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Participate in the Blogger Challenge & Help Students and Schools

One of the best kept secrets about the LiveJournal community is how incredibly generous you all are. It's not just the fact that so many of you volunteer to help LJ out, or are such active participants in communities online. It's what you do to support communities offline that makes us so proud of what LJ is. (A recent example was the way you all raised hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donations for non-profit organizations like Creative Commons, Witness.org and EFF. RAINN alone got a generous donation of over $60,000 from our community!

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Updates to Omniture on LiveJournal

We’re making a change to the way we've been gathering statistics on LiveJournal and wanted to let you know the plan and details in advance.

Back in January, we announced that we'd start using Omniture SiteCatalyst as the system that lets us dig deeper into how members and visitors use LiveJournal. Back then, we had only used Omniture's tracking on the site-schemed pages of LiveJournal (those are the ones with the LJ menus and header, not the ones that follow your journal's style).

With this new change, we'll now also use Omniture on a very small random sampling (about 5%) of journals and communities, including profile pages, friends pages and comment pages. This change will take place on or after September 27, 2007.

Omniture is a website analytics service. The system will collect information that's pretty straightforward, including what browser you're using, what site scheme you use, your window size, how people travel through the site (what are the common links, where are people going after viewing their friends page, what people are or aren't clicking on), and things like how many page views different parts of the site get.

With this change we will be able to learn more about how you use the site and what areas are confusing or are in need of improvement. We'll also have a good way to help prioritize all of your suggestions based on what people actually use.

Some key points:

* We're only going to apply the cookie to a very small random sampling of users, about 5%.
* We're using the resulting stats to find out what to focus on in the future for LJ.
* The Omniture code doesn’t capture any private data such as payment information provided in the Gift Shop.
* Omniture does not have access to friends-only or private entries.
* You can opt out, and if you've already opted out, you'll stay that way.

As always, we are providing a way for any user to opt out of contributing to the stats-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". This opt out applies to the entire implementation of Omniture -- site-schemed pages and the new inclusion of journals, profiles and communities. If you've already opted out, you don't need to do so again.

We're looking forward to having more detailed data to help us make decisions about the best ways to improve the site!
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Process Change for Non-Photographic Images

Hey, everybody. We've heard loud and clear that a lot of you are worried about whether the policy clarifications we've been talking about are going to affect you or your communities. And there's of course a lot of frustration with some of the communications that have been going on.

We wanted to take some steps to fix both of these problems.

First, we’ve reached out to a large number of you and we’re listening to your feedback. Thank you so much to all of you who believe in the ability for all of us to work together, who've contributed so much to helping us get this stuff straightened out. This post won't address every single concern, but it's the first step of an ongoing process. We do think our actions will be a pretty good reminder that we’re all part of the same community here, and that we’re all ultimately on the same side.

There have been a bunch of clarifications of our policies here in lj_biz during recent weeks, and of course tons of discussion. And there's been a lot of work to try and get everyone who is really curious and concerned about this issue up to speed. But the bottom line is, our policy needs to be something that every LiveJournal member can understand, and it needs to be clearly available to everyone.

So, we're working on creating a single policy document that is linked from the bottom of every page in the LiveJournal application. To be completely honest, it's going to take us a little bit of time to get that done, since we want to work with everyone from our community as well as the usual folks like lawyers. We think it will be a few weeks, and we'll update on progress as that happens.

But first, some solid progress we can talk about right now: Today we're announcing a revision to the process of how we deal with reports of child pornography. (Please note: We *know* there's a difference between the vast majority of fan art and child porn. We're definitely not lumping these things together.)

To start with, the ground rules: We accept all reports of potential child pornography that are reported to us, regardless of the source, but will only take action when that material violates our policies. That means we will accept reports even from people or groups that are annoying or have an axe to grind, but if content is not in violation of the policy, it won't have any effect. We will only review private content for violations of this policy if the report provides a reasonable basis for us to believe that there is a violation. We will absolutely *not* review private content in response to an unsubstantiated report that there is a violation “somewhere” in a private journal or community.

And now the solid progress: Today we are making a significant distinction between how we deal with (a) photographs, films and videos versus (b) drawings, cartoons, animations and non-photographic images:

(a) Photographs, films and videos of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct are explicably illegal. The bottom line here is, even photos/videos that are borderline or questionable are going to be considered violations of policy. There's honestly almost nobody arguing against this, so we won't dwell on it too much. Child pornography in the form of photographs, films and videos will be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a clearinghouse for law enforcement agencies that investigate and prosecute child pornography. All journals of the user who posted the content will be permanently suspended without advance warning and the user will be blocked from creating new LiveJournal accounts in the future. This is the clear zero-tolerance zone, and doesn't seem like the sort of thing that significantly affects communities like fandom at all, from our experience.

(b) Our process for drawings, cartoons, animation and other non-photographic images is slightly different. An image of this type that obviously violates our policy will be treated the same as a photographic image of child pornography, but in questionable cases involving a non-photographic image we will adopt a "two strikes" process. We will first contact the user and request that the image, and any other similar images, be voluntarily deleted (or modified) within three days. If there's no response within three days, we'll proceed with suspension. In the worst case, if someone was completely incommunicado during those three days, they could go through the appeal process. If we receive a second report of child pornography involving the same user in the future, and confirm that the reported content violates our policy, then all journals of the user will be permanently suspended without another warning and the user will be blocked from creating new LiveJournal accounts in the future.

Yep, these are slight changes from our policy before. We think they're fairer and clearer, and that's thanks to the folks who've taken the time to work with us. We appreciate the patience while we got these first two policy issues sorted out.

One disclaimer: We can't make policy judgments in response to hypothetical situations. Some of you are asking for us to do this in hopes that it will help you understand the policy better, but we simply can't outline or anticipate every single situation before it happens. And any place where every single possible line of discussion has been dissected and ruled either okay or not just doesn't sound like a fun place to hang out. The truth is, we want everybody in the LJ community to feel safe about what they're writing or sharing, and we think almost everybody has a gut sense of what's reasonable.

We're hoping to give you enough of an understanding so that you can use your own judgment on how and where to post your content. If you're really, really concerned that something you're about to post might violate our policy and will be seen by someone who will take action to report it to us, then perhaps you should think twice before posting it. But we're not going out looking for harmless stuff to take down.

Many of you have asked about whether or not it is OK to link to outside content that falls into the category of child pornography, and the short answer is no, it's not OK. Think about it: If we said it was OK across the board to link to child pornography, then people would make communities just to do so. But again, any reasonable link is fine. And the same thing applies here: If you're really, really concerned that something you're about to link to might violate our policy and be seen by someone who will take action to report it to us, then you know, just don't link to it. In the case of questionable links, we'll use the "two strikes" process.

One last note: This new process might have changed the way that two members were recently permanently suspended without warning. In respect to their privacy, we aren't going to get into details of any individual suspensions. But you should know we are reaching out to these people and that our conversations with them and with you have helped shape the new policy changes.

Our goal and intention is to get this right, so that our community feels clear about our stance. We're never going to make a set of rules that makes everybody 100% comfortable, but we do think, with your help, we can get something that suits everyone and that has a process everybody can agree with. Naturally, some of you will feel more comfortable going somewhere with more relaxed rules and guidelines and we respect that decision. But most of you have stuck with us while we've figured it out and we really appreciate it – you've made the difference, and you've helped build a better process.
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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

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

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

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.)