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Social Software Advocacy
I'm not the most political person in the world. Ask anyone from my ex-roomate, hacking for dollars on a now-defunct political campaign, now working for cash out in San Francisco, to my politcally active girlfriend - they'll tell you that no matter what the topic, my thoughts are pretty wishy washy. That doesn't mean, of course, that I don't have opinions, but I never really bother to form them into something that most people would consider a centralized theory on just about anything.

I do think that LiveJournal has made a mistake by supporting an organization that is considered by many advocates of similar campaigns to be useless in its goals - insulting and deragatory to those people who it claims it is trying to help.

One example of something that this campaign has provided to help the teens of America today: Series of advertisements which condemn those teens who get pregnant: "One ad features a teenage girl showing her midriff with the word ''Cheap'' printed on her bosom. She says, 'Condoms are cheap. If we'd used one, I wouldn't have to tell my parents I'm pregnant.'" (These ads can be viewed at http://www.teenpregnancy.org/media/psa/ads/adthanks.asp.)

Far be it from me to say that LiveJournal shouldn't have a political agenda - or even that they shouldn't push it. I actually think that this type of post in a community such as LiveJournal is actually beneficial to the people who use the site - LiveJournal is a community full of people who may not know the things that some pregnancy prevention sites provide. However, in this case, the particular site looking for endorsement is a bit... on the iffy side as far as actually helping people goes.

Site admins posted a retraction as I was posting this: the new post basically says exactly what you'd expect: "Shit, that site sucks, we didn't mean that, we were just trying to help."

As one user put it: "Good intentions are good, but a large shovelful of cynicism is always helpful also."

Personally, I think that in a social environment like LiveJournal, you need to be aware that you're looking at a large group of people pointing out all the flaws in everything you do. As such, take some care to investigate all the aspects of what you're pushing on to people - in a situation like this, you're only asking for trouble if you don't.

Some people say "LiveJournal can push whatever viewpoint they want." I completely agree, but considering the viewpoint typically espoused by LiveJournal, and its users, you have to be aware of the schism you're going to create in some cases. If you're up to it, that's cool - but beware of alienating your users.

Imagine if LiveJournal posted a news post supporting George Bush for the next election - do you think that the reaction would be more positive?

I don't think so.

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I ended up deleting my original comment to the retraction due to the high level of pissiness in it and the flame war potential involved, but it said the following:

For the millionth freaking time, STOP POSTING CRAP WITHOUT THINKING AHEAD.

It's not even the group you chose to promote that pisses me off. I think they do good and bad almost equally. It's the fact that almost every bloody post made in this community is followed by a retraction. THAT'S what bothers me. When's the last time an announcement was made that wasn't almost immediately followed with "we're sorry, we didn't realize FOO would upset you all so much". REALIZE IT NEXT TIME.

Good lord, take some P.R./business management classes already. LiveJournal is bigger than some website run out of your basement now. You can't treat it like that all the time.

The new comment is here.

I think bert ho's point is a great one: "I'll give you slight immunity because I know you never expected this little toy of yours to grow so insanely huge..."

That's exactly how I feel about so many of the decisions that are made. Just as we all need to chill out when something stupid is done, the staff needs to think ahead before doing said stupid things. That's what this comes down to. Not that they chose to endorse something, but that they gave it not an ounce of thought.

I completely agree with both of you. I wonder if this will be the thing that makes LJ (and by LJ, I mean "Brad and whoever he's choosing to listen to right now") wake up and realise that the primary decision-makers are basically all people who essentially have the same life experiences, who have never developed the skills to think outside their own boxes and empathise with others' perspectives.

/me markets self as LJ Diversity Trainer!

For me, it's not even an issue of them not being tolerant enough. I don't care who they as people are. I care what the decisions they make as business people are. The "Whoofie" crap, Bazaar never amounting to anything much, the posting limits issues...it's like there's stuff they should so clearly be able to figure out in advance, but they never do. And it confuses me how that can happen so much.

I know that LiveJournal users expect too much of a say in things, and sometimes we overreact to stuff like this, but it's not because we're too sensitive about the issues at hand. It's because there's an ongoing record of this happening.

When Jesse asked for questions at the beginning of the year or so, my question was "will things be though through better in the future?", and the response I got was that things are thought through by a whole team of people. If that's the case, why are we in this situation again? It's like that contention is repeatedly written off. Brad's comment is just further proof that the attitude is "the users are whiny", rather than "the users have good points -- listen to them".

Again -- I don't care about the group that was chosen or the fact that LiveJournal took a stand for something. Unless the money Paid Users put into the site starts going to those groups in the name of LiveJournal, I don't give a cheese either way. The intent was good. They looked at it as preventing unwanted pregnancies in unprepared women, not a teen mother issue. I'm sure of that, because I don't think they're that stupid.

I care that it was admittedly not thought out. That's my only objection.

(Deleted comment)
No, don't misunderstand me -- I don't want LiveJournal to lose its small company, community-inclusive feel. That's what draws people to it. That's why we all love it (most of the time). And we're also generally tolerant of screw ups. Sometimes, things just go wrong. And most of the time, the mistakes that are made are corrected pretty quickly.

But I don't think it would hurt if there was some additional effort put into making it function more smoothly. I understand that's difficult, especially with a small staff and volunteers not being involved in most decisions, but as I pointed out, this is something that comes up fairly frequently. My list only touched the more recent examples of major announcements being retracted almost immediately.

In my eyes, that's what's pushed it a bit beyond the "occasional public blunder" allowance -- not the fact that it happens, but the frequency of it. You have to admit that some of these things have been way, way off, and shouldn't have been introduced so quickly and without additional planning and discussion. (Or maybe you disagree, but most people I know who are involved with the site feel that way, also.) I think the examples I gave a pretty good ones. And when something as easy as checking out an organization before promoting it isn't done, I believe that's a legitimate cause for concern.

I don't care about the organization endorsed or LiveJournal trying to do the right thing. I know that was the intent, and most of the arguments over whether or not LiveJournal's being political or advertising or putting down teen mothers were just stupid. But I still can't help but wonder sometimes if any of these decisions are truly thought through with input from everyone ahead of time. It's hard to believe that everyone on the staff went along with linking to this group, so why are we to even think it was brought up for discussion? I know I'm not involved, so it could be a huge misunderstanding on my part, but this is how it looks to many of us.

I'm just noting that the Customization thing is slightly different (although not much). There was a plan that had been discussed among admins at the time for a transition and specific set of smaller steps that would take place after the intial announcement of what the end result would be etc. (that's the slightly different part). Brad just ignored all that, totally jumped the gun because he didn't read the whole thing and decided to just do one big thing instead of the intermediate steps we'd planned out (that's the although not much part).

Don't get me wrong, I totally agree with you about the whole problem of doing things without thinking. Totally. I just wanted to note the small difference there -- that even if there is a thought out plan he's apt to just ignore it in.

Now that I thikn of it, the Customization thing also demonstrates that not looking into things all the way is a continuing problem with him. This current news issue isn't the first time he's had opportunity to check something out all the way with minimal effort and failed to do so. So, I guess Customization is a good example of both of those aspects of his continuing blunders.

You'd think at some point he'd learn from his mistakes.

Personally, I don't care what political agenda LJ is trying to push, because I'd just ignore it anyway, no matter what. The problem is, that I don't read news for political commentary, I read it for news about what's going on in LJ. I'm sure everyone else does the same. If off topic entries became remotely regularly, I'd just take it off my friends list. I don't doubt that others would do likewise. And then when that happens, and when there is important news, like the latest password scam or something, not as many people will read it. That's the bit that annoys me.

Have to agree with you there. I linked a user to the news journal in a request about validation (user was concerned over the password scam) and now first thing they'll see is this crap on top of the actual useful post. Ick. It just isn't something anything with 'news' in the name should do.

I don't have an opinion about whether the organization being promoted is effective at preventing teen pregnancy, though I do know that most organizations set up to save the world in some form or another don't deal in the cold, non-groovy world of, uh, measuring whether what they're doing is working or not.

Measuring outcomes is a threat to many people who make their livings as administrators in charitable organizations. Many of them don't want to know if, say, their anti-smoking ads aimed at teens work. Because about 95% of them don't, as best anyone can tell. What if the other 5% aren't your 5%? What will you tell the board?

It seems like the sort of thing that works backward: instead of someone at LJ saying "LJ has a big teen audience; what can we do to educate (or proselytize) our users about preventing teen pregnancy?" what happens is some worthy-sounding organization contacts them and it just sounds, you know, like a great thing to do. "Preventing teen pregnancy? Sure! Who could be against that?"

In general, effective charity is really difficult. My parents made a lot of money in high-tech, and they've turned some attention toward the question of how to use their money effectively, to actually improve the condition of the world, and not just to feel the warm rush of gratitude from well-meaning people. Finding the organizations that make the biggest impact is hard, and much of it is counterintuitive.

LJ is free to push whatever viewpoint it wants; like most businesses, it probably has some concerns about its image once it becomes sufficiently high-profile. If, say, someone commits suicide on LJ in a high-profile way, or if a young white girl is kidnapped and murdered by a predator using LJ as a medium for victim selection, LJ will want some sort of counter-story about all the good they do, like discouraging teen pregnancy.

Since LJ users are a politically, culturally, and religiously diverse group, it probably wouldn't make good business sense to promote something terribly controversial -- e.g. a political campaign or a hot-button issue like abortion or gun control -- but it may become a near-necessity for LJ to have a portfolio of Good WorksTM to which they can point in the event of a catastrophe. It may seem meretricious, but it may be preferable to Senate hearings in which, say, Sen. Orrin Hatch, sitting next to the photo of a dead child, questions whether underage LJ users should be able to sign up without parental permission.

But, still, with a little extra effort, they can get good PR and actually do some measurable good, too.

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