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The Great Enabler

So far, I've refrained from posting about the Great Slashthrough (or whatever it was called). The calls for fandom[*] to up sticks and move to an LJ-a-like are, quite frankly, daft[**]. The big issue to arise from this is the nature of the interpretation of LJ's terms of service. As a company incorporated in California, LJ's legal context is understandably parochial, but the breastfeeding usericon debacle showed one thing to be clear. Despite the provisions in the Californian civil code with respect to public breastfeeding (Cal. Civil Code § 43.3 (1997)[***]), LJ/6A have so far demonstrated that they take a more conservative line than that which is required by the letter of the law. With this in mind, their attitude to drawings of possibly underage fictional characters doing rude but consensual things to each other was entirely predictable.

Less predictable is their attitude towards pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia communities, or ana/mia if you'd prefer to pretend that they're lifestyle choices and not life-threatening psychological conditions. I became aware of these a couple of years ago, but never really gave much thought as to whether they represented a contravention of LJ's terms of service. Given the following clause, it's fairly clear to me that they do:

XVI 13. Promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities, promote physical harm or injury against any governmental entity, group or individual, or promote any act of cruelty to animals. This may include, but is not limited to, providing instructions on how to assemble bombs, grenades, and other weapons or incendiary devices;

I'm then more that a little disappointed that LJ/6A have chosen to ignore communities that exist to enable self-harming behaviour, as this quote suggests:

we allow pro-anorexia communities to remain because they are, in most cases, serving as support groups for the members. Silencing them won't make their problems go away; we'd rather allow them to heal together as a community.

Let me restate that: LJ/6A is happy for communities that promote self-harm to remain because they're support groups? If that isn't enabling destructive behaviour, I'm not sure what is. Lest this be mistaken for a member of LJ staff voicing their personal opinion, we were later reassured (by the same person) that this was official policy. Either LJ/6A's policy is straight from cloud cuckoo land, or they need to rein in their staff before they commit another policy blunder.

(and a tip of the hat to hanacandi for spotting this)

[*] At this point I should point out that this is primarily the Harry Potter fandom I'm talking about. Quite why they describe themselves all-encompassingly as 'fandom' when they have little overlap with mainstream SF fandom is quite beyond me. But I digress.

[**] I'd also ask where the HP fandom was during the spat over breastfeeding images in default usericons.

[***] 43.3. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.

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If the anorexia/bulimia groups were actually support groups then that wouldn't be as much of a problem. As it stands, though, it seems like they exist solely to glorify psychological conditions rather than work through them as a community. The correct place for anorexia groups to go would be some sort of forum set up by a proper eating disorder support group with counsellors on the board.

Agree totally. These sites offer self-reinforcement, not genuine, caring assistance with a life-threatening condition.

Yes, that would be my idea of a real eating disorder support group, and that's a long way from that which LJ/6A is turning a blind eye to.

I have two points: (1) the pro-ana/pro-mia groups are not illegal; (2) they can actually be useful to help sufferers seek help.

(1) Tiptoeing around my former membership of the LJ_Abuse hivemind, I can wholeheartedly say that LJ_Abuse (who are currently the arbiters of What's Okay, based on the TOS passed down from On High 6A) has thought long and hard about the pro-ana/mia comms. You may have noticed from the Beeb today an (unusually well-researched) article on Myspace/Facebook pro- groups.

At the end of the day, LJ <3 free speech, and trying to achieve as much free speech as possible within the bounds of relevant US law is one of the stated aims of LJ_A. That "within the bounds of relevant US law" clause is why anything even remotely possibly underage-image-y is dealt with quickly and permanently -- because, as a wise person on my flist said today, LJ/6A doesn't want to be the service provider standing in front of a 70-year-old judge and explaining why aged-up Harry/Snape is actually not dodgy in the slightest. (The fact that they haven't just. said. this. is frustrating.)

Similarly, self-harm in and of itself is not illegal. (Caveat harm-or: some self-harm may well be illegal: see drugs, etc.) Even telling someone how to harm themselves is not illegal. It might be actionable if LJ were to allow such advice to remain on their servers, so LJ doesn't allow advice when such advice is reported to the Abuse team. (LJ does not and cannot police all journals without content being reported for DMCA reasons)

(2) I'll play the eating disorder card right now and say that I come from a personal history of eating disorders (multiple, even!), and I would love for fellow sufferers to get the help they need. I have seen testimonials from pro- comm members saying that they gained the reassurance that they were not alone through pro- comms, and then were able to seek help knowing that they were not the only freaky eaters out there.

You're quite right. the pro-anorexia/bulemia communities are not illegal in the same way that child pornography is illegal. However, that's only one part of that clause of the TOS; surely these communities "promote physical harm or injury against any [...] individual", namely the self? Should their attitude be different towards communities which encouraged other forms of self-harm (cutting, for example), and suggested strategies for concealing the evidence? What about the LJ equivalent of alt.suicide.holiday?

The BBC article makes the point that "if properly regulated, they can be used for positive means" (emphasis mine). Is there any evidence that there is any regulation of the LJ communities beyond the purely reactive attitude of LJ/6A's review process? ("II. We do not review content until it is reported to us. We will accept all reports of material that is reported to us, regardless of the source, but we will only take action when that material violates our policies.") Sure, they're relying on the DMCA's safe harbor provision to protect themselves against copyright infringement lawsuits, but I'm not convinced that that allows them to abrogate their responsibilities in other areas.

So...more regulation for eating disorders; less regualtion for fandom.

...I think I'm getting about done with this undebate.

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I call bollocks on your last point.

You know, that was what I *really* wanted to say, but I was just too damned polite...

Psudeo Support

This is disturbingly similar to the state of a pair of usenet groups circa ten years ago.

alt.support.depression, (AKA ASD)
alt.support.depression.recovery (ASDR)

The ASDers considered the mere existence of ASDR a gross insult, in that implied that the "rest of the depressive community" (And ASD in particular.) had no sincere wish to recover.

To put this into context I once saw someone post to ASD about self harming, saying that they felt compelled to do it, but couldn't understand it, and it scared them. The prevalent responses to that post wasn't advice about diversionary techniques, deconstructive exercises, or how to approach your GP, they were about the "safest" ways to self harm.

Personally? I always thought that ASDR was for those who really needed to recover from having set foot in ASD in the first place.

But that was usenet, it was free and it was anarchy. Livejournal isn't free. And this smacks of nothing other than lazy administration. A complaint has been made: That users (either willfull of witless) are using livejournal to encourage others to self harm, and also to ignore any nagging traces of sanity they have left.

Rather than INVESTIGATE the complaint it's merely been checked that they got a "support group license" from the local post office, and they can go on their merry way no questions asked.

BTW: If depression,anorexia,bulemia can all be viewed positively as lifestyle choices, can we have a pro-munchausens forum please?

Fine, I call bollocks on your statistics. (Linkzplz, because the entire ED area is notoriously statistically inaccurate because of self-reporting and other issues.)

Yes, pro-ana groups do often promote harm, via dia-mia, purging, restriction, drugs, and so on. LJ_Abuse has said, publicly, that it will take action when instructional posts that would result in harm are reported to it. (The fact that many of the communities are locked and members aren't exactly going to report them is a barrier, of course.) The usual point about LJ_A needing direct links applies, so "OMG $comm is pro-ana!" isn't going to cut it. But if there's clear instructional material, the policy is to require the post's removal.

Yes, it would be idyllic if the only ED comms were support groups, OA, ABA, and so on because nobody were on a down-slope of a disorder. They're not, because not everybody has hit the rock bottom that one usually needs to hit before getting the help one requires.

I'm sorry that you've gone through the hell that is an eating disorder, because it's utterly diabolical. I know from firsthand experience. The problem with your metaphor is that people in these comms are not in ED units -- they haven't hit that rock bottom yet. As the standard LJ response states, and as I agree, allowing these groups to openly exist is better than driving them underground: it's more likely that an open group will result in either the sufferer recognising the reality of their disease and seeking help, or that another person they care about will do so and will get them the help they need. I'm not interested in you calling bollocks on this, frankly, and we may just have to disagree based on individual experience.

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1 & 2. Well, we're two rounds into each stating our respective separate conclusions based on the same facts, and I guess that means we'll have to agree to disagree on this.

3. Totally unconvinced by the stats there, based on sampling size, self-selection and geographical restriction. The conclusion seems pretty woolly too -- may doesn't exactly cut it for me. Sounds rather like the recent "scientific" conclusion that Type 2 diabetes meds are contributors to heart disease, rather than heart disease being a comorbidity of obesity, itself a factor in T2D.

Devil's advocate question - why should "fandom" mean "science fiction fandom"? Why can't it mean Harry Potter fandom or football fandom or skydiving fandom or anything else?

Asking non-sf folks to hand "fandom" back is as ineffective as demanding North Americans give us back the English language because they keep breaking it.

Interesting question. Historical precedent, I'd say; SF fandom has a very early claim on the term (although the OED notes 1928 for baseball fandom, and US sources place it around the turn of the century). The jargon of HP fandom is very close to that of SF fandom (fanzines, fanfic and so on), as one would expect from what is effectively an offshoot of SF fandom. What surprises me is that HP fandom has comparatively little awareness of and overlap with mainstream SF fandom.

Bah. Maybe I'm just an vile elitist written-SF fan.

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I want to make sure that we understand the same thing by the terms you're using. Mainstream, as you use it, is the same as non-genre (in this case, non-SF)? You talk about mainstream canons, which I take to mean series of books or television programmes which do not predominantly make use of (SF) genre tropes. Is this correct?

I use it slightly differently (and qualified as 'mainstream SF fandom') to refer to those SF fans whose primarily activity is reading (as opposed to watching television/films, writing and performing filks, writing fanfic, making costumes, and so on).

That said, I view mainstream SF fandom as a broad church. Attend an eastercon or a worldcon, and you'll find all of the above denominations represented, and if you wanted to describe the sum total, you'd just talk about 'fandom'. This doesn't seem to be a view that would be shared by the slash and media fans that I've seen on LJ, which I find a little sad.

(as an aside, I think that the jibe about 'obscure SF novels' is a little off target; you could as easily criticise media fandom for their attention to the minutiae of their respective TV series)

Agreeing with above and hawkida; the 'fandom' I have the most involvement with personally is mainstream SF. But the fandom I encounter on LJ is huge, and distinctly not what nmg means when he refers to 'fandom' in the original sense.

I think SF fandom is pretty much ignoring this one; it's diverse already. But LJ fandom is huge, and interlinked, and organised. The RPers, especially the cross fandom RPers in comms like milliways_bar have links to many different genres of fandom, and many non-HP friends of mine are steaming over this whole thing.

And it's the RPers who represent a big chunk of LJs revenue stream, many had 5+ paid accounts for their different characters; many no longer do.

I've not researched the ana thing, only heard about it this morning and am swamped at work, but I concur that they need to be damned careful.

I don't really care if LJ say "we want no child porn here" and make firm, well-enforced rules about what they do and don't want. I do think that they are managing to dig themselves into ever-larger holes, what with support staff who say about pro-ana communities that it's not illegal to aspire to be thin", and when the left hand does not seem to really know what the right hand is doing.

It isn't just the HP fandom. Stick's might not be up and moved but a fair chunk of my fannish flist (none of whom are HP fandom) have created journals on alternate systems, are backing up their journals over there and setting up to cross-post to both LJ and where ever else. I'm been seeing some backing up and doubling of communities as well. That is definately more of a shift than I expected to see, but from the comments I have read people who use their journals to post fic or art are unsettled enough that they don't want to risk everything being deleted even if there work doesn't fall into the current contentious zone.

I'd argue that some individuals in the HP fandom were involved in the breastfeeding issue but they were involved as individuals rather than as members of the community because it was a general issue rather than a community issue. In political terms it was a free vote rather than a party issue.

Okay, I was only seeing the HP fandom part of it; media or slash fandom would perhaps have been more accurate. However media fandom + slash fandom != 'fandom'. There's a lot of other stuff out there which can quite reasonably be called fandom (in the broad-church-SF-fandom sense), to whom this fuss is largely irrelevant.

However, the deleted material that spawned this fuss came from HP fandom, and the issue of child pornography (see Dr Nick's excellent summary of this issue below) is one that would seem to bedevil the authors/artists of adult-rated HP fanstuff.

Worms everywhere! Please only open one can at a time unless you're going to use them, they spoil quickly. I will address only those I'm actually interested in.

The fan images fall foul of laws in lots of places, in the UK an unsympathetic judge is going to rule that some of them count as pseudo-photographs under the letter of the law (which is intentionally vague), and are thus illegal. European law is even firmer.

How did we get here? As a result of a series of arguments which together make even less sense than they did separately. The first argument was that photographs of children which could be construed to be sexual were not merely possible evidence of a crime but actually a crime themselves because of a potential (which need not be established for a conviction) for psychological harm to the child. This argument successfully made both distribution and possession of such photographs illegal. If a court concludes that the picture of your son playing in the bath might make someone else sexually excited then it's technically illegal for you to own it.

Secondly it was argued that often the identity of children in photographs couldn't be established, and that some photographs were claimed in court to be composites, constructed from an innocent photograph of a child and a legal but pornographic image of an adult. Therefore the law was changed to make what it calls pseudo-photographs explicitly illegal, no matter how they were created. Subsequent courts established the definition that the photograph did not need to be fixed in a medium and that the word "copying" did apply in this case to merely incidental copying, and thus making any crime involving a computer more serious. Finally it was established that the images needn't in any sense be "real".

That's the point where an image conjured from your imagination and stored in your computer becomes a "child sex offense". Remember the argument, this is illegal because of the psychological harm it might do to a non-existent child. "Members of the Jury, this woman took Harry Potter's childhood away from him. Imaginary children are our imaginary future. We cannot make it right, but we can punish her for what she did"

On the upside you'll be pleased to know that courts are still queasy about expanding this argument to banning the description of any type of crime, whether fictional or not and particularly applying it to text. Agatha Christie fans have nothing to fear yet. You might, if you're an optimist, take comfort from the fact that guidelines for prosecutors essentially recommend this criminal act is used to bring subsidiary charges, as in the Langham case. You think you'll get him for having sex with an underage girl, but if the jury aren't convinced you've got overwhelming evidence for your subsidiary possession charge and get your guilty verdict. Personally I don't trust prosecutors, or their political masters, to be so selective.

Now, as to the self-harm stuff the first thing that came to mind was BDSM groups. Does LJ ban groups that discuss BDSM lifestyles, techniques, meetings etc. ? How about individuals who are reported for describing how much fun it was for their boyfriend to drip candle wax on them ? Can you expect a ban for that ? People who talk about being spanked, or whipped, or trodden on ? Do these things not count as promoting harm, while discussion of deliberately starving yourself or ways to hide binge-eating does ? Does LJ have discussions of drunken parties, Jackass-style stunts and dangerous world record attempts ?

To me, and hopefully to you, that paragraph in the terms and conditions looks more like it's really about non-consensual harm. LJ is saying that they don't want their service used for messages like "Death to America, raise funds to send weapons to our brave fighters" or even (though I doubt they've tried to enforce it) "They should dispense with the trial and just hang the murdering bastard now"

I'm not persuaded that banning ana/mia from LJ is going to mean any less girls (and it is mostly girls) decide to starve themselves to death. On the contrary persecution (which is how they'll perceive a ban) may actually make it worse. So you'd be supporting it as a matter of principle, and I really don't know what the principle is.

To me, and hopefully to you, that paragraph in the terms and conditions looks more like it's really about non-consensual harm.

Does pandering to and encouraging the self-destructive behaviour of the mentally ill count as consensual harm, or non-consensual harm?

Is that a description of Live Journal / Six Apart, or of the other members of an eating disorder community?

LJ/6A isn't writing the posts in those communities, but by permitting their continued existence it is implicitly condoning their activities.

OK (and sorry that wound up as anonymous, there's no way to retrospectively admit to your authorship on LiveJournal, I thought I'd clicked OpenID but evidently not)

In that case I'd say that there's a confusing situation. Assuming you believe that members of the LJ communities are all anorexic (or have been, or fear that they are becoming) rather than more forum goons who think it's a game then the problem is that you've got one mentally ill person persuading another to do something neither of them is competent to know is a bad idea.

This is obviously undesirable, but I don't know that it's covered by the rule you're pointing at. To be clear, I wouldn't want to be responsible for providing a forum in which anorexics can urge each other on to increasingly dangerous goals, but then I wouldn't want to be responsible for providing a forum where people can recommend acupuncture instead of vaccination for babies, or tell someone with non-specific symptoms that homeopathy will be better for them than conventional medicine so they shouldn't see a GP. Yet that's the sort of place Six Apart have been running and seem content to continue.

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