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The Last Post

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I don't know if anyone's going to read this. I don't know if there's anyone left to read it. I guess I just feel better knowing there's a record of what happened, even if no one ever sees it. That's a sick joke, isn't it? After all, the whole point of LJ -- the reason LJ exists -- is so people can make a record, write down the things that matter to them. You know the things I'm talking about: fic and meta and late night angst about the meaning of life and funny stories about our cats. Millions and millions of words. And that doesn't even include the photos and the fanart and the vids and the podfics. Take all that away and what are you left with? Nothing. A big empty space where all those voices used to be.

Not completely empty. I'm still here. One lone voice. Soon I'll be gone, too.

It began as a meme. Or maybe it wasn't a meme. Maybe it was something more insidious, more predatory, disguising itself as a meme so it could slip into our space, into fandom, unnoticed.

Is there anyone here?

That was all it was. Four words and a question mark. One day it wasn't there and the next it was, scattered all over LJ in anonymous comments on public entries.

Is there anyone here?

The first I heard about it was when someone on my flist posted that she'd just received a weird anonymous comment on an old entry, and several flisters responded with variations on, huh, me too. Most people thought it was a spambot or a troll and ignored it, but a few were intrigued enough to pick it up and turn it into a meme to encourage lurkers to speak up.

Meanwhile, the anonymous spam comments were proliferating. After a week, I'd gotten five of them on my old entries. There was no pattern to it; it seemed random. By the time another week had gone by, I'd received twenty more, and they were starting to get annoying. They were like weeds in my comment notifications, repetitions of is there anyone here? clogging up my inbox every time I checked it. I turned off anon commenting in my journal. So did a lot of other people.

The comments didn't stop.

Is there anyone here?

It was a problem with LJ, a bug in the code, people said, and that satisfied everyone for a while because, let's face it, LJ bugs aren't exactly news to any of us.

The comments kept coming. They were starting to get in the way, interrupting discussion threads and obscuring genuine content. It was starting to feel like they were multiplying faster than we could delete them. And they were everywhere: it didn't matter what your privacy settings were. CAPTCHAs didn't stop them. They were even appearing on flocked and private entries. Even then, people were more irritated than concerned.

Then there was i_have_no_voice.

I logged in one morning and it was all over my flist. i_have_no_voice's entire journal was corrupt. Every entry, every single comment, even the user profile -- they were all gone. Instead the journal now consisted of only one post, and that post contained just four words.

Is there anyone here?

Fandom exploded. There were furious posts -- how could LJ let this happen? -- and a scramble to back up content and create mirror journals. It was the biggest pan-fandom scandal since Strikethrough. We called it ITAH? and made icons. The funny thing was, the only person who had nothing to say about it was i_have_no_voice. I remember thinking that was kind of weird. I mean, you would have thought the first thing she'd have done would have been to set up a new journal, right? But it was as if, when the journal had been wiped, the person behind it had been, too.

With hindsight, that was the point when we should have started getting scared.

But we were too outraged to be afraid, and my reaction was just like everyone else's. I hadn't known i_have_no_voice at all -- we'd never shared a fandom. If I thought about it at all, I assumed she was commiserating with her friends in emails or over IM. I assumed her silence didn't mean she was actually, for-real gone. Because LJ is just LJ, right? It's not real life. It's not real.

Other journals began to disappear, their content swallowed up and replaced by the relentless spread of that single, terrible question. I started refreshing my flist obsessively, desperate to be told that the problem had been solved or even just that someone somewhere knew why it was happening. No one did, although of course everyone had a theory. It was a virus in LJ's source code. It was a marketing campaign. It was the Russian government. It was someone's out-of-control psychology experiment. It was Misha Collins.

LJ News hadn't been updated for weeks. Then it was updated, to one entry containing one four-word question.

We hardly noticed. By then, we'd realised something worse was happening. Something much worse. And we were scared.

The owners of the corrupted journals were… gone. Just like i_have_no_voice, they'd disappeared along with their journals. Their friends reported emails that went unanswered, IM's not responded to, cellphones that were abruptly out of service. When the journal of one particularly well known BNF went dark, a group of her friends in the same city announced that they were going to visit her in person. Not that they believed anything bad had really happened to her, they said. They just wanted to be sure.

I don't know what they found when they turned up at her door, or even if any of them made it that far, because the next day all their journals had been taken over by the question as well.

That was when fandom started deleting and purging journals en masse. Even people with permanent accounts and people who'd been in the very first wave of LJ adopters, back when you needed an invite code to get on the site and the hottest pairing around was Clex. People were scared, and they were leaving.

I didn't. I knew I should, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to delete nearly nine years of my life. There were better social networking sites than LJ, but LJ was the first place I called home on the internet. Every fannish obsession I'd had this millennium was recorded there. LJ was still the second site I logged on to every morning, straight after I checked gmail. When I wanted to squee about the latest episode of my current favourite show, I came to LJ. When I wanted to kill twenty minutes with lolcats or ONTD, I came to LJ. When I needed to be amused or inspired or cheered up or just to feel that there were other people like me out there -- I always came, I still came, to LJ.

And now LJ was being eaten up, and I couldn't do anything except watch it happen.

Eventually, it reached my flist.

There was hardly anyone left then; skip=20 covered a week's worth of posts. I'd been defriending journals on my flist as they'd been taken over by the Question. I hated to do it -- I'd known some of those people for years -- but I rationalized it by telling myself that they were gone, now, and there was nothing more I could do for them. My flist had shrunk to a fraction of its former size, and now it was just a few scared people like me. We clung on to each other and tried not to let our voices be drowned out by the Question.

Then, finally, the day came when I logged in and the last of them was gone. My friends page was nothing more than the Question, repeated over and over and over again.

I guess that's when I finally lost hope.

Oh, I searched, of course. I hit friendsfriends and checked hundreds of random user names. But I knew even as I was doing it that I wasn't going to find anyone else. There was no one else left.

Where did the Question come from? What triggered its unstoppable appetite? I don't know. I do have a theory, though.

Content, you see, is everything. Content is the energy that keeps the web alive; content is the fuel that drives the social networking engine. Content is what the internet eats to live; content is the meaty filling in the sandwich. If the internet is an ecosystem, then content is what every organism in it needs to consume to survive.

Everyone knows that. I knew it, or I thought I did. Because none of us understood the most important part: On the net, the content is us.

Everything happens faster on the web, even evolution. We shouldn't have been surprised that it only took the net twenty years to evolve its own predators. The only surprise is that it didn't happen sooner.

LJ isn't a big social network, not compared to some of the other platforms out there. The thing that scares me -- really scares me -- now is that I think this is just the start.

So I'm getting out while I can. I don't know why I've survived -- why it's let me survive -- as long as this. Maybe it wanted someone to last long enough to bear witness to its triumph of consumption. I never thought I'd be the one making Livejournal's last post.

It asked, Is there anyone here? and we all said, Yes, we are! Come and get us!

And it did.

I'm logging out now, and then I'm going offline for good. If you're reading this, you should leave, too. It's out there. It's loose, and it's ravenous. LJ was just the beginning. Maybe it hasn't discovered Tumblr and Twitter and LinkedIn yet, but it won't be long until it does. Save yourself. Log out of everything. Turn off the laptop and the iPad and the smartphone. Unplug the router.

And then close your eyes tight and pray it doesn't figure out Facebook.