Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reading Lolita on Livejournal

Or, the perils of distributed law enforcement: Livejournal, a popular blog/journal site, was apparently targeted by a group with the laudable goal of protecting children from predators, but a sloppy and censorious method. [ETA: See comments for other possible goals of the group.] The group thus reported Livejournal accounts with "interests" (a category of profile information) relating to pedophilia to Livejournal's abuse team. No doubt aware of current controversies over MySpace and the like, Livejournal decided that the reported accounts had to be suspended. According to the explanation offered by the abuse team, listing illegal interests amounted to inciting illegality, and put Livejournal at legal risk. (Even with respect to child pornography, where government has huge leeway, this seems like a misstatement of US law to me, but (a) I'm sure it's different elsewhere, (b) it's understandable for Livejournal to be vastly overcautious on this point.)

Result: some very skeevy journals are gone, along with journals of rape survivors, journals maintained by people playing villains in online text-based roleplaying games, and a book group dedicated to reading Nabokov's Lolita. (On this last, I had to play a bit of a trick to get Google's cache to work; I kept getting redirected from the cached page to the current page, which says the account has been suspended. Does anyone know what's up with that? I thought Google either cached or didn't, depending on the robots.txt instructions involved.)

Another collision of user-generated information with the corporate form that often enables it, which is ordinarily invisible. When the corporate minders do intercede, the results can outrage and astonish the affected users.

[ETA: Per comments, Livejournal has attempted some damage control.]

4 comments:

Kate Verleger said...

"...a group with the laudable goal of protecting children from predators, but a sloppy and censorious method."

Further research would seem to indicate that this group has rather less than laudable goals when it comes to this. Per work done here, they appear to be expressly dominionist, and thus have actual issues with the 1st Amendment and all those pesky people that want to do things like live and worship at something other than a conservative Christian congregation, to say nothing of attempt to *gasp* emigrate to the US.

Rebecca Giblin-Chen said...

Interestingly, LiveJournal has acted very quickly in response to the controversy. Today they posted an apology that reads, in part, "what was supposed to be a well planned attempt to clean up a few journals that were violating LiveJournal's policies that protect minors turned into a total mess. I can only say I’m sorry, explain what we did wrong and what we are doing to correct these problems and explain what we were trying to do but messed up so completely." The full post is available at http://news.livejournal.com/.

Rebecca Tushnet said...

Thanks for the clarifications on both sides. I will edit the post to point to the comments.

Anonymous said...

OT to the substance - lots of livejournal (and other) pages like to implement some type of 'refresh' or 'redirect' commands, probably including the cache-problematic one linked above. This causes search engine spidering and cache problems left and right. See ( http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum10003/9.htm ) for a discussion of the problems, and to see optimizers attempts to circumvent google's attempts to resolve this type of thing.