Spotlight on Abuse

The Abuse Committee is a new OTW committee dedicated to fielding the complaints that come in about content uploaded to the Archive of Our Own. We determine if complaints are about legitimate violations of the Terms of Service, and what to do about them if they are; our major goals are to adhere completely to the TOS, to make our reasoning and processes as clear and transparent as possible, and to keep every individual case that we work with completely confidential.

One of the inherent problems of having a committee called “Abuse” is that it’s easy to make suppositions about what such a committee will do and how its work will impact others. We welcome the chance to work with you and demonstrate our commitment to transparency, confidentiality, and equitable treatment. With that in mind, perhaps it would be good to demystify our efforts and bring a little attention to what it is we are doing back here (not in the shadows!) as we get ready to come out of closed beta.

Some Information About Accessibility.

One of our chief objectives is to make sure everyone using the Archive can approach us and feel comfortable doing so (and we remind you that it is always possible to report abuse on the Archive anonymously). For that reason we work closely with the Translation Committee. While we as team members carry out our roles in English, there’s a Translation team working hard to ensure that “fandom on the Archive” does not just mean “English-speaking fandom.” As the multi-lingual Archive grows, so will the need to handle complaints in other languages. We’re delighted that the scope, and the list of languages, in which we can operate is growing. As of this date, working in conjunction with Translation, we currently can handle complaints received in English, French, Spanish, Dutch, German, and Italian. (It is our hope to work toward an even more multilingual committee — Volunteers is always looking for more translators and committee members, so let them know if you are interested.)

Our Privacy and Conflict of Interest Policies.

Of fundamental concern to the Abuse Committee is your privacy, both when making a complaint and/or if you are the subject of one. If and when a complaint in another language is received and we are unable to translate it ourselves, we will seek the assistance of other OTW staff members. But be assured that any OTW staffer involved in an Abuse case must agree in advance to be bound by the Abuse Committee’s complete confidentiality policy. Moreover, in keeping with OTW’s organization-wide conflict of interest policy, Abuse committee members will only be involved in cases where we can be fair and unbiased. If we are already personally involved in a case or could be reasonably assumed not to be impartial, we will recuse ourselves and let other committee members handle the complaint.

Our Commitment to Transparency.

One of the ways we’re planning to reach out to the community we serve is by releasing periodic reports on what the Archive looks like from our perspective. There will be at least one report a year. No individual case details will be included; rather, we’ll summarize overall trends (which clauses in the Terms of Service get invoked in complaints most often, for example, or how often allegations are upheld). We’ll also try to be as transparent as possible about our processes.

Who Are We, Anyway?

Some information on our committee makeup: We’ve tried to assemble a team of level-headed people not prone to drama and wankery, with solid backgrounds of decision-making and dealing with multifaceted issues and difficult situations. Each of us has participated in fandom for some time, and we come from a variety of fannish backgrounds. Some have terrific technical skills and some have participated as writers, artists, con-comm or con-attendees, avid readers and/or moderators of fannish communities. We represent a wide array of fandoms – literary, live-action media, anime, RPF – and so on. Our backgrounds may be dissimilar but our goals are the same: to deal with complaints fairly and promptly, and to keep all interested parties informed as we go along.

Abuse chair Elizabeth Yalkut: “I think of my work on Abuse as akin to a doctor’s – I’m trying to put myself out of a job, in a way, because I would love nothing more than to have weekly email threads and meetings that run like this: “What’s going on in the Archive?” “Really good fic over thataway, three new challenge signups, and we took in a new Open Doors collection.” “Okay! Dismissed!” I doubt that’ll happen much, for the same reason that doctors have ongoing careers: new people come in, accidents occur, new ideas of treatment emerge and viruses keep on mutating. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Every time we can fix someone’s cold, help someone resolve confusion about what the TOS requires, and yes I am stretching the metaphor _way_ too far, we’re doing good work. There’s a certain “gutta cavit lapidem” (dripping water hollows out a stone) feel to our work, and I am okay with that — I’m a professional optimist; I work in not-for-profit. I think we’re doing valuable work, and I think we are doing our best to do it as well as it can be done. I believe that the Abuse committee can work _with_ Archive users and respect users and be respected in turn.”

Committee member Sherry Nehmer: “One of the (only) benefits of being older than many of my fandom friends is that I’ve had many years to learn the value of being a straight-shooter. (In my non-fannish career my desk is known as the “No Bullshit Zone.”) But I’ve also learned over the years that one doesn’t have to be mean while being direct, a sense of humor is vital, and wankery is a useless waste of time. My objective is to use these skills to find out the basic truths of each complaint and recommend action accordingly. Something all of us on the Abuse Committee share is a commitment to fairness. Let’s face it; everyone has experienced fandom in all its good, bad and ugly moments. We’d like the good to outweigh the other options, because at heart people get into fandom for the love of it.(In a completely unrelated aside, I’m currently vying for the title of “Oldest Anime Fan Ever,” and hope to continue as a case of arrested development in all areas of fandom.)”

Committee member Franzi Dickson: “Having once run a list that exploded over a shota controversy (that’s “chan” to some of you not in animeland) and having had to handle the fallout, I am pleased to be able to help with this unpleasant but necessary aspect of the archive. That particular list explosion, like so many, was primarily due to people from totally different fannish backgrounds stumbling across one another’s community norms and recoiling in horror… And then coming back claws out and teeth bared! I’m on the Abuse team because I’d like to see less bloodthirsty forms of conflict resolution here.”

Committee member Marie Sobieski: “As a new recruit to the Abuse team, I admit I’m still learning the ropes. But with the launch rapidly approaching, it’s time to stand next to the whole OTW team as we pull on our waders and get ready for the coming tide. In joining the Abuse team, my goal is to serve fandom by utilizing the skills I’ve acquired as an archivist on large multi-pairing archives. I believe a great deal of internet drama and wankery is rooted in basic misunderstanding and miscommunication. By organizing early and working as a team, I believe Abuse can head off a great deal of these problems and prevent them from escalating. While it can’t always be rainbows and sunshine and kittens and love, we can at least do our best to tackle issues quickly, uniformly, and most important, courteously.”

We Are Part Of The Whole Archive Team.

We do want to emphasize that we are not the only team working to serve Archive users. The Coders are doing a fantastic job stomping out bugs so the experience is as smooth and intuitive as possible, and our Support team is there to answers questions about using the Archive and all of its gorgeous features. Abuse is more narrowly focused on the Terms of Service than general feedback, but be assured there are people in place to help you whether you want to report a TOS violation, a technical problem, or just have a general question or suggestion about the Archive. For right now, Support and ADT have the same contact form, but that will change by Open Beta.

Check out the links below to find out more about Archive policies and how to submit a complaint to Abuse. While we hope complaints will be rare, when they do occur we will do our best to act fairly and transparently.


The Archive Terms of Service are the final authority on our policies. The FAQ for the TOS answers some — surprise! — common questions about those policies. You can report Abuse from every page in the Archive (please click on the link _on the relevant page_; that way, the auto-fill URL will be accurate), and the committee as a whole can be reached at our contact form.

Archive of Our Own, Spotlight
  1. Cuyler Brooks commented:

    We have just had a long discussion about this online, occasioned by my having scanned and OCRed 48 years of the Contents pages of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance. I have one complete set of these mailings, the other is at Texas A&M. Some people objected to old addresses appearing online, other misunderstood and thought actual content of apazines would appear – the Contents pages contain only title, names, dates, and page-count. Some personal data appeared incidentally, and is being removed. Would anyone be embarrassed by a silly title from 40 years ago? Hard to say.