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The Places Fandom Dwells: A Cautionary Tale
Just about seven years ago, on 29 May 2007, hundreds of fans with accounts at Livejournal woke uo make the shocking discovery that their blogs, and those of some of their friends and favorite fandom communities, had been deleted without prior notice.
It’s estimated that Livejournal suspended approximately 500 blog accounts. The only notice of this was was the strike through the names of the suspended blogs, which led to this event being called Strikethrough.
At the time, Livejournal was the primary blogging platform for fandom. Its friends list and threaded conversations enabled fans to find each other and have discussions. Its privacy settings allowed fans to share as much or as little as they chose. It was a place to publish and archive fan fic, art, and meta. These features give some idea why the deletions of so many fandom blogs had been so devastating.
Speculation and uncertainty were rampant during the two days it took for Livejournal to finally respond to demands from users for information. At first, LJ stated only that it had been advised that journals listing an illegal activity as an interest could be regarded as soliciting for that illegal activity, which put the site at legal risk. It was eventually revealed that Livejournal and its owners at the time, Six Apart, had been contacted by a group calling themselves Warriors for Innocence, a conservative Christian organization with ties to the militia movement who accused LJ of being a haven for pedophiles and child pornography.
LJ had based the account suspensions on the tags used in LJ blogs. LJ users list their interests in their profiles, and those interests functions as tags. LJ took the blanket view that there was no difference between blogs listing “rape”.”incest”, or “pedophilia” among their interests, and blogs with posts tagged “rape”. “incest”, or “pedophilia”. As a consequence, some of the accounts that were suspended were support sites for rape survivors and gay teens, as well as the fandom sites that posted book discussions, RP, fan fiction, and fan art.
Livejournal grudgingly issued a partial apology to users on 31 May, but it took months for the organization to sort through the suspended blogs. According to Livejournal, most of the suspended accounts were restored. Not all of the suspended accounts were restored, and some of those that weren’t belonged to the support groups and fandoms.
One result of Strikethrough was that many communities and individual fans locked their blogs so the content could be viewed only community members, or those on their friends lists. Other fans opened accounts at blogging platforms like JournalFen, The Greatest Journal, or Insane Journal. There was definitely an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia that hadn’t previously existed, and part of the problem was that Livejournal had not come through with promised clarification about what sort of content violated the ToS.
So, of course, it happened all over again.
On 3 August, Livejournal once again suspended a number of accounts without warning. This time, the account names were bolded, and the event became known as Boldthrough.
These deletions were the result of decisions made by a group consisting of members of LiveJournal’s Abuse Prevention Team, made up of LiveJournal employees and Six Apart staff, that had been set up to review blog content. This group was had been empowered to declare blog content offensive, a violation of the ToS that was defined by the team as content not containing enough serious artistic value to offset the sexual nature of the material. The team was empowered to terminate accounts without warning.
Anxious and angry LJ users waited ten days until LJ issued a response. Eventually, the ToS was changed to state that accounts deemed in violation of the ToS would in future be deleted only if the offender refused to delete offending content.
Just a few days before Strikethrough, LJ user astolat proposed a new blogging platform and fan fic archive, one that would be be created by fans, for fans. This was the birth of the Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to provide access to fanworks, and to protect and defend fanworks from commercial exploitation and legal challenge. Strikethrough and Boldthrough definitely pushed the project along. OTW opened DreamWidth in beta mode in April 2009, and began open beta testing of Archive of Our Own in November 2009.
In mid-January 2010, DreamWidth came under pressure by an undisclosed group who tried to convince DW’s server and PayPal, among others, that DW was a platform for child pornography. DW refused to give in to the harassment and intimidation, and promptly notifed users about the situation. The only consequence of the group’s pressure was that new requests for paid services were temporarily put on hold until DW was able to find a new payment processor service. DW remained true to its Guiding Principles by keeping users informed throughout this incident, and respecting freedom of expression by refusing to delete any posts or blogs to satisfy the demands of the group of trolls.
Which brings us to Tumblr.
Tumblr was launched in 2007. While not all fans have embraced it, citing reasons like character restrictions in replies and asks and the difficulty of finding others who share one’s fandom, it’s certain that the majority of fandoms are well-represented.
However, in July 2013, fans once again expressed outrage when Tumblr - without warning – removed accounts flagged as “NSFW” or “Adult” from public searches, made those blogs inaccessible to Tumblr users not already following them, and deleted a number of tags from its mobile app, including #gay, #lesbian and #bisexual. In a manner unsettlingly reminiscent of Strikethrough and Boldthrough, Tumblr did not immediately respond, and the response posted 24 hours later was widely regarded as a non-apology apology. Tumblr claimed it had been trying to get rid of commercial porn blogs, and eventually asserted that all the removed accounts had been reinstated.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that which George Santayana proclaimed: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Most blogging and social networking sites are in business to make a profit, and fandoms make them uncomfortable. They inevitably take steps to control the content being posted, to keep outside groups or their new owners happy, disrupting fandoms and deleting material that fans had considered to be safely stored.
The only solution I can see is for fans to copy and back up the things that are important. Maintain active accounts at several sites. Keep a list of your friends’ pseudonyms and emails.
Because the only thing that’s certain is that it’s going to happen again, when we least expect it.
I highly recommed that you read A brief history of fandom, for the teenagers on here who somehow think tumblr invented fandom: by ofhouseadama.
This article is still being revised. I intend to eventually make proper footnotes at some point, but until then, here’s a list of sources I used in writing this article:
imagine after first contact with the vulcans there were all kinds of programs for cultural exchange so you had a bunch of vulcan ambassadors being shown prime examples of the human cultural experience and one of those examples was a group of vulcans being taken to the superbowl just standing there in their proper vulcan robes in between half naked humans with their faces painted, shouting and waving giant foam hands, and the vulcans were given giant foam hands, and they were like ‘what in surak’s name is this’
Vulcan ambassadors at a rock concert
Vulcan ambassadors at Oktoberfest
Vulcan ambassadors getting lost in The Mall of America
Vulcan ambassadors appearing as special guests on various talk shows including Ellen, Oprah, and the Late Late show with Craig Ferguson
Vulcan ambassadors writing research reports upon the bizarre human phenomena of “reality tv shows” even though these shows clearly do not represent an authentic reality
Vulcan ambassadors being persuaded to wear snuggies and eat popcorn and watch The Wizard of Oz
vulcan ambassadors on roller coasters, picking up their mid-ride photographs after, all of their faces like “:|” next to the humans beside them all “:O!”
vulcan ambassadors observing human fans of boy bands, wondering what about their pheromones could possibly cause such mass hysteria
vulcan ambassadors taken to halloween parades, where humans are dressed up as vulcans
vulcan ambassadors treated to a stack of pancakes for the first time
vulcan ambassadors becoming addicted to comic books, memorizing every plot point and retcon
vulcan ambassadors at a water park. they do not trust it.