The sad history of Livejournal as a lens for understanding the state of social media today

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/01/22/nipplegate-legacy.html

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Hmm.

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Before Six Apart took over Livejournal, there was a group who wanted it to become a member owned co-operative, based on the Rochdale principles. I don’t know how big the group was but everyone I knew there seemed to want that.

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s/Six to Start/Six Apart/

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Again we get the story about how a platform that wants to be free and open discovers that creating and enforcing decency standards is a Herculean task, and it’s one thing that nobody ever shares freely so everybody else has to duplicate the effort. Facebook has a team, Google has a team, Apple has a team, all basically doing the effort to re-create every decency law in the world and pleasing nobody in the process. There must be a better way, even if it’s not a good one. The problem is from the outset impossible because every community has their own standards, and you can’t let them self police because they’ll be visible to other communities. Some people will object to visible legs, others are fine with everything short of actual penetration. Some will take you to court over it too or at the very least lobby your advertisers and write scathing articles in the media about your satanic corruption of the children. Congress might get involved. It’s just a mess.

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There are still plenty of places on the Internet where polite discourse is possible and which are run by amateurs or volunteers. Arguably, unregulated social media is as possible today as it was in 1995, when I started using the Internet.

They work as long as only a few hundred people know about them. Just as in 1995, look for “eternal september”.

As a French person, I feel compelled to cite Jean-Paul Sartre: “l’enfer, c’est les autres”.

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The problem is scale. Small communities are easy, but once your community grows it inevitably pulls in nutjobs with too much time on their hands. They may start trolling, or they may start attacking your moderation (or lack of moderation) or just do whatever to make your life hell.

Segmentation helps, but it leads to an echo chamber effect that allows communities like /r/The_Donald or /b/ to grow like a cancer.

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You’ve done a fine job summing up the internet, a thing we might as well refer to as the Asshole of the World.

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An experienced and competent moderator(s) aided by a well-designed community system and supported by responsible site owners can help mitigate the problem of trolls, spammers and other bad actors on a high-traffic site that has a relatively high number of active users (in large part by encouraging many of them to invest in the community). Evidence?

Professionalism, and all that term implies, makes the difference in building on-line communities. Ultimately, that’s what’s lacking on a lot of platforms, Twitter and Facebook most prominent among them.

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Problem is, you can’t really have that small-town feeling and a billion users at the same time.

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BB is small potatoes though. Like I mentioned policing small communities is easy, but the solutions don’t scale. Even at the small scale BB’s message boards show evidence of being echo chambers.

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You can get close by heavily segmenting your userbase ala Reddit, but this tends to turn your service into a million tiny echo chambers.

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Maybe that’s okay. I would prefer to force all fascists to listen to my opinions, and obey them, but it never works out.

Then you get your way and discover that you have turned into a fascist. Smash cut to the old gypsy lady on the side of the road laughing her head off.

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No-one’s really attempted to scale that solution, certainly not at Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. And while BB is small compared to those platforms, the site is known to more than a few hundred people. True civility, like reality, tends to have a liberal bias.

Only in the sense that the (non-partisan) site rules by their nature discourage drive-by or explicit right-wing trolls or conservatives who are always reduced to arguing in bad faith.

Even so, there are always a handful of sneaky white supremacists, ethnostate proponents, and misogynists who know how to work within the rules. Otherwise, we have more than enough Libertarians, Freeze Peach absolutists, useful idiots for Putin, and ammosexual regulars who’ve maintained their accounts here for years.

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If BB was truly an echo chamber, certain long standing members of dubious intent but who know how to stay ‘just within the terms of service’ would not still be here, going strong.

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Thinking about LiveJournal and even looking back at it (including my still existent old account that I last posted to in 2007 while sifting through its ashes) is sad, but appropriate considering the shelf life of anything on the internet makes it all seem like a family dog: you love it intensely, but it’s gone in seven to fifteen years (if you’re lucky).

I have a special place in my heart for LiveJournal since it’s both where I met my long time SO and it created the opportunity for authentic socializing online like obscure Compuserve forums in the early 90s or BBSs before that, as opposed to the posing and picture/video-focused, ad-interrupted bullshit that is modern social media. Also: get off my digital lawn.

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Possibly, the problem is money. Small communities are always the work of amateurs who finance the show themselves. That does not scale up. Once the community reaches a certain size, it becomes interesting as a target for advertising and political manipulation. That, I suspect, is what really attracts what you call nutjobs. I suspect that they have so much time on their hands, because their time and efforts are paid for. That, in turn, lets the costs rise exponentially.

Interested readers may motivate their favorite search engine to find firms offering “nutjobs” by the hundreds. They are not difficult to find.

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Maybe the sites rules should be tightened on this BBS, then? How would you go about changing them, I am not aware of a policy to that effect?

I miss my livejournal. The move away from long-form social media to the snacktacular version found on FB has hastened my descent into click-click-click-must-see-must-see madness.

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