LiveJournal: When the LJ abuse prevention team become the abusers, who will protect the LJ users?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Why stay with LJ?

An anonymous comment in the post below asks "Why stick with LJ at all, why not move to one of the other blogging networks?"

I read today on the socialsoftware blog that Blog software provider Six Apart gets even more money, in part to move forward with plans to offer private blogs. Cofounder Mena Trott believes that blogging is unlikely to ever go mainstream until it was easy for people to limit access to their content online.

Marshall Kirkpatrick, writing for the blog, said "Maybe I don't have enough LiveJournal experience, but I question how widespread the practice of regular posting is going to be on personal sites that aren't publicly visible."

I posted a comment, saying:

LiveJournal allows users to set up a number of filters on their posts, so they can make public posts, and non-public posts which only a certain set of friends on the site can see. For many users it's their most valuable feature, because you can combine blogging about current events or your chosen topic with public posts, and allow your friends to read more personal thoughts on the same page. For people writing about personal experiences like mental illness or abuse, it's a great tool. LiveJournal thrives on the sense of community it builds up, rather than any serious blogging content.

Unfortunately the sense of community, and privacy on some posts, is spoiled by them having an abuse team made up of volunteers who can read users' private posts, and who are known for suspending journals for breaking rules not mentioned anywhere in the Terms of Service.


People, even those who are highly unsatisfied with the way LJ handles complaints (or ignores them), stay on LiveJournal because that's where their friends are. Because they have joined communities where they've built up a rapport with people. And because they can control who reads what (to a degree, based on trusting their friends list and LJ itself), and post to communities which are locked against outsiders browsing.

Unlike blogs which are primarily about reporting and commenting on links and news stories, or trying to sell something, LiveJournals are usually personal. Some people post everything publically, some people keep everything locked only to their friends, some do a mix or have many different filters. People want to feel safe to talk about the issues they don't want to share with the world - problems at home, abuse, trauma, depression, how much they hate their boss, how they're afraid their father is an alcoholic. With its network of communities for every possible interest, including support communities, LiveJournal actively builds up this community and people's connection to it.

If you're tech savvy enough you can set up your own personal blog and set passwords for your friends, but when people are used to reading their friends entries together on one page (with LJ's friends page), you can't be sure that everyone will remember, or bother, to see how you're doing. On LJ you know someone's going to read your post within a few hours of you posting it, depending how many people are on your friends list.

So people stay with their LiveJournals even when they're mad as hell about how they or some of their friends have been treated. Nevertheless, some are starting to make more noise -- as you see here.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Harassment

An email asked us to go into some more detail about communities and harassment, because "it seems to be the charge they level at people when they can't find any specific rules they've broken."

From a previous post:

Under Harassment we read that they will suspend journals used "solely for the purpose of entries [or comments] about a particular user and/or community that fall under the definition of harassment or invasion of privacy." No where do they provide a definition of harassment, so we might reasonably assume that they are refering to the legal definition, but no. Harassment is whatever LJ Abuse decides it is if they want to suspend an account.

Recently there has been a rash of suspensions of communities deemed to exist soley to "incite harassment" and members posting in these locked communities have received threats against their personal journals.


Remember, LJ cares about freedom of speech even if you're a pedophile, but there are some things they just won't tolerate and that includes laughing at people. Be as racist as you like, call someone a satanist and a child molester, and LiveJournal will defend your right to free speech, but mock people for their blinkie icons, hundreds of colorbars, or terrible "cosplay" costumes, and LJ Abuse will come after you frothing at the mouth.

Cosplayfucks is one example. Cosplay, for the uninitiated, is making costumes and dressing up in them at conventions, usually related to anime. Do a Google image search to see some examples. Search on "bad cosplay" to see the kinds of pictures cosplayfucks made fun of.

It was a large and lively community, and it ran for almost a year before LJ Abuse decided it was "created solely for the harassment of LJ users." Community founder Michichu says this was ridiculous at least in part because "a good 90% of the pictures of people featured on [info]cosplayfucks were from sites such as cosplay.com, cosplaylab.com, or just google image search - all outside sites, over which livejournal has no jurisdiction."

People would find photos of terrible cosplay and post them, with or without humorous commentary. LJ might think that's mean, but it's certainly not harassment. People did not gang up and attack other users' journals, and in most cases the pictures came from non-LiveJournal sources.

Another community suspended over "harassment" was wtf_user_info, which made fun of user profile pages loaded with hundreds of animated flashing blinkies, colorbars, and baffling incoherent personal descriptions. LJ Abuse decided not to see a difference between mocking and harassing.

What is harassment? If I hang out in a bar with my friends and we talk about my stupid neighbor and what an ass he is, and mock his haircut and clothes, are we harassing him? Of course not! If I put a note through his door every day for a week saying "8pm, Al's Bar, we'll be talking about what a fuckhead you are" then it would be getting into harassment. I think the difference is clear to anyone not on the LiveJournal Abuse Team.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Food for Thought

How much does Six Apart care about LiveJournal anyway?

Blog slayer: Microsoft and the future of SixApart -- "But sure, LiveJournal, and its predominately teen market, is only one of SixApart’s three blog markets, and is arguably the least profitable. Its demise alone would not see the end of SixApart, with MovableType providing some income to the company and TypePad being the major driver of revenue."

They got some bad spam publicity at the end of 2005 too. However, Six Apart CEO Barak Berkowitz says he's putting pressure on legislators to ban blog comment spamming. Six Apart has just raised $12M in venture capital, and is preparing to launch another new blogging tool.

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LJ Abuse, Child Porn, and Pedophilia

LJ owners Six Apart have just acquired Splashblog. I wonder if Six Apart will start to look at fixing the problems with their existing services, or if they’ll just extend those problems to the new services they acquire?

To return to my topic: LJ Abuse, Child Porn, and Pedophilia.

So far we've seen LJ Abuse shut people down for some pretty questionable reasons, and refuse to answer those people's questions in any relevant way. Here's another case where the LiveJournal Abuse Team went in over the top -- can they tell the difference between art and child pornography?

"We have investigated the images in question and determined the the person in them, Eva Ionesco, was under the age of 18 when they were taken. As such the images fall under the description of the child pornography under the United States law, and therefore we were forced to terminate your account per policies in the afore-mentioned document."

Another fine example of LJ Abuse team volunteers pretending to have a clue about the law, which states that the photo must depit or clearly suggest sexually explicit conduct.

The images in question were art photography scanned from a book published in the USA by a US publisher. You can buy it on Amazon.com. Exercising a little intelligence, or taking the enormous step of asking a lawyer (Six Apart does have lawyers?), would have disabused LJ abuse of the notion that it was "child pornography."

Given all that you may be thinking, at least LiveJournal is free from nasty child porn, pedophiles, and horrible things we don't want to see.

User thetrenchcoat is one of many users reporting pedophiles on LJ to find that LJ Abuse doesn't mind pedophiles. "Users are entitled to post about topics that may be abhorrent to much of the general population, so long as they do not cross the line into solicitation or instruction of illegal acts."

What's this, LJ Abuse standing up for freedom of speech? Surely not!!

Well no, not. Not unless you're a pedophile or you're calling someone else a pedophile. If you display political graphics which are offensive to some, if you write about someone who is harassing you, if you post a photo of a minor from an art book, if you laugh at people dressed up in bad anime costumes, then your freedom of speech is not so important and they'll suspend you.

Walk carefully on LiveJournal, you never know where the lines are drawn.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Does LJ Abuse ever give anyone a straight answer?

It looks like the answer is no.

Yellow-finch was suspended for two entries. LJ Abuse told her "In these entries, you referenced LiveJournal user vanimaestel. While this reference was not by name, inference was recognized to be about them"

She replied "Please quote those entries so I can understand what you think was a reference to vanimaestel."

LJ Abuse told her "Thank you for your reply. In both of these entries you make reference to your "batshit insanse stalker" which starts a thread about "Melee" who is LiveJournal user vanimaestel."

She replied "Where were there any comments about "Meele," and who made them? As I told you before, the "batshit insane stalker" I was referring to is a woman named Kim. If others thought I was referring to Meele, I am unaware of it and am not at fault for it."

Denise Paolucci, Manager of the LiveJournal Abuse Team, responded "It is the determination of LiveJournal.com that you violated the Notice of No Contact"

Yellow-finch replied "You still have not answered my question regarding my suspension. I'll repeat it for you: "Where were there any comments about 'Meele,' and who made them?" So far, you have told me that you assumed the post I made was about Melanie based on comments left by others. You have yet to tell me which comments caused you to make this assumption. I am asking you to provide a list of the public comments to the two posts in question along with my replies, and then I'd like you to tell me which ones lead you to believe that my posts were about Melanie. Furthermore, when my last account (cdaae13) was suspended, Michelle told me 'We must emphasise, however, that your account was not suspended -- nor will other accounts be suspended -- because another person left a comment about the user vanimaestel.'"

Her request was closed without reply.

If LiveJournal Abuse infers something from what other people reply to a post, why is it so hard for them to provide the user with copies of these replies?

As Yellow-finch puts it, "I have reason to doubt that "Each suspension is carefully reviewed by at least two team members before processing." In the past week alone, your team has mistakenly suspended three accounts: alleykitten for believing it was my account alleykitten_, cdaae for believing it was my account (I used to be cdaae13), and finchy2 for thinking it belonged to cdaae, the logic of which completely escapes me. If Corey had even bothered to check the e-mail addresses associated with all three of those accounts, none of the mistaken suspensions would have taken place. That is unprofessional, careless behavior that I highly doubt was reviewed by anyone. And if it was reviewed by another person, and *two* people from your team failed to check the e-mail addresses, then I am even more disappointed.

"It seems to me that you would rather sternly repeat yourself over and over than respond to the points I'm making in my contacts with your team, because then you might actually have to admit that you've made another grievous error in suspending my accounts, and you've made too many mistakes this past week to want to admit to another one."

These suspensions were made on the basis of reports by a user with more than 20 accounts suspended for breaking a notice of no contact. LJ Abuse trusts this user, infamous for her harassment of other users and of a Broadway musicals actor, when she infers that something is about her, evidenced by their inability to provide the comments that supposedly supported this inference.

I have to ask again, do you trust LJ Abuse?

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

In Russia, LJ is serious business

This is a case from last year.

Russian bloggers censored by their San Franciscan hosts? There's a great story over at the Russian ex-pat English paper, The eXile, about a online controversy that started with LiveJournal's Abuse Team closing down a nationalist Russian's blog. The crime? A photoshop adaption of a Soviet propaganda poster from WWII, rewritten to spout some fairly banal anti-Western sentiment.

LJ user yanis wrote "Over the past three years a unique community has formed. LJ being a US based company provided a unique platform to scores of alternative russian publicists, philosophers, writers and politicians. LJ has been a place where russian security services couldn't interfere... Most political observers, journalists, young politicians, businessmen have accounts (the list of russian celebrities in LJ is a virtual who's who in modern russian politology, hi-tech business, journalism, TV and entertainment)... That's why blanket mechanical applications of TOS to some users for radical or not so statements in their postings is threatening not only a couple of LJ accounts (not a big deal) but Free Speech in Russia. You push them out of here and many of them will have nowhere turn to congregate, debate and create."

Articles Blog Wars and Censor This cover the case in more detail. "The last thing they expected was heavy-handed meddling from some dimwits at the LJ San Francisco headquarters."

"The censorship case got me thinking. Soviet censorship was like wall or a fence -- visible and imposing, monumentally built but rusting and full of cracks and holes, with most people knowing how to get around it. Putin's censorship is like the leftover rubble -- with pieces of concrete and steel rods lying around, formally non-existent but occasionally making a nuisance. American censorship is different -- it is like a virus which infects the brain from the childhood, all-encompassing but barely visible. It is harder to escape it, but necessary to fight against it."

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