PSA: LJ Adult Settings and Flags
First, the facts. I'm not cutting this because I think it's important, especially for writers and artists which (surprise!) comprise most of my flist. I apologize if I go on a little longer than I generally like to without using a cut.
Anyone following the litany of conflicts, dramas, and bad decisions on the part of LJ/6A over the course of 2007 probably isn't surprised by this latest addition to the LJ "features" lineup. It's been in discussion ever since LJ/6A realized that *omg* people wrote, drew, and did things that offended other people!!1!!1 And that minors (under 18, by definition in the US) were accessing content that was intended for adults.
In brief, LJ/6A now offers users the option to declare either their entire journals or individual entries as No Adult Content, Adult Concepts, or Explicit Adult Content. In LJ's view, Adult Concepts is akin to PG-13 while Explicit Adult is more like R or NC-17. Users who have declared birthdays that make them under 18 will have adult content collapsed under an LJ-cut. Users who have declared birthdays that make them 18 or older will see everything normally. Logged off users will see the LJ-cuts indicating adult content but will be able to click on the cut, declare themselves an adult, and view the content more or less normally.
More to follow on the "more or less" in a bit. :)
At the moment, use of the adult-content settings remains voluntary. I can't say that enough. I've seen a lot of panic along the lines of, "What will I do with my communities? My writing journals?" or "I have one thousand past entries now to go through!" No, you don't. Not yet. (And according to LJ/6A, you never will, but I leave that up to you as to whether you trust them in that.) And I'll admit that I was touched by the same panicky feeling, knowing that silwritersguild contains entries that are certainly Explicit Adult and debating whether that justified locking down the comm entirely to minors and really, really, really not wanting to do that but fearing the banhammer enough that, yes, momentarily, I considered it.
But this is voluntary. You don't have to start "rating" your entries according to adult content, you don't have to declare your journals and communities as one or another, and you really don't have to go through old entries, although I really understand why people don't trust LJ/6A to believe that it will always be that way.
And that brings us to the second part of this new arrival: the flagging tool.
While I don't think that anyone is really protesting the addition of the adult settings for those who want to use them, then the flagging tool is a bit more controversial. Look at the top of my entry where the little navigation buttons are; you should see an orange flag. If you believe that my entry should be seen by adults only, then you can basically vote to have it reviewed by LJ Abuse to be declared as such. (And feel free to try it on this entry, if you want to see how it works; even if I amass two dozen flags, this is far from an Adult Explicit post!) From reading the post and comments on the original lj_biz announcement, I have figured out that this works as follows:
- One person finds my post offensive and thinks that it should be visible to adults only. They click the little orange flag.
- My post is put in a "queue." This initially confused me because I thought this meant that it joined a line of posts awaiting review by LJ Abuse. From reading the answers LJ staffer marta is giving on the original post, this is not the case. Once a flag has been registered, then the post waits for more complaints to be made against it. Consider it like this: the initial flag is a reservation, but the restaurant only seats complete parties. So even though one person has arrived, x more are needed before the post can be taken back to that fine five-star Zagat-rated restaurant called LJ Abuse.
Okay, perhaps my attempt at stretched metaphors made it even more confusing ...? ;)
- Once enough flags have collected on any single post, then LJ Abuse will review the post. If they feel it deserves an Explicit Adult Content rating, then that rating will be added.
It is important to note that the same process applies to journals as well as individual entries. If you have the info bar at the top of your friends' page, then you will notice that the same orange flag appears there as well, along with an invitation to Flag This Journal. The same process applies. If enough flags are collected against your journal/community, then LJ Abuse will review it, and the entire journal will be set to Explicit Adult Content.
There is one important difference between having an entry declared EAC and having an entire journal declared EAC: LJ will notify users if their journal has been switched to adult-only but not if a single entry has. So if I post an NC-17 Maedhros/Fingon slash story and enough of my readers think that I should have set it visible to adults only and flag me, if LJ Abuse changes the setting for that entry, then I might never know. But if those same readers find me patently offensive in general, and LJ Abuse agrees, then I will be emailed when the setting on my entire journal is changed.
Also, for the record, LJ considers that when 50% or more entries that are Explicit Adult Content, then the entire journal/community should be declared as such, and entries/journals will only be forced to Explicit Adult Content, never Adult Concepts.
There are a few questions, myths, and misconceptions floating around about flagging that I've seen, so I'll try to address a few here with links to marta's replies so that you have an official statement from an LJ staffer, should you ever need it.
- "One person with a grudge against me can have my entry/journal locked down for adults only." No. As stated above, it takes multiple flags from multiple people to lock an entry. As to what this number might be, I have no idea ... but one person can't ruin your life that easily. (Yet.)
- "But nonetheless, it will be so easy for someone (or someones) with a grudge to flag every entry in my journal." According to LJ/6A, there are safeguards in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening. Only accounts over a month old may flag, and only five flags are allowed in any twenty-four-hour period. Also, apparently, someone who's too flag-happy can piss off Abuse until their flags are ignored entirely.
- "I can be banned, earn strikes, or otherwise be punished if my entries or journal have adult settings changed by Abuse." No. As stated earlier, this is voluntary at this point, and even if Abuse changes the settings on your post/journal, you suffer no repercussions. Again, I leave this up to people to decide how much they trust that things will stay like this forever, but for the time being, it is strictly voluntary and carries no reprisals.
- "What about sockpuppets? Many users have multiple journals, and it's easy (and free!) to create alternate LJ identities to harass me with." There's the thirty-day thing, for one ... so someone's sockpuppets would have to hold a grudge for thirty days before being able to do anything to you. Someone did ask marta about IP tracking, and she was vague ... intentionally vague, I think. Which tells me that IP tracking is probably one of the "several systems in place," but of course, describing those systems in any detail will make them easier to circumvent, and sooner.
I think that takes care of most the worries I've seen around LJ, but if you can think of (or have) another, please feel free to leave it in a comment. I or someone else may have seen the answer somewhere, or if you have an answer, someone else might benefit from it.
There are a few additional concerns, however, that I do not feel have been adequately addressed and think that users should be made aware of.
First, you have been defaulted to "Use moderate filtering (filters explicit adult and offensive content)" on Safe Search Filtering. If you want search results to show users and communities that have declared or been declared Explicit Adult Content, then you will need to change that. Go to Viewing Options to do so. Scroll all the way to the bottom. Change the last drop-down box to "Do not filter my results."
Likewise, Viewing Adult Content should be set to "Do not collapse" unless you want some/all adult content put behind an additional LJ cut. This is also managed on the Viewing Options page in the next-to-last drop-down box. This is the default, however, so if you haven't changed this, don't panic: So far, you should not need to.
Finally, those of you who post stories, artwork, and other entries with ratings and warnings outside an LJ-cut should be aware that your entire posting including warnings and ratings will be tucked away behind the Explicit Adult Content LJ-cut if you choose this setting or have it chosen for you. Again, this will not apply to your readers who have their ages declared as 18 or older, but if you have readers on LJ who don't have accounts or don't log in, then they will not be able to view ratings and warnings without clicking an LJ-cut.
Once they click the LJ-cut, the entire entry will be visible, including the material that you were warning about in the first place.
I think this is relevant because fandom has long standardized the practice of warning for potentially adult or offensive content outside an LJ-cut and then cutting what they know people might not want to see. The new system will make this a moot point for some readers. Now, I'm not trying to hit a panic button and say, "OMG! Someone might accidentally see secks!" or anything like that. But most of us understand that there is a difference between content intended for mature users and content that could be very bothersome or even damaging to some adults, e.g., entries that talk about rape, incest, child abuse, or suicide.
ETA: frenchpony has made a good suggestion to circumvent this problem where you feel it might become an issue, i.e. in a community that defaults to Explicit Adult Content: put your warnings in the title. A lot of authors and communities do this already, and while it's not something I've particularly favored, then I certainly favor it more than having victims exposed to content that might be harmful to them because of LJ/6A's attempt to Protect the Childryn from adult content. *headscratch*
Finally, here are some quick links to serve as references:
The original announcement made by lj_biz.
Your Viewing Options page to control what you can see in searches and how marked adult content will display.
And that brings us to the fun part of this post (for me, anyway):
If we have to have a system like this, then I can't find too much to complain about this one. The collapsing entire entries (including ratings and warnings) bugs me because it punishes those who have been making an effort to keep potentially offensive content from viewers who don't wish to see it. It also creates a danger for those for whom such content is potentially damaging. Like I said, I don't care so much if a homophobic reader sees a post with two men having sex as I care about a rape victim stumbling into a story or artwork that depicts non-consensual sex. "Explicit Adult Content" is really a broad designation, and one of the really positive things about fandom, I have always thought, is how mindful fandom authors and artists generally are about assuring that viewers who don't want to see a certain type of content don't stumble into it by accident, even to the point of getting rather ridiculous with the depth and detail of their warnings.
I also applaud LJ/6A for finally making an announcement and having a clearly identified staff member on hand to answer questions and concerns. The original post was vague and confusing in places as only LJ/6A can manage, but reading just a few of marta's replies to questions cleared things right up for me.
But then there is the idea on which this new feature is based, and that I find abhorrent. I'll be blunt: I'm tired of it being assumed that I care to make extra effort to protect other people's children from adult content in adult spaces. And yes, when a person's user profile (and I don't know about you, but I always read a person's profile before adding him or her as a friend) says that "some of the material I post here might not be suitable for young eyes," then that has been declared an adult space. A parent checking out whether dawn_felagund is a suitable friend for her twelve-year-old daughter should have no problem determining whether or not adult content is available in my journal.
But that is not enough. Why? Because that assumes that parents actually monitor what their kids are up to online and actually check out the people they're pals with. Heaven forbid we shouldn't have a button they can click to do that for them so that they can go back to watching American Idol! Heaven forbid those of us wanting to create a space for open conversation with other adults shouldn't be coaxed, cajoled, and outright forced into following such a system so that said parent can watch American Idol in peace without fear that little Dylan or little Morgan might encounter something naughty online!
You know what? I don't care about protecting children from the imaginary threat of "adult content." That is the parents' responsibility, not mine. I don't know your kids; I don't know what you do and do not think that they are ready to see. I was reading novels with explicit sexual content when I was in middle school; I remember watching soft porn scenes on Cinemax with my parents when I was thirteen (and my sister was twelve). And you know what? Neither of us turned out promiscuous; we weren't teenage parents, criminals, drug users, alcoholics, or any other sort of miscreant. (Unless you count artistic sorts with imaginary friends/muses as poorly adjusted or miscreants ... we both have them.) But then, I grew up in a family where I had to be warned before I took a field guide on insects into third-grade show-and-tell that other kids didn't know about "mating"; I grew up in a family that was always open about sex, drugs, violence, and most importantly, knowing the difference between reality and fantasy. In other words, just because something looked cool or fun on TV didn't mean that it was a good idea in real life. And so I have no doubt that my parents would have found most of the stories, artwork, and conversations being posted on my friends' page acceptable when I was a teenager.
There's just such a sickening lack of responsibility among many parents these days, and policies like LJ's just play into the delusion that this is acceptable. I'm sorry, it's not. Having children is a choice and a responsibility, and so if you choose to have children and choose not to monitor what those children are doing online, then that is a lack of responsibility on your part and your part alone. Not mine for writing and publicly sharing smutty Maedhros/Fingon stories. Not LJ/6A's for doing more to stop me from publicly sharing smutty Maedhros/Fingon stories. Not Congress's for failing to enact a law making my publicly shared smutty Maedhros/Fingon stories illegal. It is the parents' fault because with all the software and technology available for filtering and monitoring a child's Internet access, there is no reason why they can't be looking over that child's shoulder and know what the child is up to online, even while sitting on the couch and watching American Idol.
Furthermore, I find LJ/6A's policy undermines parental authority, and I've heard parents on my flist and elsewhere agree. The parent--not some nebulous corporate entity--should have the ultimate say in what is acceptable or unacceptable for his or her child to view. If I feel that my seventeen-year-old is mature enough to read a story with explicit sexual content, then who is LJ/6A to tell me that I am wrong? Again, this policy panders to those who don't deserve anything near the attention or consideration that they receive by media and communications companies: lazy parents who care just enough to hit the panic button over "porn" on LJ but not to get their asses off the couch or home from the precious office long enough to restrict or monitor what their kids are up to. And it punishes those who are taking an active role by requiring them to teach their children to lie, declaring incorrect birth years, to access content that the parent has reviewed and deemed acceptable.
With that said, this journal will not be declaring itself as "Adult Concepts" or "Explicit Adult Content," nor will I be labeling any entries as such. I have always taken care to warn and cut potentially offensive content, not because of "the children!" but because of people who have different squicks and tolerances, who might be reading their flist at work or on grandma's computer, or who might be actually damaged by certain content. (For example, I just posted a story involving suicide, and I know several on my flist have had experiences with suicide. I'd rather not set off a reaction in these people because I'm too lazy to type a warning and use an LJ-cut.) I also have--and have had in the past--people on my flist who are under the age of eighteen. But who am I to usurp the judgment of their parents and declare certain content off-limit? Again, I warn in my userinfo about adult content; I warn on each post that I make that might be offensive. I keep no secrets.
If a parent can't be bothered to read a couple paragraphs of my profile or my journals ... well, I can't be bothered to inconvenience myself by labeling my entries and possibly losing the readership of friends who aren't on LiveJournal.