Sunday, July 01, 2007

Someone's Soul Is Listening: Pagans, Censorship & Common Sense

"For every problem there is always a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong."
(a line so good, that it is attributed to both Mark Twain and H.L. Menken,
but probably belongs to neither.)

I'm talking 'bout trouble, with a capital T

Censorship issues have sparked heated debate over at Live Journal in the last few months. (1) In brief, LJ intended to clean up a number of sites run by pedophiles, and in the process they deleted sites that contained fan fiction and/or hosted frank conversations among consenting adults. These particular sites had nothing to do with children or abuse of any kind, and some were hosted by or popular with Pagans. A recent c/net article goes into greater detail on this issue and it's aftermath.

LJ's Mea Culpa

What I find most hopeful in this story is that Live Journal learned something useful from their mistakes. This is something that we in the Pagan community don't always do.

Here is an excerpt from the announcement to their users.

Well we really screwed this one up… For reasons we are still trying to figure out what was supposed to be a well planned attempt to clean up a few journals that were violating Live Journal's policies that protect minors turned into a total mess. I can only say I’m sorry, explain what we did wrong and what we are doing to correct these problems and explain what we were trying to do but messed up so completely...

Where Do We Go From Here?

No one wants LJ to ignore this issue to such an extent that children are hurt. We all know by now that pedophiles use web groups as internet rings to organize, share obscene photos of children, and arrange meetings amongst themselves for purposes of child abuse. If LJ does not address the abuses of their site now, they could be confronted with so much public outrage later on that they resort to draconian measures. I , for one, don't want this to become such an issue that those clever ducks over U.S. Congress think they have to step in and "fix it".

Just the facts, Mame

While I agree with those who were outraged at LJ's overreaction, I would point out that:

1) LJ was trying to protect kids (and, let us be honest, their own bacon) via this process.

2) LJ learned a hard, public lesson about overarching censorship, transparent public policy, and better communication. (A lesson that the current U.S. administration and many Pagan groups, have yet to learn)

3) LJ has apologized for effecting some 500 sites (out of several million) and restored the legitimate sites.

4) LJ now moves forward to serve their users with a bit more caution and, one hopes, greater wisdom.

Pagan Organizers Take Note

Some are born with common sense. Some achieve common sense, and some have common sense thrust upon them. If we do not learn these lessons the easy way, the Goddess will give them to us again, and yet again, and so allow us to learn them the hard way.

It's all fun and games until somebody looses an eye

Most cyber citizens know that censorship and privacy rights will continue to be large issues on the internet. For example, Live Journal continues to be involved in a dispute over pictures of breastfeeding.

Here is an example of a letter sent to one parent, and that parent's response.

How would you settle this?

Deciding what is "tasteful" or what should be available for public and/or underage viewing and what should be censored has never been simple. Thoughtful people will see this as a chance to share points of view and negotiate a solution that works for the good of the majority while keeping the rights of the minority in mind. And this will no doubt upset some people whatever they decide. Other people will simply shout at each other, as they have always done, while accomplishing nothing at all. When I work with Pagan groups, I choose to work with the former types and leave the latter alone.

The problem of freedom in America is that of maintaining a competition of ideas, and you do not achieve that by silencing one brand of idea.
Max Lerner

Nobody ever said that democracy was easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. Kudos for those who stood up for free speech, and also to those who work to protect against the abuse of children. These two things can coexist. Like wolves and bears, those who work with different, but equally important mandates will confront these issues and they must learn where the boundaries are, and avoid crossing the line. If they don't, someone is bound to get hurt.

The great and invigorating influences in American life have been the unorthodox: the people who challenge an existing institution of way of life, or say and so things that make people think.
William O. Douglas

If you would like to see some positive work being done on the subject of digital rights, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance
Henry David Thoreau

In closing, I'd like to put in a word for common sense, and good judgment. Folks, let's be a little bit more careful about the wild-eyed rants, the manipulative and silly "spells", the posted curses (?!) and dogmatic bullying found within the Neopagan web, not to mention the hate speech, malicious rumors and bitter flame wars certain Pagans post so easily, and so thoughtlessly. When you see this sort of thing going on in your digital backyard, speak up, and let it be known that your spiritual practice does not support such behavior. It may not mean much to those who create such trash, bravely hidden as they are behind their screens, but these little bits of negative energy are like so many stones thrown into a pond,. They can have an enormous and harmful effect on those who live in this ecosystem, especially young people and newcomers.

Forget about the FBI, someone's soul is listening.


Author's Note: For more on this issue, please see an earlier article on Nudity At Festivals

Art: Photo of a young woman breastfeeding from the University of Michigan Health System website.


(1) According to icon artist, Tyger:

LJ (under pressure from a Christian moral pressure group) has suspended over 500 journals/communities because they promote child abuse. Not so bad you might say, but what you don't know is that it has been a blanket suspension. Along with groups that actually do deserve to be suspended, places like support sites for victims of child abuse have gone. Literature discussion sites have been barred. Slash fiction sites have been cut off and journals for roll playing characters have been deleted. What is more, LJ did not feel that we, the members and users, should be told ! We had to find out from external news groups that Lj has decided to erode our rights to free speech and expression. The sites were suspended because they promoted illegal behavior. What step is next? As one gay LJ user states, I list 'gay marriage' among my interests--that is illegal in my state. With this wording my journal could be deleted, without warning, for the fact that I support equal rights of marriage for all."

Censorship is a slippery slope.


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