KJ (owlmoose) wrote,

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LJ, obscenity, and the Internet

For the last couple of weeks I'd been meaning to write up my thoughts on LJ's announcement and clarifications regarding exactly what constitutes unacceptable content according to their terms of service. Given the latest developments, I don't know whether to be glad or sorry that I never got around to it.

I don't really know yet what to think about the latest LJ shenanigans. Two popular Harry Potter fan artists were "permanently suspended" yesterday, but reports as to why vary -- it might purely be the underage sex issue, but there is also evidence that this might have been prompted by a complaint made by Warner Brothers. More information on the latter theory can be found in this post. If this is the case, I'm afraid it was just a matter of time on this one. The WB has gotten aggressive about HP and underage sex in fanwork before (their demands led to the removal of all adult stories from FF.net); I'm kind of surprised that this hasn't happened on a larger scale already. But whether the report came from the copyright holder or from some random person who took offense for whatever reason, the issue remains a serious one, and ongoing in a way I hadn't expected it to be.

Right now, I'm not sure what to think. But I do know two things. First, LJ might not be evil, and they might not even mean to cause trouble, but whatever their intentions, they are incredibly tone-deaf. Did they really think people would stop freaking out because of a lack of a strikethrough? Did they truly believe that no one would notice when their friends went missing? They could have saved themselves so much time and trouble by hiring a decent lawyer and a decent publicist to work together to deal with the community. Instead we get confusion and a lack of communication and all kinds of stress -- for us, for them, for all of fandom. You'd think after a half-dozen iterations that they'd learn not to send their CEO or a programming geek, no matter how well-liked, out to deal with an angry mob, but I guess not.

As for my second point. Before I get rolling, I want to recommend synecdochic's post on this subject. A couple of caveats: first, what she says about US law isn't completely true. The legal status of artwork depicting underage sex is based on obscenity standards; unlike photographs, it's not child porn by definition. And I understand why some might find her statement that LJ/6A hates this situation as much as we do a bit disingenuous. But I still think she raises a very important point: this is not just about LJ.

This is way bigger than LJ.

This is about living in a society that gets hysterical about the smallest chance that a child might be exposed to porn, or the slightest suggestion that teenagers find themselves in sexual situations. This is about the ludicrousness of U.S. obscenity laws, which are so vague and difficult to interpret that these sorts of messes are almost inevitable. If you want to stand up against censorship, support organizations like the EFF and ACLU who work to overturn those laws and fight against their selective and uneven enforcement. Remember the Communications Decency Act? That bill, overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton (lest you think this is the work of right-wing lunatics) in 1996, would have effectively outlawed all sexually explicit content on the Internet, and only by the grace of the Supreme Court are we even able to have this discussion. The Congress, the President, and the Department of Justice have been attempting to chip away at the ruling ever since, with some success. (A few of the more recent efforts are detailed in the post I linked above.) And if we don't fight, then someday they eventually will win. Because no politician wants to be seen as supporting kiddie porn, and to people outside of fandom, that's what these kinds of fanworks can look like. A relevant quote from that same post:

But I think that what fandom forgets sometimes -- because we know how we use language, we know what we intend when we write or draw or create something, we know that these manifestations of our creativity are not at all intended to promote an atmosphere where the sexual abuse of children is encouraged and normalized -- that an outsider, without that cultural background and shared vocabulary, doesn't know these things.

And I'm not talking about the owners of social media sites or the people who handle reports of a policy violation on social media sites. I'm talking about Alberto Gonzales and John McCain; I'm talking about the attorneys general of Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.... I'm talking about the FBI and the NCMEC, about Detective Joe who became your town police's "computer crimes" forensics guy because he knew how to run disk recovery software, about Mrs. Grundy in Lincoln, Nebraska who's simply scandalized every time she catches an episode of "To Catch A Predator".

She goes on to suggest that self-policing is the answer. I don't know that I would go that far, but I do think that we need to at least be aware of how we present ourselves. When you post sexually explicit materials on the 'Net, particularly when the content involves minors, particularly when the minors in question are characters owned by a large multinational corporation that cares a great deal about its reputation in the heartland, then you are taking a chance, and you might get burned. I'm not saying that it's good, I'm not saying that it's right. But it is. And no one is well served when we pretend otherwise.

I'm not saying not to be angry at LJ. I'm pretty irritated myself, especially given that I've stood up for them throughout this mess and now I'm starting to feel like they're going out of their way to prove me wrong. Protest, and leave if you feel you need to, and take whatever measures you need to take to protect yourself. (Although really at this point I wouldn't worry about fic too much -- the obscenity standards for textual materials are much stricter than those for images.) But what if we took all this energy we've built up being upset at LJ and turned it into action to get behind the Electronic Frontier Foundation? What might we be able to do? What if we found a way to make this about something more than "OMG they took away my pr0n!!11!"? This might be our opportunity to become a force for change, not just on LJ, but in the larger world. Something to think about, anyway.
Tags: activism, civil rights, fandom, meta, rant
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