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

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Update, and some statistics

Blogs are still talking about Six Apart and LiveJournal Abuse, and there are some interested statistics over at The Snow In The Summer or So-So (no, I don't know what the name means either!).
While I'm on the topic, here are some stats:

Total accounts: 10296172
updating in last 30 days: 1203631 (11.7%)
updating in last 7 days: 721606 (7.0%)
updating in past 24 hours: 253571 (2.5%)

Compare that against figures from March 2005:

Total accounts: 6611141
updating in last 30 days: 1520011 (23.0%)
updating in last 7 days: 970684 (14.7%)
updating in past 24 hours: 367704 (5.6%)

From June 2004:

Total accounts: 3171504
updating in last 30 days: 1153683 (36.4%)
updating in last 7 days: 756888 (23.9%)
updating in past 24 hours: 292198 (9.2%)

And from June 2003:

Total accounts: 1079730
updating in last 30 days: 413602 (38.3%)
updating in last 7 days: 291296 (27.0%)
updating in past 24 hours: 119504 (11.1%)

This is a pen, and a piece of paper. Draw your own conclusions.


They also ask, "When, then, will Livejournal get an abuse staff that is professional in operation, if not professional in status?"

Over on the Petition, people are asking the same thing. From the comments:

Beverley: "I wish to lend support to this petition. LJ Abuse needs to be staffed by individuals who are able to think rationally and put aside their own personal feeling towards members. Rules/guidelines need to be clearly laid out and the owners of LJ should make sure that not only the users stick to the rules, but also that the abuse team stick to the rules, not changing them in order to save face or validate an earlier banning. This issue runs deeper than breastfeeding pictures. I could not care less about pictures of nipples, but I DO care about being governed by a corrupt and inconsistent body of people who refuse to even discuss the reasons for their decisions."

Rob: "I am an longtime paid LJ user with no past run-ins, or friends who have had run-ins, with LJA. However, as an observer of LJ culture it has been patently apparent to me that a reform and EXTENSIVE personnel shakeup for the LJA team has been in order for at least the last two years."

Kimley "After interacting with the LJ abuse team, I'm convinced that they are there to abuse, NOT to address abuse on the system."

Kate: "A service which says that customer complaints will be systematically ignored? And one that deems breastfeeding inappropriate for general viewing? Some screwed up priorities there."

Michelle: "I'm still awaiting a response to my request of a non 'cut and paste' answer, actually addressing WHY this wasn't in violation of the TOS. I guess they don't have an answer. They just can't be bothered to do anything about it - they should be ashamed."

telosphilos: "Please try to take the complaints a little more seriously. It is rather fustrating when a feed like kittenbreak gets abused. In specific, this past week a gif was posted in a comment of felony animal abuse. Kko, the poster, returned the next day to continue his shinnanigans. If it had been taken seriously in the first place, it would have been a non-issue."

These last two are regarding a recent incident when a comment was left on a syndicated feed called kittenbreak. Kittenbreak gives a cute cat picture each day, and someone posted a "crush" film in the comments - that is, a film clip of someone brutally killing a kitten. In a normal community, the poster of the post or the community mod could delete it and ban the user, but as syndicated feeds don't have mods, no one could delete the comment.

Users complained to LJ Abuse and got the standard "freedom of speech, nothing we can do" answer. I'm not clear whether the person posted a link to a clip, or an embedded clip, or still shots from the clip; or whether LJ Abuse has removed it, but AFAIK no kind of action was taken against the poster. We'd welcome more info on this case.

It's interesting to note that LJ's objection to breastfeeding pictures in default user pics is because they can be seen anywhere on the site. Pedophiles can talk about things they've done on locked communities because they can't be stumbled across innocently. However, people reading feeds like Kittenbreak are not expecting to see graphic and sick violence against animals, either!

There was also a case reported in previous comments here where LJ Abuse didn't want to take action against people posting links to sites which installed trojans when you went to them. Again, I'm not sure if LJ abuse eventually look action on this. I'll leave that one to LJAB to look into.

Plans are being drawn up to contact the media if no progress is made with Six Apart this coming week.

Don't forget the call to action, and spread it and the petition around.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Latest Update

Well, looks like I'm taking over the updates for the weekend! Hello, I'm Christine.

So here goes.

Boob Nazis has opened up commenting so non-members can comment again.


Xavier, who was talking to Doug Bryan of Six Apart, has said: "I have requested to no longer speak directly with Doug alone, and have asked that the Six Apart Media Relations people be included in the conversations going forward."

At least one LJ-er has already been suspended, and more are due to be suspended at midnight.

The petition has 159 signatures on it right now, 4 or so trolls. Please keep on spreading the word around, and encouraging people to email Six Apart as well (see previous posts).

I'll also quote a few other people's comments here.

colintj:

"Is there any particular reason at all that it hasn't been systematized? Why doesn't LJA have its own blog where it reports updates and specific cases, as they apply to the ongoing adjustments of TOS? The whole issue, I think, is that they come off as highly disengenuous and secretive. If they took their operations public, logs and all, I doubt sincerely that the issues that have arisen would continue to be such a thorn.

I suspect that this has much to do with being inundated with cases, being unpaid and, probably, little in the way of databasing."

yellowest-finch:
"But to be clear, there is only one issue here and it is the limited restriction LiveJournal places on the default userpic.

"Actually, I think you've missed the point entirely. I was under the impression that the only real "issue" here was the unprofessional, unpredictable, and irrational behavior of the abuse team. The "issue" goes far beyond the scope of breastfeeding, and it will continue to become a larger issue if it is not addressed soon. LJ is already steadily losing paid customers because of discrepancies with the abuse team (myself included), and I have a very strong feeling it will grow into a noticeable income loss if Denise Paolucci is allowed to continue to lead her team in the haphazard manner that she currently runs it. LJ users, from whom part of your salary must come from, are looking to corporate for support. We're still waiting."

Yellowest-finch also says we should add firing denise paolucci as an interest.

From dreamalynn: How to Pack Up & Leave LiveJournal (A Tutorial), whether you're leaving by choice, or otherwise.

And a few gems from the petition:

"A business based around the concepts of community and dialog should surely spend more time listening to its users, particularly its paid users."

"I have been a paid LJ user for a long, long time, and am shocked and appalled by the recent treatment that LJ abuse has given it's users. It's unacceptable."

"Livejournal is a business, so why does the LJ abuse team act like a bunch of needlessly malicious adolencents?"

"Six Apart, please listen to us. I have been a paying LJ user for 2 years. The abuse team needs to be replaced by professionals, and Six Apart needs to restore our trust in them."

"I have been with LiveJournal for almost 5 years, and I am fully prepared to move my journaling elsewhere over this issue if necessary, as well as encourage all of my friends and family to do the same."

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Weekend of Action

Guys, I have a way busy weekend coming up so I am adding Christine (realcdaae) as a poster here to add updates, as she set up the petition and is willing to talk to Six Apart people or the press if it comes to that.

The boob_nazis community was locked down because they were getting comment harassment. It's a natural one to attract the trolls I guess. Please don't think they're not appreciative of our support.

CALL TO ACTION

Please also sign the Six Apart and LiveJournal Abuse Petition, and get your friends to sign it too.

Confirmed addresses for Six Apart and LiveJournal are:

contact@sixapart.com
Barakb@SixApart.Com (CEO of Six Apart)
anil@dashes.com (VP of Six Apart)
kevink@livejournal.com (Head of LiveJournal)
jane@sixapart.com (listed contact for questions about 6A)
ryan@sixapart.com (Kevin's out of office reply refers to him)

If you want to see wider changes being made to LJ Abuse, please write to them. Tell them that this cannot be brushed off as an issue about default icons and breastfeeding. It is a problem with LiveJournal's culture.

I don't know if dougbryan@livejournal.com reaches Doug Bryan but you could try it.

When they bought LiveJournal, the head honchos at Six Apart said in an interview:

Barak Berkowitz: "I think the core thing to say here is we're buying LiveJournal for LiveJournal. We're not buying it to turn it into something else. We know what LiveJournal is. The fact that we come from the community should make people convinced that we're not so naive that we don't know exactly what the community is... The net is, users will question us, and users will be suspicious until they see what we do in real life in real action over a series of months, and we'll have to prove ourselves to them."

Mena Trott: "We believe in communication. We're doing this because we think LiveJournal has something that's really strong with the community. We feel that that's one of things we are lacking."

Remind them of that. We are that community, yet they're telling us that they don't want to listen to us, and that our concerns are not important. Tell them how LJ abuse's actions affect the LiveJournal community, not just people who get suspended.

Put it in your own words, or copy and paste lines from here. Tell them how long you've been an LJ user, how many communities you're involved in. Tell them that you don't intent to keep up a paid account if they aren't going to listen to their customers.


Post this in your LiveJournal, in your blog.

Let's see how many voices it takes for Six Apart to really listen.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Listening? Bullshit. PETITION AND CALL TO ACTION

Six Apart wants us to know they're listening to us.

Please see the CALL TO ACTION at the bottom of this post, and sign the petition!

Doug Bryan, 2006-05-25:
Thank you all for your comments. Many of them are useful and constructive. Some other seem slightly off topic and go beyond the scope of the specific issue. I will continue to read them all. I hope you realize that the vast majority of your breast feeding icons do in fact pass the objective test and are perfectly fine. Postive and useful change is a process not a win-lose situation and always takes time. But to be clear, there is only one issue here and it is the limited restriction LiveJournal places on the default userpic.
there is only one issue here and it is the limited restriction LiveJournal places on the default userpic.

AKA We've got our hands over our ears and we don't want to hear you.

Doug, there is more than just one issue here. It is not limited to the restriction LiveJournal places on the default userpic. Even amongst the "boob nazis" issues have been raised about the contradictions of the information given by the LJ Abuse team, their rudeness, and LiveJournal's attitude towards customer service. These are core, long term problems with the abuse team.

This is not about breastfeeding icons. This is about how the abuse team is organized, managed, and operates. It is about whether Six Apart and LiveJournal are really interested in listening to their users instead of bad mouthing the ones who have problems with their service. The volunteer clique of LiveJournal Abuse might have been adequate when LJ was one guy's pet project, but it is not adequate for a service owned by a company that's raising millions in VC funds and attracting advertisers.

The boob nazis aren't buying it either.

wickedgillie :
If the original standard was "sexually graphic" and the new standard is "nudity" with the rules regarding the female breast to be "no nipples or areolae visible" then why was [info]cali4niachef's default icon deemed unsuitable and a suspendable offense by either standard stated? I didn't see an apology to her anywhere. Did I perhaps miss it?

tarakay :
1) If we're to "hold off" on any further advocacy action while this issue is resolved, why isn't LJ also holding off on suspending users until the issue is resolved? I'm sure it's within Six Apart's power to issue an "injunction" of sorts to stop suspensions at least temporarily until some resolution is reached. Of course, it probably won't be necessary for you to suspend anyone later if your final resolution is to leave the policies as they stand now. I am confident that there will be a mass exodus of paying members from LJ if that is the final resolution.
2) What is your timeframe for resolution? It is only fair to your paying members to let us know that. Many of us will be asked to renew our LJ accounts in the near future. I believe those who are considering renewing (or not) deserve to know when you expect to have this issue resolved. That's simple common consideration, IMO.

Many other users expressed similar concerns, reported in this entry. From the comments to that entry:

Christine Daae said: "So, Six Apart officially does not intend to listen to its customers about any of the other issues regarding LiveJournal's abuse team? Do we need thousands of emails on each specific instance of policy, or poor behaviour from the abuse team, before Six Apart will look at them?"

HidingMyself said: "If it were me and if were organizing things, I'd strongly consider bombarding them with protest emails over the holiday weekend. Maybe it's just me, but I think they should be reminded of the users stance and because they've really brought nothing to the table, the unilateral ceasefire should countdown to an expiration, unless they agree not to suspend people until the question is settled."

I agree. I wish I was more of an organizer, but I'm better at documenting and trying to bring attention to than organizing. I hope the organizer of the Boob Nazis strongly presents these other issues, but the rest of us must do what we can.

CALL TO ACTION


I don't know if dougbryan@livejournal.com reaches Doug Bryan but you could try it. Confirmed addresses for Six Apart and LiveJournal are:

contact@sixapart.com
Barakb@SixApart.Com (CEO of Six Apart)
anil@dashes.com (VP of Six Apart)
kevink@livejournal.com (Head of LiveJournal)
jane@sixapart.com (listed contact for questions about 6A)


If you want to see wider changes being made to LJ Abuse, please write to them. Tell them that this cannot be brushed off as an issue about default icons and breastfeeding. It is a problem with LiveJournal's culture.

When they bought LiveJournal, the head honchos at Six Apart said in an interview:

Barak Berkowitz: "I think the core thing to say here is we're buying LiveJournal for LiveJournal. We're not buying it to turn it into something else. We know what LiveJournal is. The fact that we come from the community should make people convinced that we're not so naive that we don't know exactly what the community is... The net is, users will question us, and users will be suspicious until they see what we do in real life in real action over a series of months, and we'll have to prove ourselves to them."

Mena Trott: "We believe in communication. We're doing this because we think LiveJournal has something that's really strong with the community. We feel that that's one of things we are lacking."

Remind them of that. We are that community, yet they're telling us that they don't want to listen to us, and that our concerns are not important. Tell them how LJ abuse's actions affect the LiveJournal community, not just people who get suspended.

Put it in your own words, or copy and paste lines from here. Tell them how long you've been an LJ user, how many communities you're involved in. Tell them that you don't intent to keep up a paid account if they aren't going to listen to their customers.

Please also sign the Six Apart and LiveJournal Abuse Petition, and get your friends to sign it too.

Post this in your LiveJournal, in your blog.


Let's see how many voices it takes for Six Apart to really listen.

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Responses to Six Apart's Response

To provide you with an idea how much publicity the issue is getting, here are the numbers of unique users who've visited this blog each day from my logs since Sunday.

Wednesday May 24, 2006 962
Tuesday May 23, 2006 643
Monday May 22, 2006 423
Sunday May 21, 2006 104

The petition organizers report that over 1500 emails were sent through their page.

I'm going to quote from some comments to Doug's post I think Six Apart should listen to.

becke1084 : If LJA screws up, there needs to be a higher appeal option; this "we're right, you're wrong, the end, you're suspended" approach from LJA is totally inappropriate, especially for paying customers such as myself... In close, I am a five-year member of the LJ community, and I have been a paid member for nearly 4 years. I am not yet a mother, and I have never breastfed a child, but I am very much an advocate. I applaud all of the women who have given their time and their voice to this issue, and I can only hope that LJ and Six Apart will do what is RIGHT and put this issue to bed before the end of the week."

dreamalynn : "I don't see sensitivity here, I see pandering. And since your time is supposed to be spent dealing with the customers of your company and meeting their needs, I'm not going to thank you for doing your job for which I'm sure you're well paid. And by no means will I thank you for a response that does nothing new to address our concerns at all. There is nothing here but the same stack of non-answers, the same put offs, the same offensive analogies, the same mischaracterizations of our argument, the same suggestions that there are "grey areas" in need of clarity and the same promises of discussion and progress that we've been seeing all week."

thegoddesschaos: "this is not an apology- nothing has changed. you are attempting to placate us and drag this out so that we give up and go away. i am not buying into it. THOUSANDS others are not buying into it either."

tamago23: "First, let me say that was a lovely apology... for you. It did an excellent job of making it appear that the problem was our perceptions, not the actual behavior of the LJ Abuse Team and Denise P. There is a difference between "appeared to show" and "showed". The former makes it the fault of the person complaining - we weren't really at fault, you just perceived it that way! The latter admits wrongdoing on the part of the entity being complained against. Is there really any way you can review the letters sent by LJ Abuse and then honestly say that it was just our perception that they were insulting and hostile? ... Don't get me wrong, I am grateful that we're being acknowledged by Six Apart. I'm just currently not getting the sense that we're being *listened* to."

Elsewhere there is speculation that Six Apart may be toughening up on their TOS because they're now selling advertising.

dstroy: "There was an article in Wall Street Journal recently talking about how advertisers are super adamant about having nudie-bits associated with their ads, so places like Six-Apart, Myspace, Flikr, and other traditional Second Generation web communities are suddenly finding themselves hiring huge teams of content censors to eliminate stuff that might scare away their money source."

From the abuse team side, Shamanix steps in with a classic response to the contradiction I referred to.

Shamanix: "What people report and what actually happen are sometimes two very different things, as I'm sure you're well aware. As you've quoted from my comment to [info]abuse_lj_abuse, I feel I should point out that all abuse cases are confidential and that team members cannot comment on specific cases."

In other words, the user was lying but we can't tell you the truth because it's confidential... even though the user was the one who brought it up and says she'd like to know "what violation of the US law they were investigating."

Some LiveJournal users have said they think the whole system of using volunteers is flawed.

Commenting here, cdaae13 says "But really, the fish rots from the head. Getting a new head of abuse won't solve *every* problem, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. An even better step would be to no longer use volunteers... Paid employees would be much more accountable for their actions. LJ/6A is earning more money with advertisements. Use that money to fix the existing problems with the service."

Panda Cookie: "I used to be a Support volunteer for LJ. I didn't care for the way they handled thier customers, so I left. I've NEVER thought highly of the Abuse team, even when I was a Support volunteer. This whole thing with breastfeeding just makes me dislike them more."

HidingMyself: "My problem with abuse is that they use volunteers, so there can't be any consistency... SA really should take some of the money that has been flowing into their coffers to professionalize abuse. It'd help clear up a lot of the problems and confusion."

Do you have a Digg account? Digg this story.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Response from Six Apart

Doug Bryan, VP of Business Operations, Six Apart, posts on boob_nazis.
Enforcing these restrictions is not a fun or enjoyable part of the LJ Abuse staff’s job, but it is important to maintain consistency throughout our service so that everyone (kids, adults, and parents) can know what to expect when they use LJ. We do our best to have as few restrictions as possible. With any restriction we attempt to make sure that we have a clear, objective test.

To use an analogy, this is like a police officer having to enforce speed limits in neighborhoods where kids play. When enforcing these policies, sometimes you end up catching someone who is in fact a very law abiding citizen, but who just happened to be driving over the speed limit.

That being said, we’d like to sincerely apologize for the following:

* The lack of sensitivity our procedures appeared to show toward the right for women to breastfeed their children.
* The confusion and perception that LiveJournal and/or Six Apart is against mothers who choose to breastfeed their children.
* The impression that we simply were not willing to listen, when in fact we are.
* The lack of clarity on the policies, which was possibly made worse when we updated our FAQ on Saturday. We updated the FAQ to clarify our policy, not to change it in response to this specific situation.

The responses are varying. Many users are expressing thanks to Six Apart for taking the time to post. Some are bringing up points they feel the response so far has left out.

Bopeepsheep writes:
There are some continuing niggles.
- LJ Abuse responses over the last few days have been variously inconsistent, rude, hostile, contradictory, offensive, discriminatory, illogical, and mendacious. Daring to complain about their attitude has resulted in even more unpleasantness, and threats.
- The FAQ updating was done very badly - not changed in British English until well into Sunday afternoon, nor French/Italian/German. It was then implied or blatantly stated in several LJA responses that it had "always been thus" (anyone there read George Orwell lately?). While it is true that TOS effectively say you can enforce any policy you like, the point of FAQs is to clarify those policies so that people can apply them appropriately. You cannot honestly expect people to abide by a policy you haven't published. "Graphically sexual" does not and never would mean "nudity", there are legal and societal distinctions we all understand. Changing the wording in the middle of an argument smacks of desperation in most situations, and it's how it came across here too.
- the implication in the original responses that breastfeeding was being viewed as 'graphically sexual'. I don't think we need to tell you how wrong that is.
- "secondary sexual characteristics" were cited as unacceptable in an LJA response by LJA team member Carson. That includes breasts, yes, but also beards... are we going to see a clean-shaven ruling?
- the grey area that is the new ruling. Areolae vary greatly in pigmentation and size and this is a discriminatory policy, however reasonable a compromise it sounds. Male areolae are acceptable. Images of men with large amounts of breast tissue are acceptable. Images of cartoon breasts are apparently acceptable. Images of women in bikini tops smaller than the average hamster are acceptable. Images of women with 2 pixels' worth of areola visible are not? Women with small or pale areolae will get away with it (I'm not showing you mine right now but I bet you'd never spot them in an icon), women with darker pigmentation/larger areolae will not?


Runawaybunni writes:

The first is your analogy. Your TOS was clear - no sexual/violent images. Nursing photos are neither. It wasn't that this person just happened to be 'driving over the speed limit' - they didn't do anything wrong.

It wasn't that your procedures appeared to show a lack of understanding. They DID show a lack of understanding and most of them were downright rude. You may sit here and say that you are willing to listen - and I don't doubt that you are - but when we got an email back saying things like "letter campaigns don't acheive anything" (I'm paraphrasing) it was inherently clear that you weren't willing to listen.

A no nudity rule is reasonable - excluding male breasts but not nursing ones is not. The message that sends is that a breast that is nursing is inherently more offensive than a totally bare male breast. If a male breast is not inappropriate, then surely a breast that is nourishing a child cannot possibly be.

Like other posters on that thread I hope Doug Bryan will look at the wider problems with the abuse team at their meeting, not just this one issue. The discourtesy, evasiveness, and contradictions have to stop.

My response:

Dear Doug;

I hope that as you look in to this issue you'll also consider some of the other long standing problems with the LJ Abuse team. Users here have pointed out that LJ Abuse responses have been inconsistent, rude, hostile, contradictory, offensive, and illogical, and that is something echoed by many other users who have dealt with them. The icon policy is not the only one which has been enforced inconsistantly (some of the icons users here have been threatened for suspension with do not show any nipple or areola).

In most cases when users contest actions or decisions by LJ Abuse they are dismissed out of hand. On a recent thread in [info]abuse_lj_abuse an LJ Abuse team member stated that "the ability to view locked/private entries is limited to LiveJournal's actual employees, and is only used in cases of copyright complaints or violations of United States law." A user reported that in her case that was completely untrue. I have more details of that case and others on my blog. Having made the statement did the LJ Abuse member return to explain the inconsistancy? No.

The behavior of LJ Abuse alienates users, paid and unpaid alike. This is not something that can be solved in one or two meetings, the system needs to be reevaluated to include more professionals on the team, and most importantly people with a more professional attitude, which values customers and does not dismiss them.

Sincerely,

L.

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Quick updates and links

Lots of updates from the boob_nazis community:
The Beginning to a resolution with SixApart

I just got off the phone with Doug Bryan, VP of Business Operations and Support at SixApart.

We had a very productive conversation and have agreed that he and I will work together to try to reach a compromise in this issue. It is understood by upper management at SixApart that they have several thousand very upset users (both paid members and free accounts) this became much more than a breastfeeding issue, it became an issue of customer service. SixApart is very concerned about the potential loss of users and does want to keep all of us as customer and members.

There is a lot of user feedback to this post, many suggesting that the abuse team needs a change of attitude in how it deals with users.

LiveJournal Abuse aren't waiting to hear from Six Apart though:
Now I've been issued a suspension notice

I will not be changing my default icon. I'm fully willing to be suspended. Breastfeeding is not inappropriate in any way. End of story.


Over on thingamababy, a father looks at the situation.

My action: I asked Matt Macfarlane, co-founder of the parent community Minti.com, whether users may post breastfeeding photos on their parent blogs. Here is his response:

"Yes, Minti has no issue with the posting or use of tasteful breastfeeding related images on our site. Breastfeeding is a popular subject on our site and we already have a number of member written articles on the topic. :)

Minti is a parent-to-parent advice site (with blog features free to all members) which fully supports new content contributions by parents, in fact we had to disable a number of parenting related words from our 'naughty words filter' just to ensure that articles written by parents were not automatically reported by the system.

Of course, gratuitous shots of naked breasts with a token child in the far distant background would not be very welcome. ;)"

Lots of comments to Agent Orange's entry here, including a quote from LJ's Principles document: "We will strive to keep you informed of changes to the best of our abilities without being intrusive, and to run our business based on feedback from the LiveJournal community, with the LiveJournal community's best interests in mind."

There are also some other cases I'll be looking at in more detail in days to come.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

LiveJournal and customer relations

A number of blogs have discussed this topic from a customer service point of view. Blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick says:
Breasts aside, though - the most surprising thing to me in this story is the following line from an email alleged to have come from the folks at LiveJournal: "Finally, please be aware that write-in campaigns are never effective in swaying the opinion of the Abuse Team or LiveJournal administrators, or in focusing attention on a particular issue. A flood of requests concerning the same issue only serve to slow down the responses given to valid inquiries such as your request for policy clarification."

LiveJournalWell well well! I suppose it is said that the blogosphere is about transparency, not responsiveness to customers! How can a flood of emails not even focus attention on a particular issue? That's harsh. And really, if one breast gets the attention of LiveJournal admin better than thousands of customer emails - who's really got the problem here?


So why don't people who are unhappy with LiveJournal's service just leave LiveJournal?

In an entry on her LiveJournal, realcdaae says:
On the flip side, I also get annoyed at people who get annoyed at people for protesting about something they care about. It doesn't really matter why they care about it, they don't have to justify themselves to you. I've seen this recently in some of the "nipplegate" discussions - LiveJournal is a private company so they can do whatever they want, deal with it. Well, yes, they're a private company. They can't actually do whatever they want as they're still bound by the law, but within those limits they can have whatever TOS they choose. And as users, we can speak out (or shout and scream) if we think that TOS and those rules are wrong, or poorly applied. Using the service of a company does not take away your right or ability to complain when you think something is wrong. Indeed, a company should be listening to its customers harder than it should listen to people who don't utilize it.

It's legal for Wal-Mart to use sweatshops, it's legal for Starbucks to sell "sweatshop" coffee, it's legal for all manner of companies to pollute the environment and screw over their workers. Of course, compared to these things, LiveJournal's TOS or abuse team problems are pretty insignificant. But part of LJ's business model, part of the reason we all use it, is that it builds up that sense of community. Without the community, quite a few of us wouldn't stay. If a company depends on its users and their communities for its popularity and success, it would be wise to listen to them. They may not owe any legal duty to do so, but it's a poor business decision not to.


Why stay with LJ? "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."

LiveJournal's business model depends on the sense of community its users build up, but they don't feel bound to pay any heed to what those users say, or who abuse team actions affect that community.

How do questionable suspensions of users affect other users, for instance? When a user is suspended, all of their posts are removed, and all of their comments (replaced by "reply by suspended user"). If you have a post where a suspended user contributed significantly to the discussion, with information or ideas, that is lost. You do not have a choice about whether to retain their comments, they're just gone and the flow of your thread ruined. You've lost their whole contribution. If they were a prominnt poster in your community, everything they've contributed is gone. If they're your friend, all your threads and comments in posts on their journals are gone too.

LiveJournal Abuse doesn't seem to consider this when they make decisions - past actions and overall contributions on LiveJournal don't count, unless they're counted against you. Minor infractions, small enough not to warrant action, can be brought up against you. How much you've helped others, or spent time building the communities and community atmosphere LiveJournal depends on, doesn't matter. There's a prosection but no defense.

Are people who care taking it all too seriously? As realcdaae said, no one should have to justify why they care. But it's LJ's very business model which encourages this sort of attachment and makes people care. It relies on making networks of friends. It's full of communities for support, for sharing, for information, for entertainment. When people invest time and energy into those things, of course they care. For some more isolated users, and users with problems, the communities built up through LiveJournal can be invaluable.

So why does LiveJournal, or Six Apart, not care what we think?

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Six Apart notified of LiveJournal Abuse problems

Two posts you should read from LJ user playright:

I spoke with the media relations representative at SixApart... -- a very comprehensive explanation of events and list of the problems and objections to LiveJournal Abuse's response to the breastfeeding icon issue, sent as a letter to Six Apart's media relations rep.

Also Updates on Nipplegate letters to SixApart

Xavier ([info]xavi7734) on LiveJournal posted:
Posted from a convo with a friend:
By permission:

Jane - the Media Relations person at SixApart was contacted today via phone by a very close friend of mine and fellow LJ'er

This is, in essence the response

She was unaware that LJAbuse knew it was a directed instigated plan to upset their team/time.
She was not aware that the problem went beyond breastfeeding.
She did take my call from her cell phone and was very polite. For those of you who care, she breastfed both of her children.


---Jane is currently in a training class in California and has promised to look further into the issue upon her return to the office. I plan on giving her a call and discussing with her my role in this situation (from ProMoM's standpoint) and ask her to please do the right thing, issue a public apology and let us know that breastfeeding icons are okay for use in default pictures regardless of nipple or areola showing (as decided by LJ Abuse and Denise P).

--If these things do NOT happen, I have media releases ready to go, and a response letter that will not only be sent to SixApart but will be sent to all of their Advisory Boards and Investors as well. Jane understands fully that this type of response will be a media disaster for the image of Live Journal and SixApart.

--I will hold off on sending these items until 12:00 Noon Eastern time tomorrow. I would like to ask that all of you hold off as well until we hear what the TRUE representatives from SixApart are willing to do about this issue.

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Changing the Rules

It's important to point out, regarding the breastfeeding icon controversy, that LiveJournal changed its rules on May 20th. I'm seeing a lot of comments around saying "They knew what the TOS said when they agreed to it so they should stop whining."

Before May 20th, the explanation of the rules about default userpics said "In particular, icons that are graphically sexual or violent in nature tend to be inappropriate for default userpics."

On May 20th it was changed to read "In particular, icons which contain nudity or graphic violence tend to be inappropriate for default userpics."

Some have said this is to make the rule more clear, but it is obviously a change made to back up a decision not justified under the rules as they were previously stated.

The rule is now being stated as the default icon must not have any areola or nipple visible (women only so far as we know!). The breastfeeding icon originally reported didn't show any areola or nipple.

The TOS says they can change the rules at any time, without notifying users, so they are acting within the TOS. That doesn't mean it isn't another example of LJ Abuse acting arbitrarily and prefering to change the rules around to back up a foolish decision rather than admit they could have made a mistake. They originally deemed breastfeeding icons sexual. Now they are changing things to say it's about nudity because saying the icons are sexual shows up how stupid the decision was.

When the LiveJournal Abuse team acts in a way that looks plain dishonest, customers get pissed off. Add to that the arrogant responses people got at first, and an official response that talks about a "misunderstanding" when it was really about LJ Abuse changing the rules to justify their actions, and no wonder there are petitions being signed.

Part 1 / Part 2

More blogs are picking up this story

Many of them are picking up on the appalling example of customer service represented when LiveJournal tells its users they don't care what they think, and do not want to hear people's feedback.

Boob nazi breastfeeds battle LiveJournal abuse team
LiveJournal's Boob War
LiveJournal doesn't care how you feel about breastfeeding, or anything else
LJ: Breastfeeding is offensive, but not as offensive as our customer service
SixApart getting into a bit of strife over breast feeding
Obscene on LJ
LJ takes anti-breastfeeding stance
Are you offended by a picture of breastfeeding?
Boobs!
Prudes

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Contradictions, lies, and covering your ass

As we just saw, LJ Abuse doesn't like breasts. The area of the LiveJournal FAQ covering default userpics was updated on May 20th to change its wording in support of LJ Abuse's new interpretation. It used to say "sexually explicit and graphically violent" and has now been changed to "nudity or graphic violence."

In another example of LJ Abuse speaking out of their asses, hardvice got some more contradictory information.

LJ Abuse team member Marie wrote:

"To answer your question about other peoples' userpics, the Abuse Team is only able to take action on occurances of Abuse that are reported to us. If you feel that other users have selected default userpics that are inappropriate under LiveJournal's policies, please feel free to visit http://www.livejournal.com/abuse/report.bml and follow the steps listed in http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=105. Most importantly, we will need links to specific userpics that you believe to be in violation of LiveJournal's Terms of Service."

hardvice then began to report other default userpics that showed breasts. The LJ Abuse team didn't appreciate the work, so Eric on the Abuse Team told hardvice:

"Also note that LiveJournal is a common carrier. The Abuse Team is not allowed to police the site for violations of the Terms of Service, and we cannot allow users to also do this. While you are more than welcome to report violations of the Terms of Service as you encounter them through your normal use of the website, we will be unable to act should you continue to actively search for violations to report."

matintin comments:

Marie sez:

the Abuse Team is only able to take action on occurances of Abuse that are reported to us. [and then gave [info]hardvice instructions on how to report]

Eric sez:

we will be unable to act should you continue to actively search for violations to report.

The Moral of the Story:

It's hard work being arbitrary, and we can't be expected to maintain our fervently capricious decision-making process.


What about Eric's claim about LJ and common carrier status? In actual fact providers can only lose common carrier status if they are shown to exercise editorial control of user's content, and a user choosing to spend their time browsing for breaches of the TOS would not qualify in any imaginable way. Hardvice observes "LJ can lose common carrier status only if they are deemed to have editorial control of user's content. A random, unaffiliated user policing content on the site presents no risk of LJ itself being deemed to have editorial control. They just don't want the extra work."

LJ Abuse team boss Denise Paolucci has issued a response that doesn't please the "boob nazis" (as the breastfeeding LJ community calls itself). One user is particularly annoyed by the line "We ask only that you are willing to extend the same support and appreciation to, for instance, parents who choose to believe that it is inappropriate for their children to view unsolicited nudity in public." Here is one excellent response to LiveJournal.

Many countries including the US have laws protecting the right of mothers to breastfeed in public, to protect them from people who are offended by the sight of unsolicited breastfeeding in public. I'm glad Paolucci isn't in the government!

Send an email / petition.

My thread on abuse_lj_abuse has caught LJ Abuse out in some lies. They are bothered by the exposure that people on the abuse team can read private and locked entries of LJ users, and are taking pains to explain that it is only the LiveJournal employees who have this ability, like Denise Paolucci who is a paragon of good judgement...

User shamanix went further and stated:

"As has been said in this community numerous times, the ability to view locked/private entries is limited to LiveJournal's actual employees, and is only used in cases of copyright complaints or violations of United States law."

This is a lie.

realcdaae replied: "Untrue in my case. There was no copyright complaint, and no alleged violation of US law. In fact on the first occassion, my journal was not reported at all - they thought I was [info]yellow_finch, who had been reported for breach of a NONC, and then went into [info]cdaae to have a look."

Let me reiterate that. The complaint against yellow-finch was that a public entry she made was an "indirect reference" to someone LJ had told her not to mention in any way. LJ Abuse thought she was the same person as user cdaae (which demonstrates that they do not doublecheck their decisions as the two users are on different continents and a cursory examination of their journals shows them to be different people). LJ Abuse read locked entries of cdaae's journal and came up with a post they said was an indirect reference to the same user, and suspended her for it. There was no copyright complaint and there was no violation of US law reported or alleged. Further details of this case.

If it was a volunteer team member it is a disgrace, if it was a paid employee that might make it even MORE of a disgrace!

It is not the only time locked entries have been read and used against people by LJ Abuse. There are a number of communities which were suspended for "incitement to harass" that had only locked entries. If LJ Abuse wants to read locked entries they can and they do.

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Breasts -- now against a TOS near you

LiveJournal Abuse doesn't like breasts. Not in art, and not feeding babies. They used to forbid inappropriate default user icons, defined as sexual or violent, with the reasoning that offensive icons should not be displayed on areas of LJ where someone could come across them by accident. But now they have extended that to any view of a naked breast with any nipple showing, whether it's on a piece of art or breast-feeding mothers. The breast-feeders are not happy, and drama has errupted.

LJ Abuse is thought to have gotten over 700 emails in protest. Are they listening to their users? No, they are closing ranks behind the stupid decision, just like usual.

How did this craziness come about? It started when LJ Abuse told hardvice his post-modern art icon was breaking the rules. You can read the details on hardvice's LJ.

Is this an obscene image?

Also see:

Changing the Rules

LiveJournal and customer relations

Responses to Six Apart's response

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