Back in the early 2000s, LiveJournal was big.
Video hadn’t been perfected, Big Media hadn’t caught onto the Web yet, and most people still had dialup service. So a lot your time online was spent reading random things that random people had written. Diaries, slashfic stories, even (shudder) poetry. It was a real precursor to Facebook—programmer Brad Fitzpatrick even said he created it as a way of keeping in touch with his high-school friends.
But the Web passed LJ by, and it was sold to Russian corporation SUP Media in 2007. Since then, it’s quietly moved its operations—and servers—to Russia. This month LiveJournal officially became subject to Russian law, and it has just made significant changes to its terms of service significantly.
The new User Agreement now prohibits users from “post[ing] advertising and/or political solicitation materials… or perform[ing] any other actions contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation.”
According to fantasy writer Charles Stross it “specifically requires compliance with Russian law on minors—which makes any discussion of “sexual deviancy,” a.k.a. LGBT issues, illegal or at least a violation of the ToS.
While many LiveJournal users are now based in the Russian Federation, there is still a healthy number of holdovers, including numerous fanfic writers, community forums and even the popular gossip blog Oh No They Didn’t.
Some sites are expressing outrage and making plans for an exodus to a new platform.
“As LiveJournal’s new term of use and acceptable use policy now make it clear that all LiveJournal posts are subject to Russia’s homophobic laws, this community is required to mark itself as adult content, simply because we discuss bisexuality as healthy and natural,” wrote Rhonan in a post on the Bisexual World LJ titled “This community will probably be going away.”
“I refuse to comply with this law,” Rhonan adds, “and this community will remain open to all, including LGBTQ youth. Fuck Trump. Fuck Putin and fuck homophobia in all its forms.”
The new User Agreement, posted April 4, is written in English and in Russian, but the English version bears a disclaimer: “This translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address,” followed by a link to the Russian-language version.
According to a 2014 Russian law, any site that garners more than 3,000 visitors a day is subject to the same regulations governing television and magazines, like a ban on “disseminating… extremist materials and also the materials propagating pornography,” and “materials containing obscene language.” Visitors must also register and disclose personal information.
For Russian LiveJournal users, it’s base censorship, and a real threat to their safety and freedom.
LiveJournal users outside the Federation won’t suddenly be extradited, but it does mean the site can censor, suspend or delete accounts if they present material the Russian government doesn’t like.
And let’s be real: They will.