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June 05, 2006

Lack of Livejournalling

In case you're wondering where the hell some of your favorite LiveJournals are today, lots of them have been temporarily deleted to protest LiveJournal's parent company Six Apart's freakout about icons which feature breastfeeding, because apparently a nipple is inappropriate, even when it's being shown in its non-sexy nutritive mode as opposed to its "Hi there I'm a nipple and I'm here to entice your loins" mode. These LiveJournals will be back tomorrow.

I don't know how successful the protest will be, but philosophically I'm of the mind that getting worked up about pictures of breastfeeding is more than a little silly, so Six Apart's freakout is likewise a little silly. It reminds me of the contrempts a couple of years ago when religious conservatives were outraged by billboard featuring Mary breastfeeding Jesus, put up by (wait for it) PETA. Here's what I had to say about that. I just can't imagine getting worked about something like that. Life's too short to be offended by lactation and latching on.

In any event, there's the explanation for missing LiveJournals, if you needed one.

Posted by john at June 5, 2006 03:37 PM

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Comments

SAP | June 5, 2006 04:07 PM

I totally forgot about that. It certainly explains where my friends went.

Thanks for the heads-up, John.

Harry Connolly | June 5, 2006 04:23 PM

I thought it was tomorrow. Dang.

Jon | June 5, 2006 04:47 PM

Ah, now it all becomes clear.

Mike Kozlowski | June 5, 2006 04:53 PM

But, you know, by that same logic, life's also too short to get worked up about someone else's policy on pictures of exposed bosoms.

John Scalzi | June 5, 2006 04:58 PM

No, not really, if that policy impinges on what one wants to do with one's LiveJournal.

CoolBlue | June 5, 2006 05:12 PM

Frankly, I'm more annoyed with Google's duplicity with regards to "net neutrality" as well as their cooperation with the Chinese Government to sensor their search engine.

But that's just me.

Jennifer | June 5, 2006 05:41 PM

Oh, for crying out loud.

From what I've read, the entire policy behind the no-nipples was that the icons might be showing up on screens in foreign countries where major objections might be made to body parts showing, "natural" activity or no. Which makes sense to me. And also, it's that you can't post a pic with a nipple in it. You can still show a pic of breastfeeding...just not a particularly nipply one.

So throwing whining hissy fits about the whole thing makes my eyes roll out of my head. But then again, I'm considered eeeeevil by those people, so what do I know, right?

John Scalzi | June 5, 2006 05:47 PM

Jennifer:

"From what I've read, the entire policy behind the no-nipples was that the icons might be showing up on screens in foreign countries where major objections might be made to body parts showing, 'natural' activity or no. Which makes sense to me."

By this reasoning, LiveJournal should also be able to restrict what one says in a LiveJournal because it clashes with cultural norms in some nebulous overseas place. If the one doesn't make sense to you, then probably the other ought not as well. While I do not have any nipplicious LJ icons of my own, I don't think it's a good idea to ban them due to what some jackass with a clenched sphincter thinks, half a world away.

Justfred | June 5, 2006 06:01 PM

Oh, come on, John, you've got a camera; show us _your_ nipples. All six of them!

P.S. That illustration was sort of hot.

Christopher Walken (kinda sorta) | June 5, 2006 06:02 PM

John: what's the credit for the image you posted with your entry? I'd like to yoink it, but what's the appropriate attribution? I'm *guessing* it's not original work by you, so ... where'd it come from? (If it IS original work by you, I apologize. What's the licensing on use?)

Dossy Shiobara | June 5, 2006 06:04 PM

(Oops, forgot to change the "Name:" field back, heh.)

Ah, you hotlinked the image (naughty John!) but that gave the source for the image:

http://www.medem.com/

Cool.

Laurie Mann | June 5, 2006 07:07 PM

John, I didn't realize gay men ever showed pictures of breastfeeding.... ;->

((Sorry, after just reading all that Will and Grace review bru-ha-ha, I couldn't resist it!))

"Offensive in other countries..." plenty of Americans are offended by breastfeeding. The fact that a few states have passed laws "permitting" public breasfeeding, means we clearly have issues with it.

Some countries (like Saudi Arabia) don't want women's faces (or any other body part) photographed, meaning if the LJ management really didn't want to offend anyone, they wouldn't let any women's photos be displayed anywhere.

Diplomachismo | June 5, 2006 07:13 PM

It does appear that the baby is deepthroating that nipple...doesn't that mean it qualifies not only as a lurid display of boobie but child pornagraphy also?

Deanna Hoak | June 5, 2006 07:13 PM

Actually, a lot of the journals won't be back until around noon on 6/7/06. The strike is technically for 6/6/06, but those really adamant about their position deleted early (and will reinstate late) to be sure that all time zones are represented.

I'm skeptical that the protest will be effective, given SixApart's stubbornness on the issue thus far, but I was one of the early deleters.

I personally doubt I'll ever have a breastfeeding icon, since my blog is primarily about copyediting, but if I were, for instance, a lactation consultant, I'm absolutely certain I'd want one.

There's a great article here, written by a professor at Rutgers Law School, that describes very well why this issue is important to so many of us.

Mike Crichton | June 5, 2006 07:36 PM

And yet, my nipple is perfectly fine as a default userpic. I wonder how the repressive folk overseas feel about my tattoos? Does the thought that maybe I'm lying, and it's really a picture of a flat-chested woman's nipple, keep the Livejournal management up at night? It's a terrible burden sometimes, having the world revolve around me... ;-)

Mike Crichton | June 5, 2006 07:45 PM

Jennifer: In the original icon in question (which you can't view right now because the LJ in question is down) neither nipple nor areola was visible anyway.

casey | June 5, 2006 07:54 PM

The problem with how SixApart and LiveJournal have been handling it is that it's inconsistently enforced. They go to an "offending" journal if they've received a complaint, and the origination of the complaint was originally derived from within a breastfeeding community. This whole thing is completely ridiculous, given that there are plenty of sexually explicit usericons in LJ that pale in comparison to the natural process of breastfeeding and they are not being threatened with journal suspension.

casey | June 5, 2006 07:55 PM

correction: the original complaint that spurred this whole brouhaha was from a post within a breastfeeding community, where you would assume seeing breastfeeding is in fact normal.

Laurie | June 5, 2006 08:03 PM

My understanding is that it isn't that you can't have an icon, but that you can't have a default icon, as there's no telling where it might appear on the site.

Deanna Hoak | June 5, 2006 08:06 PM

Casey: The original complaint was brought by a troll because he was mad that his icon of a bare-breasted woman wearing animated twirling pasties was regarded as "inappropriate." He began targeting breastfeeding moms, turning in complaints on their icons, in an attempt to get his own icon allowed. LJ ultimately allowed his icon, though many breastfeeding default icons have been disallowed.

(I'd provide cites to LJs for this, but I don't want to increase any traffic to LJ during the protest. :-))

Anna | June 5, 2006 10:13 PM

I admit I couldn't be bothered to care for the most part, though the topic came up repeatedly in some of the communities I'm in on LJ, but I would have been more sympathetic all along if I'd known about the troll - I never knew about him until what Deanna said.

But I asked around and read some stuff and...still don't have sympathy, because instead of being calm about it, the people who were asked to change their default icons apparently threw fits and compared 6A and LJ to the KKK and to Hitler and themselves to the civil rights activists and so on.

There are simply no words.

Livejournal isn't a democracy. They're allowed to change their TOS (whether we like it or not).

John Scalzi | June 5, 2006 10:16 PM

Anna:

"Livejournal isn't a democracy. They're allowed to change their TOS (whether we like it or not)."

This is certainly true enough. It's not to say it's not still a silly thing.

Anna | June 5, 2006 10:24 PM

"This is certainly true enough. It's not to say it's not still a silly thing."

I agree, it's pretty silly. But it's silly on both sides. I don't understand why this is worth throwing such a fit over. What I read that people said was not just "I can't use my icon, LJ sucks!" (which is not true, anyway) but "LJ is against breastfeeding!", which is just plain ridiculous.

Anonymous | June 5, 2006 10:45 PM

The whole thing has been handled very badly on all sides and the only winners are the trolls who started it in the first place.
When the dust settles place bets on what the next inappropriate icon subject target will be.
I feel that if Six Apart is going to go for the corporate like or leave approach on policy they should stop relying on volunters to enforce it.

Anil | June 5, 2006 11:08 PM

It's probably worth noting that there's no limitation on LJ users having whatever pictures of their nipples they want as a user icon on the service. The policy is only about the default user pictures, and only about ones that elicit a report from someone else in the community. It is worth noting, as Anna said, that this whole thing was stirred up by a self-admitted troll, which doesn't say much about the willingness of everyone to participate in the contretemps.

And yeah, a 100-pixel-square icon that might be one of dozens that you can display on your journal doesn't seem *exactly* equivalent to being forced to sit in the back of the bus because of your skin color, but I've long since given up trying to understand why different people prioritize different things in different ways. I just wish, as always, people were more focused on facts (like the fact that the LJ team practices *far less* censorship than, say, every single other journal or blogging service out there) but people seem to like getting stirred up.

And we're all guilty of the lack of perspective... I'm pretty sure there's still systematic rapes going on in the Congo, but as long as they're not infringing on the "right" for us in the first world to tweak our icons on our blogs, they don't have to fear political action.

Cassie | June 5, 2006 11:21 PM

Thanks for the link to your PETA/breastfeeding Jesus blog entry. You are very wise, John.

Rachel | June 6, 2006 01:00 AM

Please don't do that, Anil. People can worry about major things and minor things at the same time. The argument that "rapes go on in Congo" has been used to shut up American feminists long enough that it should be clear by now that it's only purpose is to hold up a distraction and say "Stop talking about things I don't want you to talk about."

As long as women's bodies are seen as primarily sexual, women will have problems breastfeeding in public. Objectification of women is problematic. The issue of whether women are allowed to have bodies outside of male desire does not exist in a void. The LJ icon thing exists in a context. Please don't diminish that.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | June 6, 2006 02:11 AM

Seconding Rachel's post. The "Don't you have better things to discuss?" lame wins absolutely no points in debate.

There is a very, very, very long thread at Making Light going on right now in which this discussion has already been taken into all sorts of interesting and thoughtful places, including the one that points out when the FAQ, specifically the bit of it explaining what the TOS meant by "inappropriate," changed.

Deanna Hoak | June 6, 2006 05:33 AM

Anna, it really isn't ridiculous, and not every person who was asked to remove a default icon made those kinds of comparisons. (I actually haven't seen anyone who did.)

Nursing moms get harrassed about nursing in public all the time, even though the law specifically protects them in many states (including the one where SixApart is located). By claiming that a picture of the act is inappropriate for public view if any areola happens to show (which is sometimes unavoidable and which is, again, specifically mentioned in the law as being acceptable) they are claiming, absolutely, that the act is inappropriate for public view in that same circumstance, whether they admit that or not.

More than a thousand people protested LJ's decision, and LJ staff has responded by doing such things as accusing the supporters of "spamming" them. In the meantime, several other communities have taken to intentionally targeting breastfeeding moms by filing repeated complaints on them. There are screen shots to prove that, and LJ can't possibly be unaware of the effort, and yet they allow it.

Of the default icons out there on LJ, moms with photos or paintings of infants nursing are among the least offensive, and yet women with those icons are being treated as though those images are among the worst. Plenty of far more offensive icons are allowed by LJ policy.

casey | June 6, 2006 07:44 AM

Anil, if it's not that big a deal compared to rapes in Congo, then why is your volunteer staff making a stink about it? If it's admittedly an issue with trolls coming in and fucking things up, then why not just roll your eyes at the trolls? Take the higher road? Maybe look at how your policies are enforced and find a better solution than for other people, pissed for whatever reason, make big to-do's about anything?

Also, I'm sure you've seen http://ljabuse.blogspot.com/ - there are some legitimate concerns about how your volunteer staff is handling this situation.

Christine | June 6, 2006 08:13 AM

Indeed, there are numerous very legitimate concerns about the way the abuse team operates and behaves. They complain about being called unprofessional, yet they bad-mouth users on the site. It was the way the whole thing was handled that caused it to blow up so much, and having Doug Bryan post an apology that failed to convince people he was actually listening wasn't enough to help. The abuse team are dismissive of and actively rude to users. That just won't do from a company that just pulled in a few million in venture capital and is launching a new service. A lot of LiveJournal users are sick of being brushed off.

John H | June 6, 2006 09:01 AM

casey:

Thanks for pointing out something Anil conveniently left out of his post - that he works for LJ. It was only after your post that I went back to his signature link and found out he's one of their VPs.

Without that information, Anil's post reads like just another schmo with an opinion, when in fact he has a vested interest in seeing this issue go away. Shame on you, Anil...

casey | June 6, 2006 11:15 AM

Also, Anil, you work for a blogging company, for crying out loud. You WANT people to express their opinions - it is your cash cow. Except for this opinion, because it's not as worthy as rapes in Congo? Please. You might want to take a look at your own website with as critical an eye.

Annabelle | June 6, 2006 11:49 AM

They didn't say that LJ is against breastfeeding, their press release says LJ restricts some breastfeeding images, which is 100% accurate. It's not their fault if some people shorten that to "LJ is against breastfeeding."

I think it was somewhat dishonest of Anil to post here without pointing out his vested interest. He did raise a point though, saying It is worth noting, as Anna said, that this whole thing was stirred up by a self-admitted troll, which doesn't say much about the willingness of everyone to participate in the contretemps.

Including the abuse team! They knew it was stirred up by a self-admitted troll so why did they handle it so badly?

I'm glad that Anil is concerned about the plight of women in the Congo, and would be delighted to hear if Six Apart were supporting them through charitable donations, but aside from that 6A can't do anything about it. They can simply and easily do something about this, and they can commit to looking at the other problems with the LJ abuse team (such as its volunteer members openly admitting that they don't pay any attention to anyone who has disagreed with their decisions publically before). I fear they think it would be seen as giving in. In fact it would be a pleasant example of a company listening to its customers and putting customer service above protecting a foolish decision.

Christine | June 6, 2006 12:33 PM

Annabelle: Exactly. There will always be people who will find a boundary line and then test it. Even with the current rule, it doesn't take long to think of some. In fact, given the way this whole thing was managed, trolls are encouraged. I'm tempted to make a couple of borderline icons just to see where exactly the line gets drawn, and I *know* other people are doing that. So that's more pointless reports for the abuse team, who are also dealing with militant child-freers reporting icons by "boob nazis", with whom they seem to be engaged in a perpetual LJ battle.

If LJ had just ruled that breastfeeding icons are okay so long as the child is latched on, and let people cope with the possible trauma of seeing a few pixels of areola on some woman, none of this would have happened; and if they'd been willing to listen to users a week and a half ago, we wouldn't still be talking about it.

Dreama | June 6, 2006 01:13 PM

I think the inherent issues in Mr. Dash's comments have been well exposed, so I comment only to say - hey, John Scalzi, thanks for this post.

Unseelie | June 6, 2006 02:24 PM

Speaking of testing lines, just make the breastfeeding icon something other than your default and then use it everywhere anyhow... wonder how long it would take LJ to change their TOS again?

Short and sweet, LJ is picking the wrong fight, it demonstrates how little thought they put into this, and makes them look unprofessional. Better to admit a mistake and move on than to post an apology that isn't...

Either that, or amend the TOS and get rid of ALL objectionable icons. Lets be fair here... no man boobs... no sexual icons of any kind... heck, let's just get rid of icons entirely.

V | June 6, 2006 02:37 PM

It isn't true that LJ censors less than any other blogging service. I've seen many people use Blogger for things that wouldn't be allowed on LJ, including people using it for things they were kicked off LJ for.

milesawaygirl | June 6, 2006 05:02 PM

Deanna: just to correct re the origins of the situation, as I understand it the troll in question was pulled up by LJ Abuse over a default icon that depicted a bare-breasted woman. He went and deliberately sought out default icons that featured breasts, including those in the breastfeeding community, and made complaints about them to LJ Abuse. He then added twirling pasties over the nipples of his original icons, and LJ Abuse said that the modified icon was ok as a default icon.

Natalie | June 6, 2006 05:07 PM

And not just any bare-breasted woman, but bare-breasted Bea Arthur.

Terry Karney | June 6, 2006 05:14 PM

I believe it was photoshopped, but yes, it was Bea.

John Scalzi | June 6, 2006 05:20 PM

Ew.

Deanna Hoak | June 6, 2006 06:27 PM

I'd read the troll's posts about the matter and thought I had it straight, Milesawaygirl, but if I didn't, I definitely want the correct information out there.

I quit arguing on Making Light after an LJ volunteer who is the most vocal LJ supporter there refused to concede the fact that a bare-breasted woman with twirling pasties wouldn't be allowed on national TV by the FCC, despite the fact that I cited this case as proof.

LJ has treated the people complaining about this issue abominably. I have never seen such poor customer service anywhere. The protestors have been accused of "spamming" for sending in e-mails outlining their position (yes, by a volunteer--it still matters), and have been told that LJ staff will not listen to them if they belong to a group that LJ abuse staff doesn't agree with. (Again, I'm not offering cites to LJ during the protest, but interested parties can find information on here if they are curious.)

It finally occurred to me today that because LJ relies on volunteers to run its site, perhaps they think that they have to value those volunteers (even if those volunteers are capricious and prejudiced and power-hungry and vindictive) even more than they value their customers, lest those volunteers quit and LJ has to spend money to actually hire people.

This whole situation would never have blown up if LJ had simply said "The law allows breastfeeding in public even if the areola shows; therefore images showing such an act are allowable." That's not even slightly unreasonable, and no one would have a valid reason to complain about the policy. Why don't they do that?

At this point, the only reason I can see is vindictiveness against the people complaining.

Alison Scott | June 6, 2006 06:57 PM

I am one of the people who has agitated on this issue. I fully understand that icons are trivial -- and indeed, I have never been moved previously to have an icon that shows breastfeeding. My children stopped breastfeeding long ago.

But I believe that the principle is important. Because although icons are trivial, this isn't actually about icons. It's about the right of women to feed their babies when the babies are hungry. Not when they can get home, or when they can find a mother and baby room, or after they leave the theatre. But, as the British NHSsays, being comfortable with feeding their baby anywhere and at any time.

Why should this happen? Because it's better for babies. It's especially better for poorer babies, and babies whose mothers are less well able to take advantage of all the other enrichment that is available to the children of the well-off.

There are lots of reasons why this isn't the case at the moment. But a key reason why women aren't comfortable with breastfeeding wherever they happen to be is that people don't routinely see positive images of breastfeeding mothers. It's rare; it's seen as strange, weird. Oh, yes, breastfeeding is great, but we don't want to see positive images of it.

I guess about 2% of the population is of an appropriate age to be breastfeeding. Babies eat and drink more often than the rest of us. Think about all the people you ever see eating or drinking. Are 2% of them breastfeeding babies? 1%? 0.1%? 0.01%? That gap -- between the meals babies eat and the meals you see them eating -- are all the mothers who are not breastfeeding, or who are embarrassed to feed in public, or not leaving their homes, or hiding in a baby room, in a car, or under a blanket.

And all that leads to lower breastfeeding rates, for two reasons. Firstly, the embarrassment and unwillingness to feed babies in public means that some of the convenience of breastfeeding is lost, or not understood, by mothers. Secondly, because people grow up without seeing women breastfeeding, they have to make a positive choice to breastfeed. In the UK, only about half of women are breastfeeding their baby at all at six weeks; the proportion completely breastfeeding is lower.

So. When LJ decided that it was important to protect the unexpecting from seeing pictures of women feeding their babies, they picked a side in one of the most important battles of my adult life; promoting the utter and complete acceptance of public breastfeeding, to the point where it is as acceptable to breastfeed a baby wherever you happen to be as to bottle feed that baby.

Is that issue as important to me as rapes in Congo? Unquestionably. More so, in fact, as I am directly implicated in this because I am a permanent member of LJ. I am no longer able to support breastfeeding by feeding my own baby wherever I happen to be. But this thing I can do.

hardvice | June 7, 2006 12:17 AM

Bea Arthur Naked was not Photoshopped. It's a painting by John Currin.

Yonmei | June 7, 2006 06:35 AM

Deanna: It finally occurred to me today that because LJ relies on volunteers to run its site, perhaps they think that they have to value those volunteers (even if those volunteers are capricious and prejudiced and power-hungry and vindictive) even more than they value their customers, lest those volunteers quit and LJ has to spend money to actually hire people.

According to something Doug said to three protestors who went to the SixApart offices in San Francisco, this may actually be true.

Anil | June 7, 2006 06:19 PM

"The LJ icon thing exists in a context. Please don't diminish that."

You're right, and I'm sorry... my response was pretty intemperate, mostly due to frustration. I do think the comparison to other services is relevant because John's down work for AOL, and I *know* they're not even trying to be progressive.

I've had some great conversations with people who are being effective and powerful advocates for their position on this topic. I'm just frustrated that so many people who are not part of the community, or don't even use LiveJournal, want to weigh in on a dialogue that we're trying to have.

I don't mean to suggest by any means that the issue is unimportant or that "there's more important things to worry about" gives people carte blanche to ignore any issue. I do mean to suggest that there are people, especially outsiders, who want to conflate a debate about a policy about one icon out of (potentially) 100 that a person could show on their journal into a larger conversation about feminism, social mores, childhood nutrition, censorship, or any one of dozens of other hot-button issues. I feel a lot of those outside commentators don't have the best interests of our communities in mind, and that's the part that I *do* care about, deeply.

And yeah, the kind people at "exposing LJ abuse" figured out that I didn't announce my affiliation here. I've had conversations with John for a few years now in the blogosphere; I don't usually identify myself every time I talk to an acquaintance. But I'd hope I can participate in this conversation as an individual in the same way that my ever statement doesn't represent every male, or every American, or every person of Indian descent, etc.

Do we have any information about the impact that default user pics have on people's behavior in general? Especially on issues of child-rearing? I'm serious; I'd like to understand more about what the stakes really are here.

Anil | June 7, 2006 06:25 PM

"I think the inherent issues in Mr. Dash's comments have been well exposed, so I comment only to say - hey, John Scalzi, thanks for this post."

It's probably worth mentioning that you've formed your opinion of me, and of Six Apart, based on some completely unrelated topics. I suspect you'd disagree with us on this regardless of what the actual facts were. How do you justify your use of Flickr, which is far more limiting in its policy on the exact same issue?

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | June 7, 2006 06:30 PM

Well, for one thing, stigmatizing an image of breastfeeding as inappropriate for public viewing is going to convey the message that the act of breastfeeding is inappropriate in public. Even limiting the prohibition to default icons carries that weight: LJ is trying to protect people from inadvertantly seeing depictions of mothers feeding their babies. Why should people need protecting from that? The implication is there's something shameful about the act such that no one should have to see it without having fully consented to it. This implication angers people who think that a woman should be able to feed her baby wherever it gets hungry, and easily offended schmucks be damned.

That's one reason why the issue is conflated with all the "hot-button topics" you mentioned. It absolutely brings up those topics and cannot be diivorced from them in honest debate.

John Scalzi | June 7, 2006 06:39 PM

Anil:

"And yeah, the kind people at 'exposing LJ abuse' figured out that I didn't announce my affiliation here. I've had conversations with John for a few years now in the blogosphere; I don't usually identify myself every time I talk to an acquaintance."

Heh. This totally slipped under my radar, Anil, since I know who you are and that you're affiliated with Six Apart. I didn't get the impression that you were trying to post as a disinterested third party on the matter, because then why would you post as Anil and include a link back to your site? In other words, I didn't see it as particularly nefarious that you didn't lead with your SA affiliation.

My own personal thought on the matter is a general observation, which is that sooner or later there's a disconnect between the people who run a service and the people who populate a service. AOL Journals hit that disconnect when it placed ads on people's Journals; I think LJ is having a similar moment here. I do think AOL learned from its experience; I suspect LJ will, too.

Deanna Hoak | June 7, 2006 08:27 PM

Anil, please check out the law article I linked to up-thread if you'd like to know how people's behavior is affected by images of breastfeeding. Many women now are so embarrassed to breastfeed in public--because of opinions like those LJ is espousing, that images of breastfeeding are "inappropriate" in public contexts--that they feed formula instead. The formula companies' assertion that breast milk "reduces the risk of" infections and diseases and cancers is disingenuous, since breastfeeding is the standard; the truth is that feeding formula increases the risks of all those maladies. In some cases, such as those of premature infants who are ten times more likely to contract deadly necrotizing enterocolitis if fed formula instead of breastmilk, those risks are huge.

I've tried hard to reason with people about this and to be logical. Of course there aren't studies of how default user icons affect behavior--that doesn't mean that they don't, though; just that this is a new area. As that law article states, the goal, frankly, is desensitization, so that people don't think so badly of something that's not only perfectly legal and appropriate but that saves the lives--which is true without hyperbole--of many babies. (And yes, I know that not all women can breastfeed, or can breastfeed exclusively; I couldn't breastfeed exclusively with my son, but I don't try to deny the overwhelming scientific proof that formula was more unhealthy for him.)

LJ hasn't responded to the e-mail of complaint that I sent in. I don't even have a breastfeeding icon, and I very much doubt I'll ever want one. I'm frustrated about this because I enjoy my LJ and hate to have to give it up because of this situation, which clashes so desperately with my principles. I'm not an outsider; I'm a paid member until November of 2007, and my LJ is, according to that LJ Popularity ranking that went around a few months ago--if that's accurate, though I assume it has to be at least somewhat so--more popular than 99.66% of all other LJs; "breastfeeding advocacy" is (and has been) one of the few non-publishing-related items in my "interests" list. I feel as though I have been alternately demeaned and ignored through this whole situation. The volunteer staff has responded poorly and unprofessionally to people's complaints, and I've frankly never been so frustrated with the customer service in any company I've ever dealt with in my entire forty years of life. I'm disappointed, Anil. I thought better of LJ than this.

casey | June 7, 2006 10:56 PM

Anil:

I am expecting my first child in a little over a month (side note: holy shit) and I plan to breastfeed. In my experience, I have done what I can to educate myself on how to breastfeed, and my experience in the LJ breastfeeding community have been invaluable in that regard. I feel I should also point out that in my life, I have never seen a woman breastfeed in public. All of the children in my family were formula-fed, and it has taken quite a bit for me to open up and fully accept that my breasts are not sexual playthings (which your (and yes, I mean you, because while you might post as the person Anil, you are a VP of the overall service that is in question here and try as you might, you cannot and you should not be divorced from laying some sort of responsibility for it) company is declaring as inappropriate. Your VOLUNTEER staff is declaring this as inappropriate. And somehow you and your staff cannot either train them how to do their jobs within specific, appropriate paramters or hire people who will?

That's complete bullshit.

At any rate, I find myself in a privileged position because I have surrounded myself with people who are very pro-breastfeeding, your company's policies notwithstanding, but I can easily, easily see a younger woman, with or without a supportive partner or any partner at all, being negatively impacted by what you inferred above as a pretty minor thing.

All of the charges of customer service aside, what really ticks me off is that you (6A and your fumbling policies) are letting a group of volunteers inconsistently set and enforce a policy that is a non-issue. And the fact that you are enforcing it because of the efforts of one shit-stirrer is even more mind-boggling.

I am half expecting to see two men or two women kissing on an icon as inappropriate, or interracial couples together on an icon to be inappropriate. Sounds ridiculous, right? So does your inane policy on default icons on breastfeeding.

Woe be unto the woman who's got a perfectly good latch, but has the unfortunate genes to have large areola. Suspend that hussy's journal.

Mike Crichton | June 8, 2006 02:27 AM

Anil: So, if I were to go out and get a picture of a hairy midget dressed as a baby licking my chest, it would _still_ be OK, because male nipples aren't "inappropriate" as a default pic no matter _what_ context they're displayed in, right?

On a serious note, anyone who's actually bothered by the sight of a woman breastfeeding has serious psychiatric problems. Especially those "child-free" whackjobs, who are no strangers to mental illness in the first place. :-P

Susan Baird | June 8, 2006 02:31 AM

Anil, you say:

I'm just frustrated that so many people who are not part of the community, or don't even use LiveJournal, want to weigh in on a dialogue that we're trying to have.

Oh, those nasty non-LJers! Perhaps this wider response is a reflection of the importance of the issue? The one you compared so disparagingly with "ongoing rapes in the Congo"?

You say outsiders ought not to interfere in "a dialogue that we're trying to have" -- but you aren't trying. You and LiveJournal and SixApart have been trying very hard not to have any such dialogue.

It took more than 1,000 complaints and queries about this new policy before LiveJournal even began to respond.

LiveJournal and SixApart are proceding with the suspension (and withholding of funds already collected) of journal users whose default icons the site now bans. That's no sign of an ongoing dialogue.

It's probably worth noting that there's no limitation on LJ users having whatever pictures of their nipples they want as a user icon on the service. The policy is only about the default user pictures ...
Actually, according to statements by LiveJournal and SixApart to the LJ community boob_nazis, the issue is images of human female breasts -- with or without babies attached -- appearing in places where people wouldn't reasonably expect "sexually explicit content."

As breastfeeding is not sexual, let alone sexually explicit, and is explicitly exempted from decency laws in ... oh, say, California, for instance ... these statements naturally spurred outrage.

As there are many sections of LiveJournal where "sexually explicit content" might not be appropriate (though in any of those places, nursing a baby would be), these statements naturally spurred fears of even wider censorship.

I don't mean to suggest by any means that the issue is unimportant or that "there's more important things to worry about" gives people carte blanche to ignore any issue.
Are you always this ingenuous? Of course you meant to, and did, suggest just that.

The proper response, when one has a statement that others point out was blatantly offensive, is to apologize -- not to pretend the statement never was made.

I do mean to suggest that there are people, especially outsiders, who want to conflate a debate about a policy about one icon out of (potentially) 100 that a person could show on their journal into a larger conversation about feminism, social mores, childhood nutrition, censorship, or any one of dozens of other hot-button issues.

But you see (or rather, apparently, you don't), that's the thing: Feminism, social mores, childhood nutrition, censorship and dozens of other hot-button issues are intrinsic parts of the debate revolving around your company's decision to censor images of women feeding their babies.

Images that are considered "decent" under the laws of California, where your company is based, the United States, and most of the civilized world. Images that are decent under the standards of LiveJournal's own FAQ 112. Images that were decent, moreover, under the standards of LiveJournal FAQ 111, until it was changed (mid-scandal) to support the banning of images of the Madonna and other scandalous breastfeeders.

(N.B.: that FAQ, btw, now bans default images containing "nudity" rather than ones that are "graphically sexual"; according to its wording, and to subsequent decisions by LJ Abuse, an image of a man standing behind his naked lover, cupping her breasts in his hands, is acceptable for default use because her breasts are not visible. Oh, way to uphold small-town decency standards and keep mothers of pre-teens happy.)

And when one launches a debate on topics that effect the broader society, the broader society (rightly) tends to wade right in.

I feel a lot of those outside commentators don't have the best interests of our communities in mind, and that's the part that I *do* care about, deeply.
Well, no, a lot of those outside commentators probably don't have the best interests of "your communities" in mind. Why should they? Many of them, however, have the best interests of our society in mind.


Sadly, LiveJournal and SixApart appear to have in mind the best interests of neither. And that's something I care about, deeply. Which is why I no longer am a paid LJ member, and will not be, until and unless you and your companies come down on the side of sanity -- and, yes, decency -- and revoke this silly ban.

Donnelle (jexia) | June 8, 2006 04:33 AM

Deanna:

Excellently stated. Thank you.

Dreama | June 8, 2006 01:53 PM

Coming back to things late simply in order to be fair, Mr. Dash is correct, I have formed a very negative opinion of him and his employer thanks to his past comments and their past actions on other matters. That experience has certainly colored my view of how his employer is handling this matter.

We all learn from our experiences.

But this isn't about me or my experiences, because in this situation my power is limited to this: never again giving another cent to SixApart. And that is precisely my intention.

abi | June 8, 2006 03:21 PM

Extra point on stigmatising breastfeeding - you can affect even the breastfeeding that goes on in private with a public shaming.

How?

Successful breastfeeding depends on a reflex called the let-down, which causes milk to flow into the baby's mouth. Some people (me, for instance) don't let down easily when we're tense. In a really bad situation, we don't let down at all. It's like men with shy bladders.

Thing is, if you're not comfortable with breastfeeding, and the use of breasts for feeding, it takes precious few attempts to feed while tense (leading to a cranky baby and even more stares) to cause every feeding to be a tense affair. That usually leads to giving up. It did for my sister in law.

Fortunately, I was raised in a family where breastfeeding was normal, and I had the confidence to work through the issue. But what if, everywhere you go, breastfeeding is shameful and embarrassing? So you go online, and even your online community thinks so. Great encouragement, LJ! Way to serve your customer base.

I also note, peripherally, that letting trolls set the tone of your community is not the road to a very pleasant community.

Alison Scott | June 8, 2006 05:36 PM

Anil, you know perfectly well that there isn't going to be evidence of the effect of default icons on behaviour. Evidence of that kinds takes money and time to gather, and LJ only changed its policy the other week. So that was a rather cheap rhetorical trope.

Luckily, I do have a good example of censorship affecting behaviour. When it was acceptable to show married couples on film in their bedroom, provided they had twin beds, it became fashionable for young married couples to have twin beds. Nothing else drove the fashion and it's a pretty bizarre one.

We know that people are heavily influenced by the film and pictures they see around them. They believe they aren't, but they're wrong. If images of breastfeeding are censored, women will be less likely to breastfeed.

Christine | June 9, 2006 07:27 AM

Dialogue? Does this mean that LJ actually does respond to people's questions at times? I wrote to the heads of LJ abuse a few weeks ago with a question about a significant difference in their publically stated policy and the actions they actually took, and didn't get a response. A week later I copied the email to a few people at Six Apart, including Mr Dash, and still haven't had any response. It wasn't about the breastfeeding icons issue, it was about the circumstances under which LJ abuse members claim they can look at friends-locked entries on LiveJournal.

I'd be very grateful for some dialogue, but this is exactly what gets people worked up about LJ abuse - in 99% of cases, there is no possibility of dialogue with them at all.

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