An Update from the OTW Board and Chairs

In 2020, the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) made a commitment to our users, members, and volunteers that we would work towards making our organization and our projects more welcoming and inclusive to fans of color, and preventing and combating racist harassment on our platforms.

Today, we’d like to provide an update on what steps we have taken so far to accomplish those goals, and what still needs to be done. But first, we have a duty to acknowledge that this work hasn’t been nearly as prompt as we had hoped, and that the main victims of our delayed progress are the people of color who continue to suffer due to harassment and slow action. In May, fans organized a campaign against racism in the OTW, and we want to take a moment to thank everyone who participated. We hear and appreciate the people who continue to reach out to us, to share their ideas and their concerns, and to hold us accountable.

What We’ve Done So Far

Since the posting of our original plan in 2020, we have completed or made significant progress on a series of goals to help protect our users and volunteers against harassment:

  • We implemented the ability to freeze comment threads and turn off comments on your works entirely, giving you more control to moderate interactions on your AO3 fanworks.
  • User muting was introduced to help you avoid encountering works, bookmarks, or comments from specific users when browsing the Archive.
  • We have implemented comment blocking to prevent specific logged-in users from commenting on your works entirely.
  • You can now opt out of receiving gifts on AO3, as well as opt out of allowing your works to be invited to collections.
  • We have improved admin tools to facilitate investigations by our Policy & Abuse team.
  • Internally, we have updated our Code of Conduct to make it explicit that discrimination based on caste is not tolerated in the OTW.
  • We also implemented methods for volunteers to contact and submit feedback to the Board anonymously by introducing a separate feedback form.

We are still committed to working towards giving you more control over how you experience the Archive going forward. To that end, we will be expanding blocking features to cover more user interactions, and further limiting how guest users can interact with you on the Archive.

What We’re Working On

We have been reviewing the Archive’s Terms of Service to help the Policy & Abuse team address different types of harassment. This review is still ongoing, but we hope to complete it soon. Once concluded, any planned changes to the Terms of Service will be made available for public comment in a dedicated news post.

Alongside this review, the Policy & Abuse team continues to improve and calibrate their internal policies about harassment and hate speech in icons, user names, and other non-story elements. The team strives to remain vigilant and flexible in order to respond appropriately to new harassment vectors as needed.

Internally, back in 2021 the OTW opened recruitment for a Diversity Consultant Research Officer (DCRO). They began their work in 2022, contacting internal stakeholders and researching firms. The DCRO hopes to finish their internal studies by September, and has already begun to investigate potential contractors.

We will keep you updated on how these projects are progressing. Please continue reading to learn more about how we plan to communicate these updates.

Communications Improvements

One of the areas the OTW has been working to improve in is transparency in communication. We know how important these topics are to our users, and we will be trying to better keep you informed about what we’re doing to combat and prevent racism in the OTW and on AO3.

One change we have already implemented is to provide quarterly updates on our diversity work during OTW Board of Directors public meetings. These meetings take place on Discord and can be attended by anyone. There are a few ways you can know when a meeting is coming up:

  • Keep an eye on the OTW’s Twitter account—every meeting is announced at least one week in advance.
  • Join our Discord server—as soon as a meeting is scheduled, a notification will appear in the meeting channel.
  • Subscribe to the Board Calendar so that new meetings will show directly on your personal calendar.

Additionally, we will be making an effort to include all information discussed in these meetings in the OTW’s monthly newsletter. The newsletter will also provide smaller updates between meetings whenever possible.

We understand how frustrating these delays have been, and we deeply apologize. We remain committed to making our spaces more welcoming and safe for all users. We sincerely thank you for sticking with us as we strive to improve. Your feedback on this and any other matters is welcome and valued, always.

The OTW Board of Directors can be reached for direct feedback and further suggestions via email.

  1. Madame Hardy commented:

    Why has it taken two years to “research” finding a DEI consultant?

    • terribly commented:

      There’s been talk on FFA about the org being locked out of their admin tools back in May last year, and apparently some people were locked out for months, so I imagine that’s part of why this is taking so fucking long. Also, I bet no one wanted to take the “research officer” position internally lmao.

      • Azarias commented:

        The DCRO (the person researching DEI consultants for the Board of Directors) doesn’t need admin access for their research. The CSEM attack last year did understandably rattle everyone and temporarily de-prioritize the DEI project while the org responded to the emergency. The project had kicked off only a couple of weeks before the attacks, so it was simply unfortunate timing. I’m more concerned that some influential people within the OTW are personally opposed to the project and may intentionally delay hiring or refuse to accept the DEI consultant’s suggestions, or otherwise prevent the project from being effective. Greater transparency and more active communication from the org would go a long way to alleviate these concerns.

        • terribly commented:

          Hey, Azarias! Now that we know there’s a sinophobe serving on the board, how high’s the chance of white supremacists holding positions of power in the org?

          • Azarias commented:

            I don’t know. I’m white and therefore I’m reluctant to make judgment calls like that. I can talk about what I’ve seen but I don’t believe I’m the best person to interpret deeper questions. That said, I never personally saw anything I would take to be white supremacist sentiments. Instead, I would characterize the OTW’s problems as being largely ones of complacency and a siege mentality. The major internal rebuttals I saw to addressing racism included: the perception that racism is America-centric/something only US Americans care about, the tendency to dismiss any and all criticisms of the org as attempts to destroy the org by its detractors inside and outside of fandom, and constantly citing resource constraints rather than exploring ways to get more resources. It wasn’t “We don’t like X race” but more “This isn’t important, no one bringing it up is asking in good faith, and even if they were, it’s too hard a problem for us to solve,” if that makes sense. By and large, while there are a few specific individuals I think the org would be better off without, the org’s problems really don’t come from an individual bad guy causing problems on purpose. They come from systemic issues and entrenched mindsets that have arisen organically from those systems.

  2. Muccamukk commented:

    Why have you not addressed the allegations regarding the abuse of your volunteers, and the calls for the Legal Committee to resign?

    • androgenius commented:

      Seconded ^

      • Makamu commented:

        Thirded to the original question by muccamuck.

        I’d also like to know what reasons the Board has for not reining in Legal when a) the bylaws explicitly state they can in the related case of volunteer abuse( mistreatment?

    • Vedun commented:

      Why would the Legal Committee resign? Is anyone other than pro-corporate shills trying to fight against fair use by using AI as proxy calling for that?

      • Muccamukk commented:

        Good question! I’ve added some links above to explain their shocking treatment of AO3’s volunteers, and insistance on exposing them to harm.

        Legal appears to be entirely in favour of AI, but that’s another question.

      • AI is not fair use commented:

        Maybe look through the entire comment thread about that AI issue before calling people with legitimate, well thought out concerns, “pro-corporate shills.”

        Unless you think the WGA is also just full of pro-corporate shills who hate AI for no reason.

        For the record, I don’t necessarily think the Legal Chair should be ousted, but they certainly need to make a public statement clarifying their stance.

        • Azarias commented:

          On the AI front, the OTW’s representatives told the US Copyright Office that the org has “heard from fans” about AI and that’s guiding what the org is telling regulators on the subject. At the very least, we deserve to know how these fan opinions have been collected and how the org is ensuring that it’s representing a cross-section of fan opinions, rather than just the opinions of the org representatives. To my knowledge, the org hasn’t done any polling or otherwise attempted to engage fandom on the issue in any systematic fashion. I don’t necessarily oppose the org having its own opinion on AI, but if the org is claiming to represent OUR opinions, it needs to demonstrate that it’s actually doing so.

    • tptigger commented:

      I also want to know more about this. Based on what we’ve heard, the legal team is acting like outside counsel (prevent taking all risks & damn the other consequences to the org) than in house counsel (mitigate risk as much as possible while doing what’s best for the org), thus stopping important changes from being implemented.
      Members need an update

  3. bassackroyd commented:

    A few years ago when I reported TERFs in my comments aggressively misgendering me and threatening to have their boyfriends/brothers/dads/whatever rape me for writing a canon m/m ship that wasn’t their OTP the exact response I got from Abuse was “maybe you should build your own website if you’re expecting a safe space”, so I guess it’s cool to see you’re at least making a token effort to let us keep jerks out of our inboxes now.

    Shouldn’t have taken this long for you to add a simple damn block button though.

    • X commented:

      Bro this is so real. Someone claimed I was doxing them and got a warning within like hours and then when they continuously harassed me across several fics and I reported it the same day it took support like 4 months to respond. I’d saved screen shots of the comments but had deleted them. Block button would have been SO nice when support just drops the damn ball.

  4. silverandblue commented:

    If you’re looking to improve communication and transparency, why hasn’t the next public boarding meeting been added to the calendar or publicized on the OTW_news Twitter? Or on this very post? According to the OTW Board discord, the next meeting is scheduled for the 2nd of July 2023 at 20:00 UTC.

    It is important to note that the public portion lasts for one hour and one hour only, and that any question not asked and answered within this timeframe usually just goes unaddressed. Which doesn’t lend itself to the stated goal of increased communication and transparency.

  5. Azarias commented:

    When can I expect a retraction of the Legal committee’s public statement falsely accusing me of distributing child sexual abuse materials while I was a member of PAC? Given that this statement from Legal immediately followed a statement from the Board of Directors calling my expulsion a “miscommunication” and promising an apology, I have to conclude that either Board was lying or Legal decided to defame me without authorization from the Board. This was transparent retaliation for my speaking out on internal issues, some of which you reference in this very post. It’s been more than a week since I contacted you for a retraction and the silence on your end is deafening. (n.b. for those not aware of the statements, they’ve been reproduced here and subsequently verified by a number of people in the org: )

  6. Jack commented:

    When will you rein in Legal? The Board has the power to do so, but continually chooses not to. Legal has been preventing PAC from doing their jobs because they apparently think that the OTW is their fiefdom.

  7. elli commented:

    What processes are in place to protect volunteers in case of further CSEM or any other form of attacks?

    What steps have been taken to ensure proper accountability and processes within the org? What exactly is the role of Legal within the org – an advisory committee on specifically copyright issues, or an in-house corporate department? Who exactly receives Legal’s advice, and who exactly decides what part of it to implement, and how to do so?

  8. Azarias commented:

    Will the code of conduct be applied to members of the Board of Directors who have made inappropriate comments about Chinese-speakiny volunteers and fans in conjunction with the Board’s unilateral decision to shut down the official Weibo account? Who is responsible for reviewing CoC violations by officers of the corporation?

  9. S commented:

    I have very little faith in this organization, but thanks for doing the bare fucking minimum

  10. thosenearandfarwars commented:

    Why is the research into the consultant being handled so slowly? I work in HR and could get you a list of ten DEI consultants with tech credentials within a few weeks– and I’m sure I’m not the only member and donor who could do so with actual subject matter expertise and recent experience.

    You could post an open call to members and donors with the understanding they’d have to participate in an ad hoc selection committee, get them to sign off on your COC, and get it wrapped up by the end of the calendar year.

    Given the delay, the End OTW Racism action, and the board chair’s resignation, going outside your usual process to recruit actual experts from a wider but relevant pool only makes sense.

    I very seriously volunteer to be part of such a committee.

  11. gloss commented:

    I appreciate the org’s acknowledgment of the #EndOTWRacism campaign. I wish this statement said something new, however, concerning both the ongoing issues of racism on the AO3 *as well as* the various and horrifying issues brought to light during the campaign.

    Specifically, what are you doing to address and fix the harm recurrently caused to your volunteers through exposure to CSEM? Why is the Legal Committee acting as if it runs the entire org, while also libeling a former volunteer and claiming authority to speak to the US Copyright Office in favor of AI/LLMs on behalf of fans? What measures are the Board planning to take to rein in Legal and establish a healthier environment for *all* volunteers?

    While I’m here, will anyone apologize to the Chinese volunteers and reinstate the org’s official Weibo account?

  12. alessandriana commented:

    First time reading this through, I thought the DCRO /was/ the DEI consultant. It’s been two years and you haven’t even hired a consultant yet, just found the person who is going to find the consultant? What’s the hold up?

    I’ve been an AO3 user since the beginning, but I’m becoming really uncomfortable with the way the governance seems to be working (or, to be more accurate, not working.)

    • PrettyOdd commented:

      Big agreement here. I was shocked a few weeks ago when the protest first started and people genuinely acted shocked that there even was a Diversity Consultant/TOS Change promise. Which I think says a lot about how little transparency OTW has and how unwilling it is to fully make visible statements to its userbase about potential changes. It’s proof that in the past OTW has been horribly vague about important changes and stances on things. It basically takes a random user out of hundreds of thousands to finally begrudgingly check these sorts of news posts and then repost them over and over in order for anyone to recall them happening.

  13. afrikate commented:

    I appreciate the new communication responding to the #EndOTWRacism campaign, and an update on the steps you are taking to honor your commitment. Unfortunately, the steps you are taking to hire a DEI consultant are just slow-walking at this point. And, also unfortunately, you have done nothing to communicate on the horrifying and credible allegations of how PAC volunteers have been treated.

    OTW has a number of problems, but a significant one is communications. You have a big, broad user-base and membership. Use your Communications committee to get out in front of these issues! I want the OTW to succeed, but given what I have heard from former volunteers and when internal communications are shared, I have to wonder if that is even possible. The organization needs to do a significant amount of restructuring, and communicating with your members in a regular way, and seeking feedback from them, would do a lot to allow members and observers to understand what is going on.

  14. Calico commented:

    Appreciate the increase in transparency from the org- obviously I wish things were a bit faster but I’m still pleased to hear about things moving in the right direction. Glad to see the block button is now in place and will try to keep tabs on how things are going.