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.