OTW Guest Post: Brianna Dym

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Brianna Dym is an information science PhD student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she works in the Internet Rules Lab (IRL) with Dr. Casey Fiesler. She investigates norms in online communities and ways in which different minority groups carve out spaces for themselves online, in addition to researching how vulnerable users might empower themselves through existing technology platforms. Today, Brianna talks about her recent article in Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) that was co-authored with Casey Fiesler.

How did you first find out about fandom and fanworks?

When I was a young teenager, a friend mentioned the website and I got curious enough to go check it out for myself. I spent a lot of time reading, since I was quiet and shy, and I could never find books that had the kinds of characters I wanted to read about, such as queer women like myself.

Your article in TWC’s issue 28 is about fandom’s social norms regarding privacy. What led you to focus on this?

I think privacy online is important, especially in the context of fandom where seeing that privacy violated could cause serious harm to a number of users in different ways. Often, our first answer to any problem is to attempt to devise a perfect technological solution to it, but the social norms in fandom already work fairly well to preserve user privacy. I wanted to better understand how those function to better inform conversations around protecting user privacy online.

The article addresses generational differences about privacy and the relevance of what online platforms are chosen for fandom activity. What might we expect from the next generation given what we know now?

I think we are going to see different norms in relation to what should and should not take place in fandom. You see a little bit of this already with the complaints about callout culture damaging fandom. I don’t necessarily know if that set of values will replace current norms in fandom (such as the “ship and let ship” ideal), but it is something currently causing tension in the fan community. This tension affects privacy because some users feel they have a right to make public a person’s real name and other details about them if they are deemed to be too “problematic” for fandom.

I sincerely hope this trend does not stick around, because it seems to go against all prior norms in fandom. In response to this trend, in addition to the lack of fine-grain privacy controls on most platforms, many fandoms have created their own insular spaces on Discord platforms and Slack channels where they can control who is and is not involved in the space.

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

I learned about the OTW right around when I found out about AO3 in my early 20s. I think OTW’s role has evolved to be the public-facing, as-official-as-we-can-get face of fandom. This is a good thing, because I think OTW can advocate well on behalf of people within fandom, who do not necessarily have the best capabilities to advocate for themselves if it means risking public exposure.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

I really appreciate the queer women’s communities I’ve found myself in, where other queer women and nonbinary people author amazing stories about women in love with other women. I appreciate that these communities allow female characters to be together in ways that most major media productions don’t allow. These communities were a valuable resource for me while growing up as a queer woman.

Catch up on earlier guest posts

Guest Post

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