have chosen to defend their copyrights from the get go (Feist, Tolkien, Lucas). The bigger legality issue wish when permission has been granted and then rescinded because of conflicts, or lawsuits have been filed and books scrapped because of offers declined. (Trek, JKR and MZB respectively.)
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 12:27 pm (UTC)
To be frank I think the JKR issue is even murkier than that, but I make a point of not commenting on that one. Not having all the info, I don't want to put my foot into it (also, that's not about fanfiction, that's about an encyclopedia). Full disclosure: I have written a Harry Potter companion book. It's been out for nearly a year. I have not been the subject of legal action.

Obviously, LJ isn't here to fight our individual legal battles for us as fan artists or anything else. If LJ gets a letter or other legal contact about it, LJ needs to contact the user and have them take their content down (or lock it to entirely private). But LJ using supposed copyright violations as a way of weeding out user groups they don't like? Not okay. And no, I obviously don't think LJ should ban fanfiction as a class of content.

Edited at 2008-05-06 02:30 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: eruditeviking
2008-05-06 02:32 pm (UTC)
Very good.

I'm satisfied with your stances, and will happily back you for the advisory board should the group not have any other qualms.
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 02:34 pm (UTC)
Cool. I want to say thank you (everyone here really) for asking tough questions. However this shakes out it makes my candidacy stronger, and I do hope this process improves LJ no matter who wins. The level of discourse on all this stuff has been spotty, and I'm hoping this election will elevate it.
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[User Picture]From: penguin_attie
2008-05-06 04:05 pm (UTC)
If LJ gets a letter or other legal contact about it, LJ needs to contact the user and have them take their content down (or lock it to entirely private).

Do you mean this strictly in the DMCA sense (if the user files a counterclaim s/he may unlock again) or in a definite sense (down is down)? I'm concerned about this because I have heard of several cases where clear parody was taken down because of someone sending the DMCA form letter (and really, it is extremely easy to write up, to the extent of filling in your name and the violator's on some website and getting a pdf directly) and them having no recourse. I don't want this law to get abused as a cheap & easy way for copyright holders to shoot down unwanted material (scientology does enough of that for the entire internet...)
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 04:36 pm (UTC)
DMCA sense. User files counter claim, unlocks, we all wait for resolution.

Abuse of the DMCA stuff freaks me out too and I've seen it in action as well.
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[User Picture]From: adpfromga
2008-05-06 11:51 am (UTC)
Rumor has it that the consenting adult alternative lifestyle communities will/are also under scrutiny.

Some of us are pretty out as to the activities we do and the things we talk about on LJ, because a lot of us are pretty out in public life. This isn't fantasy fandom - and different places do have different laws regarding our activities, some enforced, some not.

We are also aware that age verification and locked journals are a matter of courtesey and respect for other users.

Can you speak to this?
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 12:16 pm (UTC)
I'm well-aware of that issue, and concerned about it as someone who was extremely active in the kink community for many years (check out my original journal reive if you want the greatest hits). I also saw people in the kink community take hits because of age play related activities (for those unfamiliar reading this, that's a consenting adult roleplaying as a non-adult). I also think that that's the slippery slope that eventually encompasses the queer users, which scares the crap out of me.

Again, LJ should be a forum for discussion, not a parent and stifiling discussion of these issues (in an educational, celebrational or a "look what I did on my summer vacation" way) punishes adults for being adults. Just because all sex isn't appropriate for all people, doesn't mean the standards of conduct and discussion on LJ should be reduced to that of Disney World. I'm also aware that this one gets messy with jurisdictions (British law and BDSM has not been a good intersection for some time now), which is why I feel its importnat for LJ to operate under the broadest speech laws it can and let users in more restrictive jurisdictions make decisions about legal risk and appropriateness for themselves.

This is one of those situations where LJ's best legal position is not to try to control any content that involves consenting adults, because everytime they do so, they will effectively foist more content responsibility and user restriction upon themselves.

LJ's actions in this whole debacle has pretty much robbed them of anything resembling a common carrier defense were there issues of real legal risk involved with the things they flipped out about. Everything they've done in the name of protecting themselves has put them at greater legal risk, and that concerns me on behalf of all the users even if only some of us are directly affefected by the speech issues involved.
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[User Picture]From: adpfromga
2008-05-06 12:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I appreciate your speedy and eloquent response. Its nice to know that the opinions you have, I share.

I can only hope that this isn't a token attempt on the part of LJ to appease the users - and all that will happen is you become disgusted and just give us early warning to abandon ship!

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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-06 12:29 pm (UTC)
I think it's entirely possible your worst fears are true, and it's one of the reasons I almost didn't run. On the other hand, I really do believe that if anyone has the ability to make them listen it may very well be me.
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[User Picture]From: elfwreck
2008-05-07 05:30 am (UTC)
I hoped you would run--and win--before they announced anything about the process.

While I believe it may be a figurehead position, I also believe that you won't let them pretend they're making changes to "enhance the site" when what they mean is "enhance our revenue." And you can spot censorship pretending to be "community standards" or whatever dodgy phrasing they're using this week.

(LJ concerns: I've been not getting about 3/4 of comment notifications for a few weeks now. I'd open a support request... but since my last three went unanswered, I figured, why bother?)
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[User Picture]From: slashpine
2008-05-07 09:52 pm (UTC)

Just a small concern

I noticed with appreciation many of your posts last year on LJ's various issues. A friend over on IJ mentioned you were running and would be ... oh, pretty much the awesomest. I clicked over to your journal to see what your aims might be.

And your aims with respect to LJAB look good. As a feminist myself, active in queer rights and disability issues - yep, yep. Also good.

But then I noticed several of your various recent posts farther down the page, calling HP fandom stupid - in fact "remarkably" stupid (May 3), or using HP as a benchmark for pathetic and/or puerile in a dig at Dr Who (April 30)... um. This made me wonder. Would you be able to marshal the independent, fact-based critical thinking skills and ethical reflectiveness necessary for an Advisory Board position, or fall back on the easier talking-in-stereotypes approach that is alas, all too common among some fans? I recognize that half the fun in fandom is slinging wank around, but I would want the LJAB to be doing the heavy lifting of sound reasoning.

Do you have some meta or essays somewhere, or comments in one of the well-known "wanks" that would evidence your skill in objective discussion, and careful ethical weighing of personalities and issues? I believe that would be more appropriate for the LJAB. You may completely disagree with me, of course - and I won't take it amiss if you choose not to reply.

In either case, my applause on your willingness to run for this position. It's a lot of work (and that's only *before* the win), and I'm all admiration for anyone willing to take it on!
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[User Picture]From: rm
2008-05-08 03:58 am (UTC)

Re: Just a small concern

I actually don't get involved in most of the fandom wanks. There is very often nothing to say. Kicking people when they are down, even if they've behaved badly, doesn't strike me as particularly useful.

As to the posts of mine that concern you -- I am active in both of those fandoms. The Doctor Who thing is new, but I've been part of the Harry Potter fandom for years and years, give papers at conferences, etc. I love it, I love the people in it (literally, two of my ex-lovers who I've remained extremely close to are part of the fandom and in one case that's how we met). That said, the HP fandom has a bad track record with race and religion issues, and the Kristalnacht thing was extremely upsetting to me, although I'm glad to see how efficiently and therefore fairly mellowly it resolved.

I'm a critic, both by personality and profession. And I'm very upfront about my tastes. I think anyone who reads in fandom at all knows that in almost any fandom there's going to be a lot of writing they can't stand, and it's very much my nature to poke fun at that and I'm sure people have eyerolled and made cracks about at least some of the things I've written.

But at the end of the day, I'm not naming names. And at the end of the day, you've got a record of everything I've said about everything over the course of eight years. Some of it probably was inappropriate. Some of it was probably the stuff I wish more people would have the gumption to say: fandom has a tendency to smile and nod in order to avoid wank, when sometimes honest and direct confrontation that isn't about devaluing _people_ would be a lot more useful.

Do I think either post of mine that you cite is particularly of that ilk? No.

At the end of the day I'm a member of fandom and as full of just as much foibles as it. You won't find anything about me in fandom wank and you won't find anything about me in the ED.

And as much as I can rant about fandom, at the end of the day, I am never ever ashamed of it. And lord knows, people have wanted me to be. I say Severus Snape changed my life because I have learnt so much from my reading of those books and my experience in the HP community. And all sorts of people have called me a coward and a pervert and a loser for that. Many of them right here on LJ. I can be dissapointed in the things that happen in fandom and still be of it and for it.

One of the most difficult things about this process will be trying to find the balance of running for office while being the same old person in my LJ I've always been, and I admittedly come with thorns; my argument isn't that I don't, but that they just happen to be useful to this task.
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[User Picture]From: slashpine
2008-05-08 04:03 am (UTC)

Re: Just a small concern

Thanks for your answer! I appreciate your thoughtful response.
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