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Illegal and Harmful Content Policy Clarifications

We are sorry it has taken so long to address the concerned community members. From reading the recent comments there's a lot of misinformation regarding the two users who were permanently suspended on Friday. In this post we're going to try and condense and reiterate all of our recent policy clarifications as well as address the most frequent questions we've seen.

To begin, we'd like to restate our policy on illegal and harmful content:

Our goal is to encourage and promote a free and open community. We will only intervene to the extent needed to remove illegal and harmful content that is reported to us.

I. Content which violates LiveJournal’s policy against illegal and harmful content is:

a. Content that intrinsically violates existing United States or California law; in other words, where merely possessing, displaying or transmitting the content is a crime. This includes child pornography and threats against the President and successors to the Presidency.

b. Content that encourages or advocates hate crimes, the abuse of children in any form, or rape, even if the content itself is not illegal and may be protected by the First Amendment. This portion of the policy reflects the especially reprehensible nature of these activities; users who encourage or advocate these acts, regardless of their motivation, are simply not welcome on LiveJournal.

c. Content that solicits the commission of, seeks customers for, or provides instructions for illegal activities that would cause immediate and lasting physical or economic harm to others.

Review Process

II. We do not review content until it is reported to us. We will accept all reports of material that is reported to us, regardless of the source, but we will only take action when that material violates our policies.

III. Reports of policy violations must include the full URL(s) of the content to be reviewed.

IV. We will review private content for violations of this policy only if the report provides a reasonable basis for us to believe that there is a violation. We will not review private content in response to an unsubstantiated report that there is a violation “somewhere” in a private journal or community.

Actions where violations are questionable

V. We recognize that the nature of this policy is such that there may be edge cases in which policy violations are not clear. When this is the case, the reported content is reviewed by Abuse Prevention Team members, LiveJournal staff and Six Apart management regarding what action to take.

In such cases, other publicly viewable portions of the journal or community may be reviewed to determine if other clear or potential violations of this policy exist, which may serve as additional context for making a more informed decision.

----------End Policy Statement------------

Because this still leaves people with questions and concerns about this policy, here are some more answers to the most frequent questions we've seen.

* How do these policies apply to images of minors who are not real?

To ensure that we are compliant with child pornography laws, we have decided to treat any content which contains a graphic visual depiction of a minor (anyone under the age of 18, as defined by Federal and California state law) engaged in sexually explicit conduct as a violation of our policy regarding illegal content (see this link for definitions of graphic, visual depiction, and sexually explicit conduct). We feel this approach creates the clearest guidelines possible for users to follow and for the Abuse Prevention Team to enforce, and minimizes the risk of an incorrect evaluation of material. In short, we want to eliminate child porn from being hosted on LiveJournal.


* How do these policies apply to text?

Written material -- fictional or not –- is also subject to Federal laws. But as we stated in a previous post, 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.

* How is LiveJournal determining whether figures depicted in drawings/artwork are underage?

A number of factors are involved in making this determination. Any stated age of the individuals present, the apparent age of the people or characters present in an image, and outside knowledge of the person or character's age are all taken into consideration. The only one of these factors which can be evaluated alone is how characters present in the image are drawn, and this is only done when there is simply no other information available to help determine age.

* Does content that is posted behind a friends lock, as private or under a custom friends filter have to conform to the same standards of acceptability as content that is available publicly? Does content posted on a journal that contains advertising have to conform to the same standard?

Yes, these are held to the same standards. Content must first be reported to the Abuse Prevention Team. If the report contains information which gives the team a reasonable expectation to find a serious violation of our policies present, they will investigate. If there is no strong evidence provided to give the Abuse Prevention Team reasonable expectation of finding a major violation of our policies, the content will not be reviewed.

* What is the correct avenue for a user to take if they would like to appeal a suspension?

Users wishing to appeal their suspension can submit a request to our Abuse Prevention Team as outlined at http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=105.

* If a paid or permanent account holder is suspended is there any avenue available for them to request a refund from LiveJournal and/or Six Apart for their unused paid time? If not, can you give a reason for this?

As stated in our Terms of Service, "Paid accounts are nontransferable and non-refundable." While a limited number of exceptions to this rule are made under some circumstances, accounts suspended for violations of the Terms of Service will not be refunded.

*Can a warning system be put into place regarding prohibited content, much the same way that there is a 3 strikes rule in place for copyright violation complaints instead of banning users on their first offense?

Content that meets this definition is likely to be illegal under child pornography laws so we cannot continue to host it after it has been reported to us and we have reviewed it. Users wishing to appeal their suspension can submit a request to our Abuse Prevention Team as outlined at http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=105.


* Do you plan to change the Terms of Service to reflect this policy?

No. The Terms of Service is not a document designed to detail every specific situation. Specifically, the content covered by this policy consists of various violations of Section XVI, Part 1, or content that is unlawful, harmful, abusive, obscene, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable.

--------End Q&A-----------

We recognize that some of you may dislike this stance, disagree with how we implement the policy, or disagree with our evaluation of certain content. Our goal is to keep the site running, thriving and growing, and to that end we must take a firm stance on illegal content. We appreciate the community's engagement in this issue and have put a lot of thought and effort into making our policy as easy as possible for the community to understand.

Some of you took offense to a comment made by one of our staff members burr86  in a community dedicated to ironic humor. No one is perfect, and in this case he exercised bad judgment, especially since his jokes made him seem to feel the opposite of how he really does. We are positive that his intention was merely to blow off a little steam in a highly stressful and intense situation, and he did not mean to belittle these issues or fandom as a whole. Abe is an active member of the LJ community and does a tremendous amount of great things for the community behind the scenes. We have reminded our team to be respectful of possible interpretations of their comments at all times.

One thing we've heard loud and clear through all of this is that you want us to do better in our communications to the community. We appreciate people like bubble_blunder 's efforts to help aggregate and articulate concerns of the community like she attempted to do in this open letter. How can we do better? We welcome your suggestions in the comments.
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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.
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.
defualt

goals and guidelines

As promised, I want to clarify any confusion there may have been about our policies regarding your content on LiveJournal.

Our number one goal is to encourage and promote a free and open community. We will only intervene to the extent needed to avoid the site being used as a vehicle for illegal activities. The policies are simple.

  • We do not review content until it is reported to us.

  • With regards to illegal or harmful content, our policies are:

    • No illegal content. There is little content that is truly illegal in the United States but it is an important note that SOME content does violate the laws of the United States where our data is kept. Child pornography is a clear example.

    • No content that is created to plan, encourage, or advocate hate crimes, the abuse of children, or rape. I understand that there may be some that believe that the advocacy of these things may be valid discussion, but we simply do not have an interest in hosting this type of content.

    • No content which is meant to plan, solicit the commission of, seek customers for, or provide instructions for serious illegal activities which could cause harm to others.

  • Political, philosophical, religious and artistic discussion is encouraged and protected as long as it does not violate any of the guidelines listed above.


Your profile is part of your journal. If your profile, taken as a whole, breaks these policies, we will treat it the same as if it were in an entry or comment. For years, we have had these policies, but there were aspects of them that were not as clear as desired. We are making no major policy changes, we have made no changes to the TOS, and we do not anticipate making any changes in the future.

We are also reviewing our internal procedures and the communications we use to explain those procedures. We will also work on ways to make it easier for the community to report abusive or offensive content. I hope this makes things a lot clearer for everyone.
me, fearless leader
  • burr86

what happened: a recap

We've been reading all your comments in response to our announcements, and we've been working to address many of the issues you've brought up. I thought it would be helpful to offer both a recap of what happened and what the errors and misconceptions are. There's a lot of confusion floating around -- understandably so -- and so we wanted to make sure we were all on the same page in that regard.


What Happened

We've been reviewing our policy regarding illegal activity on LiveJournal for several months (long before we received reports from any outside organizations). We found ways that we could more strictly enforce our policy to make a better effort at preventing people from using LiveJournal to organize, encourage, or participate in activities such as the sexual abuse of children. In particular, we wanted to make sure that we were evaluating profiles the same way we evaluate journals or entries themselves.

We've always had a policy preventing the promotion or solicitation of any illegal activity. There were several miscommunications internally regarding the changes we wanted to make in enforcement, and what we enforced prohibited listing any illegal activity as an interest. We then began to evaluate journals that were reported to us, and suspended journals and communities based on interests they listed. (Many of those journals were later unsuspended.)


Some Errors and Misconceptions

* We don't actively search for any violations of our Terms of Service. Any journal that we review must be reported to us first. To be specific, every journal that was suspended a few weeks ago was reported to us -- we didn't search for these journals. We receive some legal protection if we only act on reports we receive (not to mention that it's a sheer impracticality for us to do otherwise).

* We never intended for our policies to be enforced in a way that prohibited users from listing illegal interests, though this misinterpretation (on our part) is what resulted in the suspensions in the first place. Our goal was to make sure that profiles were being held to the same standards as other content. To be clear: listing an illegal activity in your interests list isn't a violation of the Terms of Service in isolation, and we won't equate individual interests with activities you support or advocate. Instead, we will consider journals and profiles as a whole, in context, to determine whether they violate our policies.

* Whenever we make large-scale policy changes, we will ensure to communicate these in advance to the community. We will never change our policies because any individual, organization, or corporation wants us to. We didn't change our policy in this situation, either, but various misinterpratations internally meant that what was enforced wasn't what we intended to enforce. Moving forward, we're going to be extra careful in making sure we avoid these sorts of miscommunications internally.

* We dropped the ball in our communication to the community in the hours and first few days after we realized our mistake, and we're very sorry for that. This does tie into the previous point: it took us quite some time to sort through what had happened. (And, yes, in the future we're going to be much better about communicating things out to you guys, faster.)


Barak will be posting in a little bit to reiterate our policy on illegal content. We know that a lot of people are worried -- but please understand that the policies haven't changed. We made a mistake in enforcing the policies in a high-profile instance that affected hundreds of accounts, and we've been working ever since to correct that mistake. Hopefully this post and Barak's post answered the questions you had. (And, as ever, we're still reading the comments, even if we can't reply to each one individually.)
defualt

putting our money where our mouth is

As I said in my my posts on LJ News, we at Six Apart care about freedom of speech, protection from sexual violence, creating an economy that encourages sharing, and using technology to improve the world. As many of you have said, those are easy words to say, but actions speak louder than words. We agree. So we're putting our money where our mouth is, and giving you a way to influence how much money we give.

We'll be selling permanent accounts for seven days, beginning Thursday. As we did two years ago, these accounts will sell for $150. This time, for every account purchased during the first 36 hours of the sale, we'll make a donation of $25, shared equally among the EFF, RAINN, Creative Commons, and WITNESS. These organizations reflect our values, and we hope they reflect yours.

EFF is the world’s leading advocate of freedom of speech on the web; RAINN is the United States' largest anti-sexual assault organization; Creative Commons is the global organization pioneering alternate licenses to traditional copyright in order to allow sharing, remixing and reusing content; and Witness works to use video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.

If you decide to buy a permanent account during the first 36 hours of the sale, $25 of your purchase will shared with these organizations. Or, if you prefer, you'll have the option to earmark the donation from your purchase for only one of these groups. So you're in control of how much we donate and which organizations will benefit.

We think this is a great idea. If you agree, please spread the word about the sale and the donation. If you or your friends are already planning on buying a Permanent Account, let them know the best time to buy is during the first 36 hours of the sale, starting on June 21st 2007. You can sign up to be notified via email right when the sale starts.

Then bookmark this page: http://www.livejournal.com/shop/view.bml?item=paidaccount. That's where you can go to purchase your Permanent Account once the sale begins.

We know that other actions count too, so we're actively working to make our policies more transparent and our actions accurately reflect the will of the community. To this end we are working on:

  • Clarifying our policies so that it's easier to understand what kinds of content Six Apart is either unwilling to host or legally unable to host.
  • Building an automated system for reporting offensive and abusive content and a reputation engine that avoids the majority or a vocal minority from constraining open and free expression under the policies in above.
  • Clarifying the differences in policies between public and private content, and making commitments about how you can expect us to protect your private content and resist intrusions into your privacy.
  • Creating a forum for making all of this more transparent and predictable.


Each of these steps take time, but we're committed to seeing them through and keeping you informed of our progress, and we will do just that. We are committed to remaining one of the most open and vibrant communities on the web.

Update

Many of you make the rational point that you would like to know about any policy clarifications before buying a permanent account. While there is still some work to do on edge cases and implementation approaches to ensure consistent application of policies, I do believe we can provide you a good deal of clarity on the policies we intend to implement before the end of the day in California today (Wed.). I hope that will help.

bee stung
  • kimmi8

Omniture on LiveJournal

We’re making a change to the way we’re gathering statistics on LiveJournal and wanted to let you know the plan and details in advance of the change. In June of ’06, we put in place a data-gathering solution that allowed us to dig deeper into how users and visitors use LiveJournal. The web analytics tool used was WebSideStory Hitbox. The details on those changes and the types of stats gathered can be found in this post. We have since made the decision to migrate to Omniture SiteCatalyst, which offers better solutions for our needs. The plan will be fully implemented by end of January '07.

Omniture is a drop-in replacement, and uses the same mechanism for tagging as Hitbox. Our engineering team worked closely with them to examine and approve the javascript code. We’ve followed the same policies as we did with Hitbox, so there should be no visible difference to our users. We’re still hosting the javascript code on our side, however it’ll be a few weeks before the cookie is set to the domain of livejournal.com. In the meantime, the cookie will be sent from sixapart.2o7.net.

Policies and Privacy

* No identifying information is sent to Omniture. Only anonymous information about visitors to web pages is collected and reported back to us.

* We still apply the cookie only to a random sampling of a very small percentage (~ 5%) of all users.

* Page Urls containing identifying information are still stripped of this data (ie. usernames, memory category keywords, etc)

* The code is only on most site-schemed pages, and not on any administrative areas or areas that contain sensitive identity data (such as the credit card pages within the payment and shop areas). And it’s still not included on anything within your journals or communities -- including all comment pages.

We will continue to provide a way for any user to opt out of contributing to the stat-gathering, even though we know it runs the risk of statistically biasing our results. If you’d like to opt out, go to the Admin Console and type "set opt_exclude_stats 1".
bee stung
  • kimmi8

LJ and SUP

We've licensed SUP, a Russian internet company, the right to use the LiveJournal brand. They'll be operating portions of the LiveJournal service for our Russian userbase (and only for those that want this support). This partnership is an effort to improve the speed, usability, and services that are offered to our Russian community. The only changes that Russian users will see is an improvement to user experience, translation, and support.

The Russian users that have agreed to this support will still continue to be a part of LiveJournal, for as long as they want to be. SUP will be able to promote other products or services they develop to the Russian community, but they won't be able to disconnect anyone from LiveJournal or break apart the community. LiveJournal will still be in control of your journals. We're partnering with SUP to offer a better experience, since we know we've been strongly limited by not being able to serve our Russian community in their native language.


Here are a few of the common questions we know you have:

* What criteria will be used to determine whether a journal is "Russian" or not?
It will be a combination of if you write primarily in Cyrillic, have listed your location as a country from the former USSR, or use a Russian browser.


* Will there be a way to opt out of having my journal transfered?
No journals are being transferred; it's just a change in how the site will be supported.  You will be able to opt out of getting the new Russian features, and to continue to be supported by LiveJournal/Six Apart).


* Will information from these journals be given to the Russian government? Personal information?
No. Not in any way that would not happen today, such as a court-ordered subpoena. SUP is acting as our agent and will be bound by our Privacy Policy


* Will they have access to Russian users' private account information?
Again, only under our privacy policy, and bound by the same terms.


* Is SUP under any legal obligation to keep users' information confidential?
Yes, they are. They don't own any information, and they can't reuse it in any way not covered by our policies.


* Will SUP have access to non-Russian users' account information?
No. They have no involvement at all with other users on LiveJournal.


* Will they be handling payments for Russian users?
Yes, eventually SUP will be supporting this, which will allow us to make the payment process far less painful for users in the Russian Federation.


* Is SUP bound to maintain LJ's Terms of Service, or will they have the ability to create their own? What about the privacy policy?
The Terms of Service and privacy policy will not change without our express approval. We don't expect any changes, except to cover new services SUP will be able to offer, such as Russian SMS, etc.


********

If you have further questions, you're welcome to comment here! Or, for Russian-language support, ask questions directly in the SUP community: sup_ru.


P.S. Sorry, we haven't had a chance to translate this post. In the meantime, you can use http://translate.ru (...and think, in the future you won't have to anymore).
me, fearless leader
  • burr86

about sponsored features

I know there's probably more to say about sponsored communities, but I want to shift the focus for a minute to "sponsored features" to talk about the changes we're making there.


Sponsored features are any feature of the site that we offer through a partnership with another company. The first such feature is going to be SMS functionality -- increased ability for you to interact with LJ from your mobile phone (such as posting, reading your friends list, etc). These are features that we've developed for the benefit of our users; they're "sponsored" because the resources (funding and development) for enhancing and adding features go beyond our core capabilities, and so we work with another company that can help us out. They're things we've wanted to add to the site but were never quite able to do so on our own, and hopefully they're things you'd want to use.

Our partners are companies that want to tell people about their products or services, and they're companies that we feel offer a bunch of things that LJ users might find valuable. So in addition to developing features you can use, we form a sponsorship relationship with them to promote their services. These sponsorship programs can involve a variety of different things -- co-marketing efforts, joint press releases, sponsored communities, advertising in the existing ad program -- and various "promotional placements". These are essentially a type of advertising that acknowledges their sponsorship of a given LJ feature. These are graphics or text that say things like, "LJ Gerbil Sweaters ... sponsored by XYZ" or "LJ Bundt Cakes in partnership with Company ABC".



How is this going to affect the account levels

Paid/Permanent Accounts We never meant to upset you guys by saying that paid and permanent account users will see "sponsored by" logos or advertisements with these features. We're not going to do that. However, we're not going to make these features entirely invisible to you, either. You'll still know about the existence of a sponsored feature, you'll see links to those features, and you'll still be free to use them if you want to. We're just going to avoid displaying any sort of marketing or promotional content for another company; your experience with these features will hopefully be exactly like your experience with any other feature we offer. From a business's perspective, part of the appeal of sponsoring a feature *is* the associated promotional placement that comes with it, sure, but we decided we're willing to eat the costs of that.

Plus users As users who've opted to see advertisements on the site, you will also see these promos on the feature pages when they use them; we feel that's fair, and I'm pretty sure you guys do too. (At least, I don't remember seeing comments expressing otherwise!)

Basic users In this case, we have two options: (1) not offer the feature to them at all; (2) offer the feature and pay for it through sponsor placement. We chose to go with the second route. Basic users who don't want to see the ads can avoid using the feature, and they will be no better or worse off. It costs us money to offer these, and so the least we can do is display a promo for a sponsor if you're not otherwise paying us to use it.



With that said, it's up to you how you want to use these; if you don't want to use these features at all, that's fine, but we hope that we didn't sour you on the experience entirely. As always, we'll be reading the comments here, and if we see any major points of concern, we'll make new posts to address them.
me, fearless leader
  • burr86

answers to your questions about sponsored communities

Some of you might be interested in more detailed explanation of our stances on various issues surrounding sponsored communities. The previous post described what we're going to require of our sponsors, and we wanted to make those points clear without bogging them down in explanations and justifications. If you're interested in reading some more of the logic about this, or if you have questions about details that weren't covered by the previous post, then this post is for you. :)


* Commercial Activity: Our policy has always been that limited commercial activity confined to an individual journal or community is acceptable; they can't post clickthrough links, user-provided banner ads, and things of that nature. This allows users to do things like create individual "selling journals" for their crafts, for instance. And if someone wants to create a journal dedicated to how great their Gerbil Sweaters are, and you can buy one for $8, well, more power to them.

However, this particular portion of the Terms of Service also gives us the ability to grant permission to engage in commercial activity on a case-by-case basis. This is how we're going to do this: we will be more strictly enforcing this policy for bigger business ventures (for example, ones that obviously turn over a million dollars in revenue); we're not going to allow them to engage in any commercial activity on LiveJournal unless they go through us. This allows us to hold them to the same guidelines we're holding all other sponsored communities to, and it means that you won't be surprised by the actions a community is taking. (It also gives us recourse in the event that a communiy *does* do something we wouldn't allow an officially-sanctioned sponsored community to do.)


* Community Invites and Spam: Although sponsored communities do enjoy many of the same permissions that regular communities do, we're going to be very strict about how they interact with users. In particular, we're going to specifically prohibit them from sending out community invites (although maintainers of other communities can still do so). We're also not going to allow them to initiate any sort of contact with you outside of their community; this means that you won't get comment spam inviting you to join a sponsored community. (If you get comment spam from any user or community, you can delete it and mark it as spam and we'll take action against them.)


* Visibility to Users Logged-out, Basic, and Plus users will see these communities highlighted on the main LJ page and in interest searches. All users will be able to see these communities and participate. They're not going to be 100% invisible to you (you may see them on your friendsfriends page, for instance). We also changed the icon to make it clear that you're looking at a sponsored community (and we'll change it again to address the concerns you brought up in the comments to that post). The community's profile and layout will also clearly designate the communities as sponsored communities. We recognize that some people don't want to interact with these communities at all, so we'll do what we can to minimize that.


* Placement in Interest Searches If you're a paid or permanent account holder, sponsored communities won't get "priority listing" in interest searches. You'll probably still see them amidst the other results, though. They're still legitimate communities -- whether they're run by a company or run by a fan, they get equal access to being listed in an interest search. (They'll be distinguished with a different icon, though, just as they are elsewhere in the site.)


* Access to User Data I honestly have no idea where this rumor came from, but to be clear: we will never compromise the security of your protected or private content under any circumstances, unless we're legally obligated by law (that is, unless we get a court order). To that end, we're not going to give sponsored communities -- or any other communities -- access to anything they can't already see in your journals. We're not going to sell them your email address, either. (We can't prevent them from seeing what's already public, though, but we're not going to help them do so, either.) Let me repeat that, though, because it bears repeating: no advertiser or sponsor is going to get access to your protected content.

Also, because I know some people brought this up: we have very strong security precautions in place to prevent anyone -- sponsored community or not -- from entering in malicious code into their journal styles to gain access to your account or content. If we find that anyone -- again, sponsored community or not -- is exploiting a security hole, we will close that security hole and we'll take aggressive action against the person or persons who took advantage of it.


* Usernames We're very clear with companies that are interested in creating sponsored communities when they let us know which username they'd like to use for their community. We let them know that our namespace is limited, and that their requested username might not be available. We're not going to "eminent domain" a username for an advertiser, especially not if someone's actively using that account. We might ask a user to see if they're willing to give up their username (and offer a free rename token, of course), but ultimately the decision rests with the owner of the journal, not with the advertiser.


* Anti-advertiser content One of our core principles is that of free expression. We're privately held, and so we don't have to offer a great deal of freedom, but it's something that every single one of us believes very strongly in. If a company wants to promote something on LJ, they don't get the privilege of "censoring" anything they don't agree with. However -- just like any other community -- they're welcome to run their communities as they wish. This does mean that they can delete comments or entries that they don't want in their sponsored community. (This is no different than the maintainer of a community about bundt cakes deleting entries that describe how to knit sweaters for gerbils or deleting entries that talk about how awful bundt cakes are; that's at his or her discretion.)

To be clear: Unless an account is already in violation of our Terms of Service, we will not take down journals, communities, or content that is offensive or objectionable to a sponsor. They are aware (and still want to advertise here) that users can write anything that they want. What's permissible on this site is governed by the policies we've had for years, not our advertisers. Their position as a sponsor doesn't give them extra "clout" in that respect.


* Fandom Someone asked that we specifically address this, so: Along the same lines as the previous bullet point, we're not going to "shut down" fandoms or RPGs just because a sponsor said they wanted them shut down. We find that idea repulsive. However, we are (and have always been) legally obligated to act if we receive complaints indicating that someone is violating copyright or infringing on a trademark. This is a long-standing practice; we *have* to do this to avoid getting into legal trouble.

That said, we also enjoy legal freedoms by not actively seeking this sort of thing out -- a sponsor can't ask us to search for all communities of a given fandom so they can report them to us. If they want to do that, they have to do it on their own; we can't and won't help with that. So ultimately, our existing policies on copyright and trademark aren't going to change if a sponsor is on LJ; if they want to report icons or screencaps, the copyright holder will always have a legal right to do so. We're neither going to encourage them to do that, nor are we going to discourage them, either. LiveJournal needs to remain neutral in this type of situation, due to existing United States laws. We still have to enforce these laws whether or not we have sponsored communities.

We understand your fears about having your fandoms disrupted by large media corporations, and so we want to make this clear: just because they've paid us money doesn't mean that corporations will have any extra rights or leverages to censor what you do as a part of fandom. I know a lot of people are worried that they'll "find you" and destroy your communities that way, but their having a community here doesn't give them any extra visibility into LJ; they're "in your neighborhood", yes, but the guildelines we're making with them make it clear that we don't want them interfering with established communities in ways that everyone can agree would be disruptive.


* Sock Puppet Accounts We don't want advertisers to "trick" you in any way; to that end -- and this hasn't been a problem (but there have been suspicions and questions) -- we're going to ask them to clearly designate any associated account (maintainer accounts, company representatives, whatever) as affiliated with the community, if they're not already listed as maintainers of the community. We don't want there to be any ambiguity in this regard; if an account is associated with the community, it will clearly say so. If it doesn't say so, then it's a regular LiveJournal user.



I think that covers some of the biggest concerns people had. If you have questions, feel free to comment here, and we'll try to address them as best as we can. Please don't comment if you just want to say "u sux lol sellouts". (Disagree all you want! Just explain why.) We're very interested in making sure you understand how we're handling this -- whether or not you like the idea, we want to be clear about how we're implementing it.