Livejournal Targets Sexual Violence

ComputerThe freedom online to portray and promote illegal sexual activity has long been a contentious issue as has where we draw the line between promoting the illegal and allowing space for fantasy. Now internet blog site Livejournal has been drawn into just that controversy with the decision to suspend and purge over a hundred accounts because of their content. Livejournal which is owned and run by SixApart who also own and run Movable Type, Type Pad and Vox, has claimed the suspensions and removals are in response to breaches of terms of service.

“We did a review of our policies related to how we review those sites, those journals [referring to journals which were promoting pedophilia, the sexual abuse of minors, and other illegal activities], and came up with the fact that we actually did have a number of journals up that we didn’t think met our policies and didn’t think they were appropriate to have up,” Barak Berkowitz, chairman and chief executive of Six Apart, said.

From C Net News

However the moves have sparked an outcry with some bloggers claiming that SixApart has targetted “fanfic” sites which do not promote paedophilia and sexual abuse but merely express fantasy sexual ideas. It seems one of the most contentious deletions is a community journal which focussed on Harry Potter slash fiction.

“What has outraged the LiveJournal protesters is that the purging of discussions and accounts went far beyond what they say was necessary to target pedophilia. One post noted that two journals were deleted on the grounds that “they in some way encouraged illegal behavior” even though the accounts belonged to clearly labeled fictional characters in a role-playing game. Another deleted community was reportedly home to Spanish-language discussions of Vladimir Nabokov’s famous novel Lolita.”

From C Net News

Which brings us back to the age-old argument of whether written child porn is a preventative element (i.e. it’s presences fulfils the sexual desire and prevents paedophiles and potential child abusers from moving onto real children) or not. My sense is that there is no evidence of a single paedophile who has been prevented or dissuaded from real abuse by their use of written child porn. In fact we know from general statistics that pornography plays a strong role in the fantasy lives of most sexually violent men before, during and after actual attacks.

And the storm in a blog-cup (which follows fast on the heels of SixAparts decision to ban pictures of breast-feeding as licentious and offensive, a decision which seems to have been fast overturned) has three elements which undermine the importance of SixApart’s actions (and for the record I am surprised any web provider allowed explicitly focussed incest sites to exist for as long as they did).

  • Most of the discussion focusses on what might happen. Many commentators have used the phrasing of “of course we support removal of illegal journals/communities and sexual abuse of children is wrong, but it might also lead to…”. Now for me this undermines the fact that SixApart has taken a strong decision to enforce it’s terms of service and focus on removing illegal activities and ones which contravene their terms of service. Arguments such as

    “I list ‘gay marriage’ among my interests–that is illegal in my state. With this wording my journal could be deleted, without warning, for the fact that I support equal rights of marriage for all.”

    Lj User “femmequixotic” quoted on C Net News

    rather miss the point for me, SixApart has not, to date, deleted site supporting equal rights, whether or not they are illegal in the country of the users origin.

  • As ever the rumour mill began to work overtime almost immediately and part of this “it might happen y’know” ethos began to spread the rumour that survivor journals and communities were also being deleted in the same purge. Whilst SixApart have already admitted there is a margin for error and said they will apologise for any blog deleted in error, Antiphonal debunks the claims that support communities are being targetted. The site goes on to say

    Debunked: the claim that multiple survivor communities were suspended. People, this isn’t true. Yes, individual survivor journals were deleted (two have been noted in comments here, one by its owner and the other by people who knew the owner, although she has not posted here). I have not seen a suspended community named here that was explicitly a survivor community; one anon commenter did say that her community, intended for teens to ask question about sex, was deleted, but she did not name the community.


  • Focus has been on a shadowy organisation called “Warriors for Innocence” who apparently provoked SixApart’s response by an open letter threatening to coalesce a campaign for advertisers to withdraw from the site because of this content. I am not linking to “Warriors for Innocence” becase their site apparently is spy-ware heavy (you have been warned). Now I agree that the influence of an organisation which does not publically identify itself other than by a rather twee name like WfI is worrying. But lets remember here, these sites contravened the Terms of Service for Livejournal so whether prompted by a wierd organisation lacking naming creativity or a single user, the actions were still right.

For fairness you can read the other side of the debate here and another set of commentary (more balanced) here.

What is of great shame here is that the precursor to the move was an organisation who’s rhetoric smacks of the religious right rather than a feminist group. Sites deleted were not just incest and child abuse sites (although many of them were) but also rape and torture sites. Now whilst I understand and accept that some feminists are pro-porn, including violent porn, there is also the issue that our (feminist) engagement with such ideas must be in the context of understanding current power relationships and the way violence and sexual violence is used to oppress women. It isn’t enough to argue “Well I reclaim it, so there” without showing some form of deconstruction or challenge which makes what is reclaimed different to what already exists. Otherwise it is called collaboration or complicity and that’s usually seen as a bad thing. So whilst the web might be just a tool for many feminist women and groups, it’s also a space wherein we can effect change. And as such we should be aiming to shape that space rather than just comment on it.

Photo used under Commons Creative license, created by Oneras