LiveJournal apologizes for mass deletion

Following Six Apart's deletion of 500 journals, users stage a blistering backlash and the company moves to make amends.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read
LiveJournal apologized Thursday for a mass deletion of sex-themed discussions that purged literary criticism and accounts belonging to role-playing game characters and led to an unprecedented user revolt.

In a public announcement, Barak Berkowitz, chairman and chief executive of LiveJournal owner Six Apart, said, "Well, we really screwed this one up" and promised to reinstate a wide swath of communities that were deleted as part of the company's attempt to eradicate pedophilia-related discussions.

"Over the next few hours we will review the journals that were taken down and wherever appropriate we will restore these journals or communities," Berkowitz said. A day before, in an interview with CNET News.com, he had defended the deletion as not required by law but part of an effort to set standards based on "what we think is appropriate." (About 500 communities were removed.)

LiveJournal's famously tight-knit community of about 13 million users had mixed responses to the apology Thursday: some applauded the company's frankness, while others called the deletion unforgivable. Comments ranged from "I'm just glad to see that you're honestly trying to fix the situation" to "you guys screwed up big time, especially in the eyes of someone like myself, who spent 150 bucks to help me enjoy my fandom experience here" with a paid account.

The mass reinstatement means that the deleted science fiction and fantasy "fandom" groups--many of which boast sexually explicit fiction written by fans about characters such as those from the Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer universes--began reappearing Thursday.

'pornish_pixies' celebrates its return
One Harry Potter-themed group called pornish_pixies celebrated its return by posting an erotic story of a teenage Harry having intimate relations with arch-nemesis Draco Malfoy. One restored group deals with fictional tales of incest. Another, called lol_porn, includes links to bloopers and other unintentionally amusing pornographic Web sites.

What outraged the LiveJournal protesters earlier this week is that the censored discussions and accounts went far beyond what they believe was necessary to target pedophilia. One post noted that two journals were deleted on grounds that "that they in some way encouraged illegal behavior" even though the accounts belonged to clearly labeled fictional characters in a role-playing game (one listed as interests "beating people up"). Another deleted community was home to Spanish-language discussions of Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel Lolita.

A "fandom_counts" group set up as a kind of petition to draw attention to the protest had 29,423 members as of late Thursday.

LiveJournal's terms of service bans "objectionable" content and says any account can be deleted "for any reason." But the company also claims to "provide users with as much freedom of speech as possible."

LiveJournal has said it was responding to complaints from groups, including one called Warriors for Innocence. A representative from the group, who gave her name only as "Sues," said in an e-mail Thursday that "we did not knowingly report any 'fandom' communities or role-playing journals."

In posts to her personal blog, Sues describes herself as an ardent conservative who views homosexuality as "sick" and a "twisted agenda" and lumps gays and lesbians into the same category as pedophiles and rapists.

In her e-mail, Sues added, "While we sympathize with those who had their journals inadvertently deleted as part of LJ's efforts to clean up their online community, LJ's terms of service are clear in this regard; they've simply chosen to enforce them."