Post Mortem: LiveJournal Considered Harmful

As it turns out, someone had indeed compromised my account. Someone I knew abused my trust, and had been doing so for a very long time. I am, as you might imagine, not happy about this fact.

But in one sense I am grateful to that person. Because they woke me up to the fact that, in my time spent journaling on LJ, I had fallen into some rather bad habits. Habits that I believe LJ encourages by it’s very design. There is a reason that LiveJournal might as well be called LiveDrama, and it goes beyond the average maturity level of it’s clientele.

The first way LJ encourages antisocial behaviour is it’s “Friends” feature. The “friends” list is nothing more than an aggregation list, a list of the people you are interested in reading periodically. If it had anything to do with friendship it would require your “friends” to verify that yes, indeed, you really are their friend. But by calling it a “friends list”, it becomes a popularity contest.

The second way is more insidious and more harmful. And I fell right into the trap.

By allowing you to subdivide your readership into various filters, LJ delivers the illusion of privacy. With it comes the temptation to micromanage every statement you publish, carefully vetting the audience of your posts. But this is the real world, and your readers do not exist in a vaccuum. Friends unwittingly say “did you see so-and-so’s post today?”, realizing too late that they are not speaking to a member of the select inner sanctum. You can never be sure what’s a secret, and what can be shared, and with who. Paranoia and distrust spring up, from wondering “what is s/he saying about me behind my back?”. From this well-intentioned feature an endless stream of drama pours forth.

This whole simulacrum of privacy is based on the assumption that LJ is itself secure – an assumption I have reason to believe is false. But my point is that even if LJ were impregnable, the security afforded by locked posts and filters would still be a fragile illusion.

When I first started posting to LJ, it was an interim thing while I was between blogs. Back when I had a real blog, I had no ability to lock or filter posts, and no desire for it. My natural inclination is to be as open and transparent as possible – to make as much of myself as possible completely public, and to keep the few aspects that can’t made public totally private. LJ lead me down a path of temptation away from that ideal. I started to post things friends-only, because I was afraid of old friends or family seeing it and what they would think of me. Then I started making single-person posts to communicate messages that would have been better suited to email or a phone call. And then I created a smaller group of more intimate friends for my most deeply personal revelations.

Now that I’ve been jolted into regaining some perspective, I’m ashamed of how far I’ve strayed from the path of transparency. I realize that the ability to set up tiers of friends has had a doubly negative effect on my writing: I’m publishing fewer posts publically than I once would have, and I’m distributing more private details that would be better kept in a personal diary or discussed one-to-one with a close friend.

My path forward is clear. I will be moving off LJ and into a more traditional, completely public blog format. Watch this space for news on that front.

I’ve also composed a Web Transparency Pledge which sums up my convictions. If you’re intersted in being added as a co-signer, or have any comments or suggestions for it, feel free to drop a comment here or to email me, avdi at avdi dot org.

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  1. I’m sorry things blew up in your face. I don’t filter much and only do a few “friends-only” posts. I know it isn’t private but at least I won’t get random strangers commenting and saying stupid stuff back in those posts which is about the only reason I will post friends-only.

    Hope you can pick up pieces and move on.

    I don’t know the details but I’ve seen strange things about lately. Good luck to you and yours and to cleaning up the mess.

    And thanks for the heads-up. I know all this stuff but you are right that the way LJ is set up it can lull one into danger.

  2. I like the web transparency pledge…

    All that is on it is pretty much how I run my LJ anyway…. I’ll sign it if you would like someone else and I’ll think about any possible additions/revisions/whatnot….

    As for the problems with LJ.. I agree with you that there are some definite problems… I, myself, complained about the designation of “friends” before–in the context of a discussion of how the term friend in English is also so non-descript/unclear in comparison to German terms that make big distinctions between “Friends”–people that you know well and trust and are close to you– and Acquaintances who are people you don’t know all that well…

    As for the filters.. I’ve used them occasionally in the past–but not to a great extent… The one thing that I did do is go through a great friends purge, where I required most people to state that they wanted to remain on my journal–and from then on I made all posts “friends” only…

    On a more philosophical level–although I agree that the LJ format can encourage drama–I also tend to believe that the origin of the “drama” lies more in the people’s own internal beliefs and their own insistence of their own importance in someone else’s life…. I mean.. when someone doesn’t include me in on something–this happened somewhat recently on LJ in an instance where a good acquaintance of mine–someone whom I chat with at the club on a regular basis posted a big rant… and I went to look for it, but found out that I couldn’t see it… my partner Jai and our friend Jeff could see it, but I couldn’t…

    Did I get all bent out of shape about it? No. If someone doesn’t want me to see something, then they usually have a good reason… I can get bent out of shape about it, or not, but that is really my problem… and although Lj might facillitate such behavior by its very structure by allowing unclear communication–I don’t think that it should really be blamed for that…

    just like how emule may allow/facillitate piracy and handguns may allow/facillitate homicides…

    in any case.. if you move off LJ, I will miss you since I’m really not in the habit/nor do I have lots of time to go run around reading a lot of different blogs… (I’m avoiding Myspace for this exact reason…)
    you are one of the few people who I can consistently argue with in a civil manner and who has a definitely different perspective on life then me…

  3. NOt sure I agree

    >But by calling it a “friends list”, it becomes a popularity contest.
    There is an element of participation in a popularity contest.

  4. That sucks so much.

    I make it a policy not to post anything to “friends only” that all my friends cant read. I also only talk about people: 1) none of my friends know 2) don’t have LJs/ even know what LJ is.

    ILL be your friend for real πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  5. I agree with you about the Friends list thing. God, if I had a dollar for every person that got upset because I took them off of my list just because I didn’t want to read their journal anymore. . .I mean, do people get this upset when you remove hyperlinks from your website? No, they frickin don’t.

    Anyway, I generally use the filters for role-playing stuff. I’ll filter out the people in the game so I can post freely any secrets I might have and still babble about whatever I want.

    Friends only posts are generally about sex, and I post them thusly at my parent’s request πŸ™‚

    Do make a LJ post when you set up your offsite blog. . .so I can syndicate it.

  6. I suppose in my laziness I already practice a level of transparency on here, which might be more significant if I blogged more than I do. I generally keep some things out, but those things would be in bad taste to tell someone person-to person as well…

    no filters, very few or no private posts.

  7. Rule of thumb for me has almost always been: Don’t post anythihg on LiveJournal that you would not shout from a streetcorner, or announce at Thanksgiving…

  8. I feel very strangely about LJ, part of me is addicted to it and is a form of demented socialization. Part of me absolutely hates it and wants to figure out a way that I can get the hell away from it.

  9. I found a comment you left, oh, ages ago. And here I came to friend you, wishing I had before. …to find this. Saddening that you’re gone, but I have tenfold respect for you and a wish to know you now. This realisation and actually writing up a pledge shows a level of self-awarements and interpersonal acuity that I don’t often see on ‘teh intarwebs’. I think I’ll leave my e-mail for you…will you write? I’d like it very, very mu8ch if you did.

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