New change to the AO3’s “Archive Warning” system

We choose that you can no longer choose to choose not to warn for–wait, I’ll come in again.

Based on your feedback, we’ve decided to eliminate one of our previous Archive Warnings: “Choose Not To Warn for Some Content.” While it was meant to give users additional flexibility, feedback revealed that it was just too confusing. So there will now be only one opt-out tag, represented by a new icon, (which combines and clarifies two previous ones): “Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings.”

But what are Archive Warnings exactly? There are two answers to this question.

1) There are six in all. Four designate particular content: major character death, underage, rape/noncon and graphic violence; the other two are “No Archive Warnings Apply” and “Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings”. All stories in the AO3 must carry at least one of these descriptions.

2) They are enforceable; that is, if a story in the AO3 features major character death, underage, rape/noncon, or graphic violence without being labeled as such (or without you being told that the author has chosen not to warn for these tropes in this story), you can report that story to Abuse.

So why this system? To allow users to roam the AO3 with reasonable confidence that they will not encounter these four things if they don’t want to. (But click on a story labeled “Author has Chosen Not To Use Archive Warnings” at your own risk!)

More Info Under The Fold! (Full post)

Q & A:

“How does this affect stories I’ve already posted to the Archive?”
If you warned for Rape/Non-Con, Graphic Violence, Major Character Death or Underage, then those warnings will stay exactly as they are. If you chose Choose Not To Warn or Choose Not To Warn For Some Content, these will be merged into Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings. We hope this makes the choice easier for the author and more comprehensible to the reader; we also hope that it makes clear that this field doesn’t represent all warnings: just the four the AO3 enforces.

“Why these four “Archive Warnings” and not others?”
We chose those four for a mix of practical, historical, and technical reasons, but the bottom line is enforceability. The AO3 allows for an infinite number of customizable warnings through additional tags, which allow users to search for content they want and avoid content they don’t want. But Abuse can’t be responsible for the accuracy of all those tags. By limiting the number of Archive Warnings to four–major character death, underage, rape/noncon, and graphic violence–we can provide broad categories of content for people to seek out or avoid. We think it’s better to have four than none, since we can’t have all warnings be Abuse-enforceable.

“And if I don’t want to warn for anything?”
We’ve got you covered: you can choose “Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings” when you post. Readers who absolutely must know if a story contains major character death, underage, rape/noncon, or graphic violence might avoid your story.

“What if I don’t have major character death, underage, rape/noncon, or graphic violence in my story?”
Choose “No Archive Warnings Apply.” Please note that this doesn’t mean that the story is “safe” or that there’s nothing to be warned for. It just means that there are no Archive-enforceable warnings: i.e. no major character death, underage, rape/noncon, or graphic violence. But there could be additional author-added warnings in the tag field, or listed in the summary or notes of the story, or there could be something else that offends or squicks you. But there shouldn’t be major character death, underage, rape/noncon, or graphic violence; if there is, please report the story to Abuse.

“I want to warn for something beyond those four things.”
Please do! You can add any other warning you want to any story, either in additional tags or in the summary or notes. We also encourage everyone to develop their own warning (or “don’t wanna warn”) policy and post it to their profile page.

“What about dubcon?”
Dubcon, or dubious consent, is probably the number one additional warning requested by users, and while we’ve discussed it many times, we just don’t think it’s enforceable. The label “dubcon”, by definition, is applied to dubious cases and blurry situations, and we don’t think it’s possible for Abuse to judge if a story fits the criteria. That being said, a story’s author tends to know if her own story is dubcon, and so we encourage authors to warn for dubcon when appropriate through the tag system. Readers can also use bookmarks, or comment to the author, But we don’t feel comfortable potentially subjecting the author to a penalty over the definition of dubcon.

8 thoughts on “New change to the AO3’s “Archive Warning” system

  1. Out of curiosity, is there any chance of getting another warning: “No Archive Warnings Apply; Please see Additional Tags/Notes for more warnings”? And use the “?” icon perhaps? That way, authors can distinguish between stories that have no warnings at all, versus stories that the archive warnings do not apply but they still can make sure readers will see their warnings for other things (like dub-con).

    1. The Content Policy committee will consider your suggestion the next time they take a look at this section of the TOS. For a quick gut-level reaction, I have to say that the idea strikes me as difficult to enforce and not much of a change from the current system, where “choose not use Archive warnings” gets you the interrobang symbol, which should prompt readers to look for any other information provided, whether by the author or in bookmarks of the work. And it gets into the sticky territory of what content “deserves” a warning, which, as we’ve seen in recent debates, is a complex and deeply personal issue that I don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

      Elizabeth Yalkut
      Chair, Abuse committee, OTW

      (And sorry about the delay in this reply; I managed to totally miss this comment until pur webmasters gave me a heads-up. ::facepalm::)

  2. FWIW, I like Xparrot’s suggestion. I also like the change you’ve made to the warning system. And, of course, I adore the archive itself. You’ve all done a great job with it, and one of these days, I’ll have time to finish uploading my stories.

    1. Thanks for your praise! We’re always glad to make people happy, and xparrot’s suggestion has been noted.

      Elizabeth Yalkut
      Chair, Abuse committee, OTW

  3. What about where something you would warn for – rape for example – is threatened, but does not occur?
    Also, I have vivisection in a story, which I have wanred for in notes: is this sufficient or should I also warn for graphic violence?


    1. Heya. Abuse committee member here. We can’t give a hard and fast answer about something like the vivisection story. If you don’t warn for graphic violence, and someone reports the story to us, we would have a look and might determine that it needed a “choose not to use archive warnings” warning. We might also decide that it wasn’t graphic enough to merit a “graphic violence” warning and dismiss the complaint. It would really depend on the exact story.

      Personally, I would probably do what you’ve done (warn in notes rather than with an archive warning), but I can’t guarantee what would happen in a theoretical Abuse case. However, in the vast majority of cases, even if we were to decide a complaint was valid, there wouldn’t be any consequences like your account getting suspended. We’d just add “choose not to use archive warnings” to your story, and that would be the end of the issue. (The times when this wouldn’t be true would be if you routinely left off warnings despite previous upheld complaints or you were leaving off warnings in order to traumatize your yuletide recipient or something else of that general sort–in other words, harassing behavior that is different from just disagreeing about where to draw the line on “graphic” violence.)

      For threats of rape and other things that aren’t really covered by our archive warnings (that main list), you can use the optional tags or put something in notes. I’ve seen plenty of people already using tags like ‘mentions of past sexual trauma’ or ‘history of sexual abuse’. I think threats of rape are in a similar category: likely to upset people, often worth warning for, but not actually something that requires the archive warning. Again, I can’t give a 100% guarantee about how a given set of Abuse team members would decide in a particular actual case, but this is certainly what I’d do for my own fic.

  4. What if I want to warn for some Archive warnings but not others? I choose not to warn for character death or underage sex (because the “underage” characters in my fandom are adults in their own context, and so I feel the underage tag is misleading, but I understand your position on that and use “choose not to warn” instead). But if I were to write violence or rape, I would want to warn for it. How would I go about doing that in the new system?

    1. Hi KJ. You would use “choose not to use archive warnings” or the equivalent option but combine it with another archive warning: violence + choose not to warn (in place of underage) or rape + choose not to warn (in place of character death).

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