It's Like an Accident Scene, and I Cannot Look away ... (Yes, More on the E'er-Unfolding LJ Drama)
The other day, via metafandom, I found yet further evidence of LJ digging themselves deeper and deeper. This time, it has to do with hyperlinks: what one can legally link on LJ, what one cannot, and how LJ will handle instances of previously "legal" links becoming "unsafe." LJ's conclusion on the matter: We are responsible for the content that hides behind those links, and if the links contain content that is barred according to the ToS, then we can receive a "strike" or be suspended for linking to it. The kicker: even if the original link has changed to something "unsafe," we are still responsible and should therefore check our links regularly.
And at first, I came away from the discussion as did most of the early commenters on liz_marc's post: LJ's policies show ignorance of how both communication and the Internet work, which is pretty sad considering that LJ markets itself as a forum for Internet communication. But I've thought a bit more about it over the past few days, gotten a bit more out of the lemming OMG-LJ-IS-*EVOL* mentality, and wondered if by getting our panties in a wad over this latest turn of events, we aren't proving ourselves to be hysterics and just as obstinate and counterproductive as LJ itself in attempting to negotiate a favorable solution for both the company and the users.
Because consider the likelihood of happening upon the slippery slope considered in the post above. The author largely discusses political and news communities or users who do routine "link roundups" of news stories. She also bases her argument on the fact that "[i]t's not unheard of for formerly 'safe sites' to suddenly become 'unsafe' as a result of Web page movement and disappearance."
So what this necessitates is a political/news site going offline, the domain being picked up by a new webmaster, and that exact link being turned into either 1) child pornography, 2) a hate site, or 3) a site displaying patented or copyrighted information.
Does this seem highly unlikely to anyone else?
Highly unlikely, of course. Impossible? No. I could see (for example) a well-known liberal blog being turned into an anti-gay ranting site upon being abandoned so that liberalnews.com/georgebushsux.php now links to hateful material. Maybe. Still not likely, in my opinion, considering that I've seen stories about porn sites buying up popular domain names once they're abandoned and, in a matter of hours, no longer receiving hits from the original site's users because of the ease with which information spreads online. So it's not a particularly good tactic, imho, negating the fact that marketing a website to a group of people who aren't going to use the website isn't particularly effective either. (As in why would an anti-gay site attempt to market itself to a bunch of liberals?)
This on top of the fact that LJ Abuse says that if the context in which the link lies demonstrates that it was a formerly "safe" site, they will request that the link be fixed or removed before taking any disciplinary action against the user. This seems a pretty fair course of action to me in the (unlikely) event that a safe link becomes ToS-unsafe.
Because, face it, LJ does not want people getting around the ban on child porn, hate sites, and posting copyrighted information by hosting it off-site and then linking to it. As a webmaster and as a person who occasionally finds herself prone to bouts of common sense, this seems logical to me.
And the "OMG now we have to check all of our linx everyday!!11!one!!1!" just feels hysterical to me. If you do a news roundup every day, chances are that most of those sites aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and even if CNN.com mysteriously collapses overnight, the fact that the link belongs to CNN would serve as adequate context that the link used to be safe, even if CNN.com was snatched up immediately by a purveyor of kiddie porn. It seems to me that a much more reasonable course of action would involve checking those links that go to sites where unsafe content may reside and getting into the habit of providing some context, which I would think people would do anyway in order to provide meaning to their hyperlinks. Most hyperlinks aren't self-explanatory, so descriptive titles or summaries are probably things that even "link queens" have been doing all along anyway. Behold: context!
Now I do think that the author addresses a few good points. This issue--along with many others--does need to be addressed in a satisfactory and clear manner to the userbase. That LJ plans to suspend journals and issue "strikes" based on this policy that does not reflect in the ToS--except where the vague "other materials" are concerned--is disturbing. And she's wholly justified in her lack of trust in a service that has gone back on their word several times now, as well as (rightfully, imho) suspicious of the lack of transparency in her conversation with the LJ Abuse staff member on an issue that seems to be on the forefront of the minds of many.
But I still feel like getting shrill over something that is highly unlikely to happen and for which LJ has created failsafes in the event that it does is detrimental to "our cause" as a whole. We've managed to keep logic and fairness on "our" side through this whole ordeal. (And yes, I know that there are exceptions to that, but it seems to me that the most-read and most-publicized posts on the subject have been very reasonable, as has their writers' correspondence with LJ/6A.) Right now, I don't think that looking like a bunch of hysterical boys crying "Wolf!" over a non-issue is a move in the right direction.
Entirely my opinion, of course, but that goes without saying. :)
Now, this issue did raise a question that I haven't seen addressed, though I've been busy lately and following the recent developments with less than the obsessive diligence required to keep up. What about content posted in comments? Presumably, content that violates the ToS posted in a signed comment would result in action taken against the user who made the comment. But what about anonymous comments?
If, for example, someone wants to get me kicked off of LJ, is it possible for him or her to leave an anonymous comment linking a child porn site and then report me to LJ Abuse? Am I responsible for the content of comments that are posted in my journal?
If not, this would be (I would think) a work-around for people who want to link "unsafe" content without getting ToS'ed. Simply log out and leave an anonymous comment linking to the illegal content. Of course, one so foolish to post and anonymously comment from the same computer would make him or herself an easy target, but services that hide IP addresses as well as using public Wi-Fi spots are certainly easy ways to hide behind anonymity. (So is using a Super Sekrit Guv'ment Computer with an invisible IP address, but I doubt most people have access to one of those.)
I haven't seen this addressed yet though, as I said, I've been less than diligent. Has anyone seen this issue arise, and how was it answered? It seems an obvious work-around for people who want to post illegal content that I can't believe it hasn't been addressed by someone, yet it seems also another possible way for LJ to inevitably piss off its userbase with further rules, restrictions, and injustice.