July 19th, 2007

me, fearless leader
  • burr86

illegal and harmful activity

In the comments to Barak's previous post, we've seen many people asking for more detailed clarification regarding the content that would be prohibited under our policy on illegal and harmful activity. We have spent many, many hours discussing these issues with the staff and volunteer team, taking into consideration the points you've raised, and we thought we'd take a minute to explain further.

The categories outlined in Barak's post describe the sorts of material that aren't allowed on LiveJournal -- either because it's prohibited by United States law, or because it's prohibited by our Terms of Service. To reiterate, though, we take a zero-tolerance stance on these sorts of material:

1. Material which violates United States law

Our servers are located in the United States, and so that means that LiveJournal is subject to United States law. This particular item in our policy covers content that inherently violates specific United States criminal statutes. (That is, the material itself is against the law.)

This includes threats of physical harm against the President or other executive officers, child pornography (photos or videos), or other material -- including drawings and text -- that explicitly depicts minors under the age of 18 (real or not) in a graphic sexual context. Or, in other words: Romeo and Juliet is okay. Teens talking about their experiences with sex is okay. Smut focused on a twelve year old is not okay.

These laws aren't unique to LiveJournal or even the Internet -- all media and publications in the United States are subject to them, and so we need to make sure that stuff on LJ doesn't violate these laws.

2. Material which encourages or advocates hate crimes, rape, or child abuse or pedophilia.

Stated differently, any material which indicates that these crimes are good or that they should be committed -- none of that is permitted. Effectively, you can't use LJ to promote these activities.

Again, though, we take things in context. If you're discussing the clinical diagnosis of pedophila, if you're discussing your experiences as a rape survivor, if you're discussing the actions that occurred in the Holocaust -- those are all fine. But content such as "Hitler killed millions of people, and someone should pick up where he left off" or "adults should be allowed to have sex with children" isn't permitted.

3. Material that asks for assistance in committing illegal activities that cause serious physical/economic harm to others.

Or, in other words, you can't use LiveJournal to plan, offer, or instruct others on how to commit serious illegal activities. The goal here isn't to prohibit every single illegal action. Rather, when we say "serious illegal activity", we're referring to activities that cause some sort of physical/economic harm to others.

Some of you were asking about things like speeding, gay marriage, jaywalking, purchase of sexual equipment, underage drinking, etc. None of those would be prohibited by this policy. But you can't post an entry asking for someone to help you beat someone up; you can't post entries asking if anyone knows how you can get around the anti-theft guards at an electronics store. That kind of thing.

We know there are grey areas and borderline cases, but there's no possible way we can make a list of what's acceptable versus what's not acceptable. (I've been reading Abuse complaints for three years, and someone comes up with something I've never seen before at least once a week.) When those cases come up, though, multiple people review them -- including members of our Abuse Prevention Team, LiveJournal and Six Apart staff, and our legal counsel. These sorts of decisions aren't made in a vacuum, nor are they made by just one person.

This should hopefully clarify most of the concerns that were raised regarding the specifics of our policies. As always, we'll be reading the comments here, but we can't guarantee that someone will be able to respond to every one.

CLARIFICATION: Not all content describing underage sexuality is in violation of our policies (or of United States law). Rather, using LJ to distribute "obscene" content (as defined by the Miller Test) is illegal. If it qualifies as obscene, and if it involves minors (people under the age of 18), then it's not allowed.

More clarifications are in the next post in this community.
me, fearless leader
  • burr86

more clarifications

We're seeing a lot of confusion in the comments to our previous post. Our intention is to provide clarification, not to create concern. All it says is that things that are illegal under United States law aren't allowed here, either. (And as a note to our non-US users: yeah, we know since the laws are different, they can be really confusing to understand, and we're sorry.)

We hear the community asking for clarification on what's allowed and what's not allowed. People far smarter than us have been trying for years to wrap language around these definitions, and it's not possible. What we can do is tell you the standards that we will be applying when "questionable" content is reported to us.

Not all content involving underage sexuality is illegal -- but some of it is, and we can't allow that to be posted on LiveJournal. Rather than reply to every question, we (meaning our legal counsel and the LJ staff) would like to address some common themes:

First of all, child pornography is illegal under any circumstances and has no place in LiveJournal. We have zero tolerance for it and we hope that view is shared by all of the members of our community.

Some people have noted a Supreme Court case from a couple of years ago striking computer-generated images from the definition of child pornography and asked whether, as a result, drawings of children in sexual situations can be considered illegal. The answer is, yes, in some cases. Congress reacted to the Supreme Court's decision in that case by changing the obscenity laws to put back what the Supreme Court struck down from the child pornography laws. Those obscenity laws are still on the books today and still being enforced. As a result, our policy prohibits obscene images of minors in graphic sexual contexts.

Written material -- fictional or not –- is also subject to United States obscenity laws. There's been a great deal of discussion and argument about the role that the "Miller test" plays in determining what's obscene and what isn't. Nobody can dispute that it involves some very subjective elements, and raises some difficult-to-answer questions: Whose community standards? Who defines "literary, artistic, political or scientific merit"? This evaluation is subjective, forcing us to carefully consider everything in context.

An example of some of the questions we'll ask in order to determine if material falls into this category are: is this writing intended to eroticize the sexual abuse of children? Is the fact that someone's underage, a critical element of the work, or is it incidental? Is the language excessively graphic instead of suggestive? Is there context beyond the sexual situation, or is the material designed just to focus on the sexualization of minors and nothing more? Does the work have an overall message, or is it written only to appeal to an adult's potential sexual fascination with children? These are only some of the questions we'll ask, and we have to consider everything that's reported to us in context and as a whole.

Over the years, we've looked at thousands of reported journals and communities, and we rarely have come across a case of creative fiction or fanfic text that warrants review. If the content is similar in tone, context, feel, and level of explicitness to something that could be found on the shelves of a national chain bookstores, we'll take that into consideration as well.

We also wanted to clarify that we aren't proactively seeking violations of this policy, and require anyone who reports something to us, to provide specific examples of our policies being violated -- links to individual entries, rather than links to entire journals or communities.

We aren't making these decisions in a vacuum. Groups of people from various parts of the LiveJournal team are going to evaluate anything that's reported to us using a standard that we hope accommodates as many of the diverse views of our global community as possible, within the constraints placed on us by United States law.

We hope this is helpful and provides some reassurance. As always, we'll be reading the comments here -- and thank you to everyone for your feedback on the previous post -- but we can't respond to every individual comment separately. We'll be reading, though, and incorporating any other comments you have into our discussions.