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Pass it along

A couple of days ago, mgs_slash mod fireholly pointed out that MGS-Slash had been flagged as containing explicit adult content. For those non-flaggers out there (of which I am one), that's when if you're not logged in so that LJ knows how old you are (or, more accurately, how old you said you were when registering), or are under the age of 18 according to your account, every entry shows up only as "may contain adult content." I figured, meh, some LJ mod happened upon the comm somehow and reported it and it got flagged. Irritating, but manageable and possibly reversible.

Then this morning, I checked out metafandom.

Turns out, MGS-Slash wasn't the only one to get the hit. Want to know who the other comms (who've reported in) are? merlin_femslash, merlinxarthur, merlinslash, bandslashmania, slashatthedisco, ice_slash, glambert_fic, mychemicalslash, olympic_slash. Seeing a pattern here? That's right. Either on its own initiative, or due to some asshat reporting it, LJ is adult-content flagging slash sites. The best part? As far as I've heard, the equivalent non-slash-specific comms have not been locked.

Apart from the obvious and extreme problem of rampant homophobia, what are the other problems with this policy?

1. LJ does not actually have a policy requiring comms or personal journals to be marked as containing adult content. The only content rule which applies to this issue says, "LiveJournal is committed to maintaining the Service in a manner reasonably acceptable to all audiences but is not responsible for the monitoring or filtering of any journal Content. Within the confines of international and local law, LiveJournal will generally not place a limit on the type or appropriateness of user content within journals. Those users posting material not suitable for all audiences must agree that they are fully responsible for all the Content they have posted anywhere on the Service." Anything about requiring adult content to be flagged? Not seeing it.

Or, how about, "Should any Content that you have authored be reported to LiveJournal as being offensive or inappropriate, LiveJournal might call upon you to retract, modify, or protect (by means of private and friends only settings) the Content in question within a reasonable amount of time, as determined by the LiveJournal staff." Even if you accept the disturbing implications of this (slash = offensive and inappropriate, het = a okay), it conflicts with:

2. LJ locked all these sites pre-emptively without warning the mods. There was no communication in the cases I know of (the Merlin comms and mgs-slash) informing the mods of the concern.

3. LJ, in its reply to merlinfemmslash, has said: "It is the maintainer's responsibility to require members of a community to put the appropriate adult content label on entries, and should this community be reported again in the future we will re-evaluate. Should more than half of the visible entries contain explicit adult content, we may once again set the "explicit" flag on the entire community."

Is this anywhere in the TOS? No. Have they arbitrarily decided, without informing anyone, that a) Adult content now requires flagging and b) The percent that tips the scales to require the comm to be flagged is 50? Yes. Are they checking that the comms they flag contain more than this arbitrarily decided percentage of unflagged explicit content? No. How do I know? Because mgs_slash requires tagged ratings on all posts. So a quick visit to the tags allows me to do the math. Posts rated R and NC-17? 306. Posts rated G, PG, PG-13 or mod-posts? 451. That works out to 40%, and doesn't include the various miscellaneous posts (intro posts, links, essays etc) which never contain explicit content. And, if works rated R are not required to be flagged for adult content, it works out to 24%. Really did your homework on this one, didn't you LJ?

Quite apart from that, what counts as "visible entries?" Presumably, since they are imposing flagging rather than flocking, flagged entries do not. But in fact, flagging an entire comm is considerably more likely to expose underaged individuals to adult content than not-flagging in comms which require and impose rating warnings on all content. Why? Consider:

What happens when you flag? All you know about the content of the entry is what the subject line says, and that "it may contain adult content." Will it for sure? Who knows. Maybe it's a pic of two guys having tea, or an essay on whether Liquid was created with Ricardo Montalban in mind. You click at your own risk. It is, in fact, like having no warning whatsoever because if everything is warned then nothing is. Whereas, in a comm which imposes proper ratings on all its contents (which any creative works comm worth its salt does), entries are marked just as clearly as if they had been flagged as to the level of adult content they contain and people who are underaged can actually avoid NC-17 stuff if they so choose while reaping the benefits of the rest of the comm.

Let's be frank. You want to stop minors accessing content which legally they shouldn't have access to. Great. Noble goal, and possibly more cogently, legally important goal. Does flagging stop minors reading entries? No. All they have to do is lie and click the "I'm over 18" button - it in no way stops them, other than possibly the discouragement of having to click hundreds of mysterious "I'm over 18" buttons in their search for porn. Does authors/the comm rating fics as R or NC-17 stop minors reading entries? No. There is no way to police who reads what on the internet without severe breaches of privacy.

But even without going that far, this decision already forces negative action. Requiring comms to be flagged as "containing adult content" basically requires people to sign up for LJ - again, no one wants to click through hundreds of "may contain adult content" buttons - or not be able to access comms of their interests. Equally it forces minors who want to participate in those comms to lie as to their age when they register - and let's not pretend that the majority of kids will have enough of a problem with this not to do it. The alternative, requiring comms to have their members flag entries rated R and NC-17, does not stop anyone accessing the content anymore than ratings would, it just does so while creating more ignorance as to the content about to be accessed. The only potential justification for flagging is to hide content outside cuts, and no (surviving) comm is stupid enough to allow R or NC-17 rated material there.

So. As far as anyone knows, there is no basis in the TOS for what LJ is requiring of comm mods. They are making up new rules on the fly, and imposing them to the detriment of communities and their members. They have not circulated any information about this in their own announcements, and they have not updated the TOS to contain these changes. They are operating a fly-by-night operation targeted specifically at slash comms, and further they are doing so without even checking that the comms which they choose to censor actually violate their unannounced rules. Finally, the changes which they impose are more likely to create unwitting underage access to adult content than the systems which were previously in place.

I don't know what can be done about this, apart from notifying as many people as possible and speaking out coherently and convincingly.

Other entries discussing this:
Merlin-femslash and LJ's response
Ineptshieldmaid's summary post



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2010 08:23 pm (UTC)
To be fair on the slash thing, slash does seem to correlate with porn a lot more than het does, in my experience. But I suppose that it's technically unfair to be discriminatory.

Yikes on everything else. I did alway think the content warning on each and every entry thing was counter-intuitive. I've come across more porn that way than otherwise, you're right.
Jul. 15th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
True, but it seems from MGS-Slash at least that they didn't check before they flagged, and they didn't check equivalent het/non slash-specific sites (the Merlin nonspecific fic comm (merlinfic) has more than 50% NC-17 content on its top page, and it wasn't flagged). I mean, I'm sure they could say "well it was just the slash sites that were reported" which probably would be true, but anyone with any kind of common sense would have tried to avoid rampant targeting of slash comms. But good point, and I'll make a little correction to ammend het to non-slash-specific.

I've never cared for it, but I always figured "well, if people want to, it's their choice." If it's not going to be their choice, though...
Jul. 15th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
Man, it's like a tiny Strikethrough 2010. Gotta love how internet companies are dumb!

In other news, this was well thought-out; I never actually got past the annoyance (asrlkjg, dreamwidth, argh) to the bit about kids actually reading more porn if that sort of thing is locked. Good point!
Jul. 16th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC)
Soon there will be "I survived Slash-Lock 2010" icons. Except that since my comm didn't, I won't be able to use them. :(

I mean, I get what the whole flagging thing is trying to accomplish, and I get that it's easier for them to flag a comm then rely on the mods' word that entries will be properly marked for rating, but it's just so ineffective. Either people lie, or they ditch the comm. And since comms are so good about monitoring and enforcing the rating warnings because that's something pretty much everyone agrees is super-important, it's not even like they have much of a case for saying people aren't warning for adult content already.

(Man, Dreamwidth. I know it must be awesome when you're on it, but the content warning drives me nuts. People were quoting from Dreamwidth's TOS being all "look how awesome it is, it doesn't require flagging of adult content!" No, it just requires flagging of the entire site. D: )
Jul. 16th, 2010 04:23 am (UTC)
Lol. I would probably save them anyway! That's what I did with Strikethrough '08- I find the evidence of an internet community which is Serious Business both hilarious and oddly upliffting.

It's true! There was all that wank a year or so ago about putting ratings and warnings on stuff, so pretty much every comm has a system for it now, and most of them are just about the same. I think lj should take the hint that the internet is mostly self-moderating and just. Move on.

(a;lskgfjafsgh. でしょう?! And you still can't make one without an invite code, which strikes me as, like, unnecessarily restrictive. Or something. But yes, it drives me nuts to have to guess as to what kind of story stuff is, or even if it's a story, simply because everything is marked adult-content. I just said I was 18 five minutes ago can't you just remember that?!)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 23rd, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to comment to say that the issue with flagging adult content is that "responsible" users tend to flag their entire journal instead of on a case-by-case basis

That's interesting. It's just that I have literally never visited a DW site that wasn't flagged (admittedly I don't visit many), and so assumed that the entire site was flagged, rather than that (like LJ) flagging is on a journal-to-journal basis. I don't think it's a good choice here or there, but knowing that it's a choice rather than a mandatory setting makes me feel better about DW.

Please feel free to link. :D
Jul. 24th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
My ficjournal, [personal profile] edenbound, should be flagged selectively (certainly is for me, when I'm logged out). Also, on Dreamwidth, when you flag posts, you can give a reason why. E.g. on this post, I've described it as "Mild sexual content", I believe. Which I think is one way DW's implementation of the idea is better than LJ's. Not perfect, because people still blanket-flag their journals, but...
Jul. 24th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC)
Thanks, that's very helpful! Out of curiosity, can I ask why you feel flagging an entry is preferable to giving the same warning without flagging?
Jul. 24th, 2010 09:08 am (UTC)
It's not preferable; I use both. It's ass-covering: if I flag it in the first place, then I'm in control of it (especially important on my LJ crosspost, but also if DW's rules ever change). Plus, highly personal reason, but when my little sister is logged in, she won't stumble across stuff I don't want her to read. I know she still can read it, by logging out, if she wants to, but it's a minor defence!
Jul. 28th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
What ever happened to freedom of speech?

SHAMELESS and HOMOPHOBIC! We'll just have to make more.. :D
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )