We were surprised to see a tremendous amount of interest in our recent post about the acquisition of LiveJournal, the most popular blogging platform in Russia, by a Kremlin loyalist. While we focused on the privacy and censorship concerns posed by a government that is increasingly hostile toward free speech, most other outlets seem dramatically less concerned over these issues. Take for example the new CMSWire interview with Edward Shenderovich of SUP. The reporter asks only a few softball questions, and doesn’t really get into any specifics of what SUP would do if the security services asked for personal information about certain bloggers. Mr. Shenderovich expresses his confusion and surprise at “where these concerns are coming from” – which seems unusual given what that the new owners of the platform are closely aligned with an authoritarian government and an established pattern of censorship. Surely it is easy for SUP to at least understand why people are concerned, and let us know how they plan to vigorously protect privacy and freedom of expression? Cuts from the interview after the jump.
CMSWire Interview with Edward Shenderovich, Director of Strategy, SUP:
CMSWire: Switching topics a little, some people say that at least part of the reason for LiveJournal’s success in Russia was precisely because it was not a Russian service — and there people trusted the service with their data a bit more and trusted the service with their “voice” a bit more. Do you think there’s any basis to this?ES: I think that this is not entirely true. The popularity of LiveJournal in Russia was due to several trend setters that started blogging on LiveJournal. These people developed a community around them. The fact that it was a foreign service, um, at the time, it was really the only service, literally the only service available.There are two stories like this in Russia. LiveJournal is one, ICQ is another. The story with ICQ is very similar. Basically it was started in Russia by the same people. There are about six million registered ICQ users in Russia, which makes it one of the largest active ICQ communities.So I would attribute the initial success to the conditions at the time — having the initial group of trend setters on LiveJournal.CMSWire: So you say that the initial success had little do with LiveJournal’s status as a foreign service. What about its continued and current success, did this play a role?ES: On some level the discussions in LiveJournal are more politically oriented than the discussions in other blogs in Russia. But this is due not because of the fact that its a foreign service, but because it is the intellectual elite who are blogging in LiveJournal, therefore the audience is more prone to discussing politic and more interested in the political situation.I think the fact that the service was a foreign service — and it continues to be a foreign service, since its a U.S.-based company, from the legal perspective, nothing has changed. All the contracts with the users, the user agreements, are still subject to California jurisdiction. And this is certainly the way we plan on having this in the future.****CMSWire: Ok, so I’m going to switch gears a little and talk about the social side of this deal. There’s been what some might call an “outcry” in the blogosphere about a Russian company purchasing LiveJournal. Some fear that the acquisition could result in less free communication in the Russian blogosphere. Do you understand where this is coming from? What is SUP’s thought/response on this?ES: I don’t understand where this is coming from. There has been no censorship of LiveJournal users in Russia. There are no issues that resulted in anyone being jailed in Russia, in relation to any LiveJournal political issues.Censorship is a matter of local jurisdiction. While in the U.S. child pornography is a problem area, in Russia the concern is more about xenophobia. These are the types of content we have to deal with.For example, there was a court case in Russia where a guy said he was going to buy a gun and go out and kill a militiaman. And that was the only court proceeding that happened.There was an instance where a woman accidentally dropped her child off the fifth floor of a build, and wrote about it in her LiveJournal. Those are the issues that are a concern to us.CMSWire: So the issues are more about content coming from the social fringes, rather than political minded and active?ES: I think there there are no political court cases related to LiveJournal in Russia. So its not clear to me where truly this is coming from.There are political activists and politicians in LiveJournal. Political parties use LiveJournal, but, in the same way politicians use WordPress and TypePad in the U.S.CMSWire: In October 2006 when SUP originally partnered with Six Apart, there was an opinion piece published in the IHT by Russian journalist Evgeny Morozov. In his article, he raised some concerns about LiveJournal’s “abuse teams” and the potential for censorship. Now of course, all major Internet service providers must have abuse teams or something of that nature. Can you tell us a little about LiveJournal’s abuse teams?ES: Yes. Regarding the abuse team, its a standard LiveJournal abuse team. Its a group of LiveJournal users (not SUP staff, there are no SUP employees on the abuse teams) in every language, who are able to resolve user issues that arise. This the way LiveJournal has been functioning and there is nothing that we want to change in the function or the role of the abuse teams. There is no need to do this.CMSWire: And how do users become members of an abuse team?ES: There’s a process that is posted publicly on LiveJournal (see http://www.livejournal.com/abuse/). Any user can apply to become a member of an abuse team, and many do. Generally, they are trusted users who other members of the abuse team know. And initially they were other users who were helping Brad Fitzpatrick deal with user issues. LiveJournal support works in a very similar way — there are groups of volunteers that are making LiveJournal work.CMSWire: And are abuse teams empowered to remove content from LiveJournal?ES: They are empowered to ask users to remove content and they are empowered to suspend accounts if the content is not removed. This happens on a regular basis. And most of the time is at the request of content rights holder. For example, Getty Images often write letters requesting that content is removed.