I hesitate to call this a "Rules Change" because it is really just a clarification, to make it a little clearer how we are handling some specific kinds of cases.
There has been a lot of spirited conversation here and over on the Boards about how "mature content" is handled here on OD. To be clear, "mature content" is writing that is sexually-themed or contains sexually explicit language. We have always (since the first days of OD) had rules about this sort of writing – in fact, our rules have always very specifically said that sexually explicit language is forbidden (more on what sexually explicit is or isn’t down below).
In fact, how we (the Admins and I) have been handling complaints about explicit material is somewhat different. See, I am a big believer in everybody being able to say what they want in their own diaries – as long as it isn’t hurting anybody. If you cross over the line to where you are attacking other people on the site, or being racist, or insulting somebody for their beliefs – then that is not acceptable – but that’s not the kind of Rules violation we are talking about here.
What I am talking about is only writing which is sexually descriptive or suggestive. As far as I am concerned, this kind of writing is fine – as long as it is not posted publicly where anybody coming to the site can see it. When somebody posts a public entry on OD, they have to remember that their entry shows up on the front page of the site, and may also show up there for a Reader’s Choice or Circle posting later – and when it is there, it can be seen by thousands of people of all ages. For this reason, it is important to me that if a person is going to post sexually explicit material, they need to post it in either a friends-only or private entry.
All of that aside, there are legal reasons why OD (as a business) can’t support posting explicit material in public, where it can be viewed by minors (and I am well aware that your average teenager can find this sort of material with little effort – I’ve raised three teens – but I’m talking about business reasons, not common sense). If OD, as a business, allows these sort of postings to be public, then we also have to provide some sort of screening to ensure that readers who are minors (of which we have thousands) are warned away from that content and blocked from accessing it if possible.
Posting as FO or private prevents the entry from showing on the front page, or being in RC or Diary Circles. It makes it so the entry is only available to the author and people who are on his or her friends list, if FO. This way, everybody is protected – the entry isn’t being read by people who shouldn’t see it, and OD is protected from publishing this sort of material out in the open.
Now, when we find that something has been posted in public on OD that is too explicit for the site, we have a couple of choices in what we do. By far, I favor talking to the author and asking them to make it FO or private, if they do it right away. If it is really out there (explicit-wise), and needs to be taken out of the public eye immediately, we will take the further step of changing the entry to private ourselves and letting the author know that it has been changed. For this sort of violation, we don’t ever completely delete entries or diaries – unless it becomes clear that the author will not co-operate, and continues to post explicit material publicly after being warned.
So, what do we consider explicit? Of all the things I’ve wrestled with in eleven years of this job, this is one of the toughest problems to crack. It’s not as simple as having a list of "bad" words, or of running an entry through an automated sex-checker and have it spit out an answer. It’s a subjective thing, and I don’t ever expect to agree with 100% of the people 100% of the time – everybody’s opinion of what is explicit is different. As such, we can only make such a judgment call after actually seeing what we are trying to judge.
I can’t give you a list of guidelines and say, "if you stay within these rules, it’s fine" – it just doesn’t work that way. However, I will say that we (again, the Admins and I) don’t make snap decisions in any of these cases – we rely on each other for opinions. And as I said above, we always try to work with the author and help them to understand our reasoning, without actually removing anything from their diary.
To reflect all of this, I’ve made a change to the text of the OD Rules. The previous version said this for Rule #2 (Be Careful With Your Language):
We do not allow any racist, sexist, or otherwise derogatory or defaming language on this site. Sexually explicit language is also forbidden. There is a fine line between what is appropriate and what is not – if you need help seeing the line, think of the difference between an R-rated film and an X-rated film. R-rated is okay, X-rated is not.
Now, it has been changed to this:
We do not allow any racist, sexist, or otherwise derogatory or defamatory language on this site. Sexually explicit language is forbidden in public entries. If you are going to post sexually explicit language, please limit it to friends-only or private entries. Defining what is explicit is difficult – but please remember that anything you post publicly can show up on the front page of the site, where it can be read by thousands of people of all ages. If you are concerned that your language is too explicit for public consumption, please post it as a friends-only or private entry.
So, hopefully a little more explanatory – but I have a bad feeling that all my "explaining" might lead to more questions than there already were. This isn’t a "tightening" or "loosening" of our Rules in any way – it is just making them line up with what we have actually been doing for quite some time.
In any case, there is one last piece to this puzzle – probably the most important part. In order to keep our OD a comfortable place for everybody, we rely on our members to let us know when they see something that they think is inappropriate. There are thousands of entries posted on OD every day, and it is impossible for the Admins and I to be able to see all of them. So, we count on the rest of the community to help out. We have had great luck in the past with this, and have always had many members who are willing to help.
However, I wanted to make the reporting mechanism a little easier for people to use – I think there have been cases where inappropriate entries have gone unreported, just because a reader doesn’t want to go through the process of filling out a contact form and sending it to us. For this reason, I have added a new link at the bottom of all our diary entries (down past the notes, next to the "return to top" link) that says "report rules violation". If you click this link on an entry, you don’t have to fill anything out – it will just automatically send us a report through the Help desk, with a link to the entry.
If you file a report like this, rest assured that the author of the entry will never be told who reported it. Also, we will not contact you back, unless we really need additional information. However, we will act on the report right away and take a look at what has been reported – but, remember that we will only take action if (after we review the entry) we agree that it is not appropriate for public posting. When you click the "report" link it doesn’t automatically do anything (like hide the entry) other than let us know about your concern.
So, if you see something that you think may not belong in the public eye on OD – please let us know about it. We may or may not agree, but we will always take a look at anything that is reported – and we would much rather have somebody let us know about something that we don’t take action on, than to not know about it at all.
Good grief, that was a lot of talking for one thing – sorry to be so long-winded, but I’m just trying to make it clear what my stance is on this. I think that’s it for now (until the first note is posted and somebody asks me something I’ve forgotten to say).
Thanks for listening!