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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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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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