OTW Announcement

Statement from the OTW Board of Directors, Chairs, & Leads

In recent weeks, there have been intense conversations about long-standing issues with racism in fandom, as well as the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) and Archive of Our Own (AO3)’s roles in this problem. We have received valid criticism for not showing our commitment earlier and numerous requests to clarify our position. We would therefore like to take a moment to address our users and fandom at large.

The OTW stands against racism and discrimination in all its forms. We apologize to anyone who has suffered from our inaction in making the OTW and AO3 a better environment for Black fans and fans of color. And we apologize especially to users who, due to this very inaction, have felt unwelcome on AO3. We also apologize to the scholars whose work we cited out of context, leading to their harassment and distress.

We have heard your voices and feedback; we vow to do better in the future, as outlined in our initial response plan below.

Upcoming AO3 changes

AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle. When it comes to which fanworks are allowed on AO3, there will always be significant tension between maximum inclusivity of content and making the Archive a welcoming space for all fans.

We can, however, do a better job of helping users curate their own experience on AO3 and avoid works they do not wish to see. We can also implement more tools to prevent and combat harassment. In the coming months, we plan to prioritize our ongoing work on several changes to give users greater control of their AO3 experience:

  • Providing work creators more control over comments on their works by offering the ability to freeze specific comment threads or turn off comments entirely. The option to turn off comments will be on the posting and editing forms for individual works and on the Edit Multiple Works page, alongside the existing options to turn off guest comments and/or turn on comment moderation.
  • Improving collection searching and filtering to make searching collections by fandom return collections that include bookmarks in the specified fandom. This will help users build and locate curated spaces within AO3 using the collections feature.
  • Improving admin tools behind the scenes to facilitate investigations by our Policy & Abuse team.
  • Reviewing our Terms of Service and potentially drafting revisions that will allow our Policy & Abuse team to address different types of harassment not covered under the current Terms of Service.
  • Reassessing current warnings and discussing the possibility of implementing others in the future. This is an extremely complex issue in terms of definition, implementation, and sustainable enforcement. It is not one that will be quickly or easily addressed, but we are discussing all possibilities in detail.
  • We will also continue our design work on additional features like user muting and blocking and explore other possibilities like saved searches to filter out certain works, tag muting, or taking user-added bookmark tags into account with filtering.

The above list is by no means comprehensive—we are committed to continuing to develop features that will improve our users’ experience of the Archive and put them in control.

Upcoming OTW changes

Ongoing conversations have brought to light a need for us to reconsider the way we recognize and deal with issues that some of our volunteers may experience. To ensure that all voices are heard, we have opened new channels to allow for more open, honest feedback from our volunteers, and will use this feedback to identify areas in which the OTW most urgently needs to do better.

From this, we hope to build a long-term strategy that will include specific internal goals and structural improvements, which can be further divided into clear, actionable steps that we can incorporate into our upcoming Strategic Plan. As part of this, we will be considering various avenues including, but not limited to, reaching out to an external contractor or partnering with an advocacy group, and will be actively researching credible resources in the coming months.

We recognize that this careful approach will take time as we need to make sure any steps are taken responsibly and with a clear scope and objective, while also keeping up with the other duties and obligations of OTW governance. However, we believe that it is an important step to take in creating a stronger OTW for all.

Next steps

We realize that these issues and ideas are not new. We have heard these criticisms before and failed to meet many fans’ expectations. We also understand that these measures are only small steps. Unfortunately, this is a complex issue with no easy answers and no simple solutions. This means that it isn’t something we can fix with funding alone. We must be mindful when implementing any features or policies to consider their ramifications carefully, so that changes do not end up compounding existing problems.

Even in cases where we can’t meet particular requests due to practical considerations, we will listen and consider them, and assess whether we can accomplish the same goals via other means.

We once again apologize for our shortcomings and remain, as always, open to hearing from you. We would like to offer our sincere thanks to all those who have taken the time to discuss this issue and contact us about it, and we welcome all feedback, now and always. The OTW is made by fans for fans, and we are always open to hearing fans’ thoughts on what we’re doing and how we could do better.

The OTW Board of Directors
OTW Chairs & Leads

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

166 thoughts to “Statement from the OTW Board of Directors, Chairs, & Leads”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful, responsible, action-minded post. I appreciate all of the hard work of the board and the volunteers who make this space that has been a solace and a creative wellspring for millions of people. Thank you.

  2. So many of those changes will be good. Thank you for all that you have done for us so far,i trust any changes done will be fine with best of the Archive and its users on mind.

  3. As you pointed out, nothing you offer here is new and none of it necessarily addresses how to deal with these issues here, it just runs around the issues: committee this, discussion that. This has already been done. But the real answer is simple: you allow for full curation by users:

    *If works are found to contain racist/homophobic/transphobic/triggering content (triggering or promoting racist/homophobic ideas/propaganda), there should be something beyond “tags” but a starred system that immediately flags the work away from or to the bottom of any search and clearly “bands” it so anyone who stumbles on it knows what it is. Tags are very easy to ignore, if they exist on a work at all. “Banded” works need to be seen outside of the usual vacuum: how many are from the same authors/ips? How many suggest influence of an outside community? Banning them automatically is one option, but another is to work with groups that actually know how to recognize fascist groups that infiltrate fans sites to create propagandistic/triggering works and harass users.

    *Users able to flag these works especially when authors do not use the tags or do not tag appropriately. Waiting for tag wranglers can be a process. Let the users, even if making mistakes, move this process along. And by flag, I mean, as above, there is a clear banding, automatically generated, notice on the work. Such works, once banded, should not appear in searches. They can still exist on the site, but access to them should be difficult, much like Tumblr using nsfw to basically shadow ban its users without nuance.

    *If a works are found that contains no tags (or tags that are nonsense) to avoid wrangling or to be flagged and banded, those works are frozen until the author implements proper tags or are banned if usernames/ips are investigated and lead to connections that are for no good purpose.

    *Many works feature triggering content do not endorse such content, but portray it. Help create/enforce tags that help authors to avoid being flagged. Community gets stagnant after awhile, frequent notices/reminders about tagging content is important.

    *Disrupting or disbanding racist/homophobic/transphobic communities that might use AO3 to harass or promote their brand of fascism should not be a controversial process. Just do it. Work with existing groups to help identify and drive it out. It’s not enough to say you’re against racism, etc. You have to let racists/transphobes, etc know they are not welcome and we will not make their attempts at using this site to recruit, propagandize or harass, easy and every bit of racist/transphobic/homophobic/misogynistic harassment creators/users encounter will result in automatic ip bans from the site.

    Don’t hide behind legalese and fears of censorship. The message has to be stark, direct and simple: fascist groups/users are not welcome to promote their ideologies here. They will not be tolerated. Hate cannot be tolerated. Period.

    1. This idea doesn’t take into account abusers, harassers, and false positives and presumes guilt until proven innocent. That is a power that should never be given to all users FOR all users. Doing it for yourself is one thing. Doing it for everyone else should only ever be done by staff.

      1. 100% this. Because the commenter is putting the definition of “hate” into the hands of a diverse set of users.

        If tags are ignored, that’s on the reader. It’s their responsibility to make sure they are properly informed. I’ve been burned into reading something I didn’t like because I skipped the tags. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s hate.

        I’ve also seen egregious errors and I contacted the author and it was solved immediately. The creators care about their work, they should have say in the engagement.

      1. Stop tone policing them. Their anger at racism in fandom and the so-far inaction by the OTW (which is also racist) is justified. Your snarky comment about them not being happy enough for you is a part of the problem of racism in fandom. In short, stop being racist.

    2. You have to let racists/transphobes, etc know they are not welcome

      That is everybody. That is literally everyone. People can and should unlearn racism, transmisia, ableism, etc., and people can and should work to make the spaces they exist in less racist, less transmisic, less ableist, etc.. But generally speaking, nobody does that unlearning in a space that has already kicked them out for not having done it yet.

      Also: Not for making parts of the archive difficult to access (though AO3 Savior type functionality being native to AO3 would be excellent). Very not for any feature that the developers haven’t first thought of and then preemptively thwarted at least five ways to use it abusively.

      Please note that there are trans people who think always-assigned-the-other-birth-gender fics are incredibly affirming and there are trans people who find those same fics incredibly painful. Same for magically-switched-from-ovarian-morph-to-testicular-morph-or-vice-versa fics. Will either or both of those types of fic be banded as transmisic, in your ideal AO3? Both, I suspect, thus keeping them away from the trans people who find them affirming and those who write some sometimes as well as keeping them away from the trans people who find them hurtful. Meanwhile, will fics that make passing mention of a man in a dress, ha ha doesn’t he look silly, be banded as transmisic at all? I doubt it, because so many users won’t even notice the transmisogyny. (Not sure if your proposal is more patronizing than the way AO3’s tag structure currently treats people whose major triggers are rape or graphic violence, not transmisia. It’s certainly less willing to treat each user as the expert on their own emotional landscape and as the person in charge of curating their own experience.)

      And #ownvoices traditionally published works consistently get a lot more negative attention for their imperfect portrayals of marginalized people than other works in the same genre in which the same sorts of marginalized people are portrayed by privileged authors. Why should anyone think that dynamic will be different in fanworks than pro works?

      That’s two ways to abuse what you’re describing here right there, and you provide zero ways to thwart those abusive uses.

    3. Hate cannot be tolerated.

      I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I strongly support the AO3’s stand against censorship and commitment to protect people from harassers and bullies who stifle the voices of people who have “the wrong ships”, “the wrong fandoms”,
      “like the wrong characters”, and so on, by falsely accusing them of being bigoted and ~ist. Too many creators of color have been driven out of fandom by zealous, vicious mobs. Good on the AO3 for standing with and supporting them.

    4. AO3 is not the thought police… tmyou’re talking 1984 levels of reporting everyone for everything and as someone points out, assumes guilt.

      Just, every feature they add, the have to think about how it will be abused because people such. All of that is so ripe for abuse its not funny.

        1. So you want to add more ways for people to be assholes?

          Nowhere on this planet is completely a safespace. Things that allow you to curate your experience are needed and they’ve addressed that they need more of it.

          But these types of suggestions stifle more then they help. They leave things like nuance and different interpretations out, as AlexSeanchai points out.

        2. Yes, which is an argument to make those features no longer open to abuse 😺

    5. Automatic IP bans are a terrible idea. IP bans in general do not work; many people these days have IPs that regularly change automatically, often daily, and even if they don’t, it is simple to change it yourself. An IP ban may also catch some completely unrelated and unaware person, especially if someone is logging in from an institutional computer, such as a public library or university. An IP ban is therefore toothless at best and detrimental at worst.

      Second, and far more importantly: the idea of users controlling what other users see by some kind of popularity vote will only allow for harassment and silencing of other fans. History has shown that it has always been marginalized people, including people of color and LGBT+ persons, who are disproportionately silenced when that kind of moral policing by popular vote is used. It is why freedom of speech is so important for advancing the rights of minorities: because the people with power and priviledge are not the ones who end up shut out, harassed, or badgered into silence.

      You are advocating for policies that will make the situation worse and will increase harm against the people you claim to be trying to protect.

      1. It’s a terrible, terrible idea, but at least we know that it will never happen. Ao3 was founded on the principles of the right of authors to the portray their work as they see fit, an archive that would take EVERY fic, and, well, an archive. Biased searching would make it stop being an archive and start being a ranking system, tags added by users would pull the fics out of context.

        OP seemed to miss the point that the whole thing with tubmlr – the censoring, the shadowbanning, the locked accounts? That’s what made people LEAVE tumblr in the first place. People HATED it, it was user-unfriendly and user-unfair. It would fundamentally change the archive’s principles. So many people are demanding changes to the archive that are FUNDAMENTALLY opposed to their mission statement in every way. You can tell the people writing them have never, for example, written a fic that has made people come into their inbox to tell them to die, have never been dogpiled over fic, and don’t write fic that a whole lot of people want gone. They don’t see the value in anti-censorship because they assume they would never be censored by an organization or by the majority.

    6. Tl;dr: “Let me be able to bully people off the site for writing Reylo, which is racist, and if you don’t agree you’re racist too.”

      Nah.

    7. “Hate cannot be tolerated” is a huge statement to make; fictional hate certainly can be tolerated, it’s an element of storytelling that is as old as the oldest stories.
      But I know that’s not what you mean, and not what you’re trying to say. All I am asking is for you to balance that sentence with your clear understanding that “many works [that] feature triggering content do not endorse such content, but portray it.” Shadow-bans by users are ripe for abuse, and frankly put all content on AO3 at risk.
      Here’s a metaphor (it’s long, I apologize) (and assume there is no plague):
      A convention wants to be ADA compliant; they want to meet the needs of every attendee in the way that supports that attendee. One attendee is allergic to scents — not to an aniphalactic shock level, but they make their nose itch. Another attendee needs to have a lavender-infused handkerchief handy as the scent mitigates her moderate anxiety. The con cannot ban all scents to support the attendee with the allergy without making it difficult for the attendee with anxiety to attend, and vice versa. It might not even be possible to keep them out of the same room, or prevent them from being on the same panel.
      Similarly, as others have said here, if fifty people read the same story, there will be fifty three different responses and reactions to it. Tagging is vital as it allows people to find what they are looking for, and avoid what they don’t want — and adding a few tweaks to make it easier to avoid things, like “show no fics newer than one [day/week/month]” to allow tag wranglers to check on the tags, can definitely improve the tagging system. And people searching for fics can choose to avoid everything tagged with ~author has chosen not to use warning tags~ to avoid anything that might have one of the four tags-are-required concepts in it. It may be that “tags are easy to ignore” but if one wants to curate their reading experience, that’s what the tags are there for.

    8. Censorship of any sort (except in the handful of cases where it is blatantly obvious) doesn’t belong on AO3 because curating one’s experience is on the user. All we really need is a way to mute/block tags on an account-by-account basis rather than a search session basis to improve user experience curation, and maybe some better sorting options.

    9. “They can still exist on the site, but access to them should be difficult, much like Tumblr using nsfw to basically shadow ban its users without nuance.”

      How do people think shit like this is in any way a good idea??? This would harm way way waaaaaaaay more than it would help. It’s been shown time and time again that crap like this gets weaponised and used disproportionately against marginalised people.

      Ao3 was set up with the express purpose of NOT allowing censorship bullshit. I don’t understand why you would use a site that promises that it will not remove content simply for it being objectionable to someone, and then be angry that it hosts content that it demands content that you find objectionable.

    10. This. Everyone else is all “oh thank you for the bare minimum!” When they still aren’t doing much.

    11. Thought policing and censorship is not the answer, especially not with a system that would easily allow harassment, brigading and revenge flagging, holy shit.

    12. Out of curiosity, what definition of fascism are you using here?

    13. Your dissatisfaction with proposed functions is understandable. Actually even I would be happy if additional way to curate my experience would exist on site: a more permanent filtering option for the search – i.e. option to create a list of tags, works and users (etc.) to exclude from the search that would be saved on the site and I would not need to remember them every time I want to check for new works.
      I don’t have mental capacity to constantly keep in mind every author that writes in very niche tag I enjoy very much, but wants complete opposite from the story than I do. I know my friends that enjoy their stories and I definitely don’t want then off the site. But I would be happy not to see them in my search results.

      So creating a filtering like the one that exists on tumblr would make my personal experience even more comfortable here.
      Also I can propose a few tweaks where it can be used not only personally, but also by smaller communities – option to export and import permanent filter lists or even option to create (or download) more that one and choose to implement during certain search.
      I personally would be very happy if option like that would exist on site.

      1. ^ This. I’ve already sent a suggestion for building inclusive rather than exclusive search parameters (yes I want violent rape fantasies, not no please filter these out – every. single. time) and then keeping them as a user default. Since we have to build a filter every time anyway, it might as well be from an innocuous Gen ‘ground zero’ that doesn’t expose anything with higher ratings to those who stumble on or are new to the site, with of course an option to ‘show me everything you got!’ for the adventurous.

        You don’t have to suffer from harassment or have any moral problem with what others are reading, to find it off-putting to have to wade through the whole gamut each time you do a search. But Dev just came back to me and said ‘yes a lot of people have requested this’ (!) ‘but it’s not within our current means, we’ll look into it in future’ and meanwhile how about bookmarking your search terms on your web browser… I do understand, it’s a vast site, they’re all volunteers and there aren’t that many of them, but I think it would help to stop shoving things literally under people’s noses who really, really don’t want to know they exist. Or didn’t even know they existed until they cropped up in their filter…

    14. “Such works, once banded, should not appear in searches. ”

      Oh, because THAT will never be abused by the assholes to shadowban the works of people they want to harm or harrass.

    15. This doesn’t work. In fact it makes it even harder to write fic that tackles difficult topics like a trans person’s experience with transphobia, be it externalized or internalized. A blanket banning or hiding of potentially triggering content silences meaningful works by disabled people, neurodivergent people, queer people and people of color, which only aggravates the issue. Its sadly not an easy distinction to make between content that depicts racism/homophobia/transphobia/ableism in its setting, content that comments on or critiques it, and content that valorizes it.

      Things are muddy and nuanced, and they only get moreso when you account for the disparity in harrassment that especially trans and black fan creators receive in content. The solutions you propose are Really only applicable in the theoretical, any sort of widespread use of such intense measures would all but guarantee the increased harassment and abuse of those you’re trying to protect.

      Allowing for personal tag lists that can be shared might be a safer solution but any mass user voting or tagging system is a rife for harassment, abuse and the silencing of those already pushed to the margins.

  4. I’m 99% sure works aren’t ever gonna get removed for offensive content. I’m sorry that’s not what you want to hear, but that policy is incredibly popular among ao3 users, donors and volunteers and there’s no will for it to change. It’s the reason why the archive exists. There are other fanfic archives that have strict content policy guidelines like ff.net or wattpad if that’s the dealbreaker for you.

    1. I think the past few weeks have shown that there is substantial will for this to change.

      1. “Whining on Twitter and starting a petition for someone else to do the work” isn’t a will to change. It’s just babies crying on the Internet.

    2. I don’t want works to get removed for hurtful content. I seriously don’t want works to get removed for content that is merely offensive.

      I do want fans of color to know “Our” in “Archive of Our Own” means them as much as it means me.

  5. “AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle. When it comes to which fanworks are allowed on AO3, there will always be significant tension between maximum inclusivity of content and making the Archive a welcoming space for all fans.”

    Thank you for continuing to stand up for those of us who had our fics reported and deleted by LJ, FF.net and all other places that led to the foundation of the OTW. It means a lot to hear this in these times when antis turn so many fandoms toxic.

      1. I think star-anise on tumblr has a good definition of the term, but tumblr search does not, uh, work? Check out her “fandom purity culture” and “fandom anti culture” tags and you’ll get the gist soon enough. I am not clear on how racism and anti-racist work intersect with the concept; there’s definitely a lot of conflation going on, though.

        1. Huh… from what I can tell, this is mostly about fans of colour being wrongly accused of being “antis”, aka spoilsports, for pointing out racism in fandom (for ex. the juggernaut ship being always slash as long as there are two white dudes, but when there are two very shippable men but one of them is a person of colour, at which point a white het ship becomes the most popular).

          1. So you think it’s fine to bully people who ship two white dudes because they’re not shipping what you think they should be?

          2. Random Commenter I cannot answer to your comment but no, I don’t think that’s okay. People should not be bullied for what they ship/choose to write about/choose to read. There is a difference between saying “on a population level, fandom gravitates towards shipping two white dudes” and personally attacking people who ship the two white dudes.

          3. Lexigent: which thing is “this” in your “this is mostly about” meant to refer to? because the toxicity I keep seeing from people who call themselves antis involves being offended that we look at characters who are fourteen in canon and write them as having sex when they’re twenty-four. not a racism-specific issue. and I don’t think much in either star-anise tumblr tag I mentioned is about racism instead of about age and power dynamics in ships. where if your pronoun referent is something else, I’m missing part of the conversation. 😺

          4. The “this” in “this is mostly about” resolves to “the conflation of antis with racism/antiracism is mostly about”.

          5. Lexigent: There is a difference between saying “on a population level, fandom gravitates towards shipping two white dudes” and personally attacking people who ship the two white dudes.

            Yes. (One of) the problems with antis is that they do the latter, and then use the former to hide behind as justification for their harassment.

            Fandom has a problem with racism, but antis are not actually working on fixing it. They’re shipwarring and getting off on harassing people. Anti-shippers (what the other people in this comment thread mean when we say ‘anti’) are not doing anti-racism activism, but they sometimes pretend they are to try and muddy the waters.

          6. Nope. Antis are batshit insane purity cultists who think nobody should write or enjoy anything they find objectionable, claiming that fanfic ‘normalises’ harmful shit, even though nobody outside a corner of fandom gives a damn about fanfic. They claim to be against pedophilia, incest, & abuse, but using bizarro definitions – a character having a childish personality is enough to count as pedophilia, incest can be any pairing with unrelated people deemed to have a sibling-like bond, & abuse being flipped on it’s head, with enemies to lovers being abusive while characters on the same side of a conflict where one has lied to & gaslit the other is totes fine. They report shitty fanart of cartoon characters to actual law enforcement, which takes time from legitimate investigations. They send death threats & gore. They wish rape upon people. They interrogate darkfic writers on why they write what they do, & when those writers explain they were actually abused & this is their way of processing, are told they deserved what happened to them. When NSFW fanart creators block any minors they come across & hide their tumblr or twitter as best they can to prevent their work being seen by minors, antis will circumvent that block, take screenshots, & distribute them.

            As for people being accused of being antis over accusations of racism, I would dispute the word ‘wrongly’. Telling someone that they can’t ship something because you *believe* that it’s objectionable, even when it’s properly tagged so people not into it can avoid, & accusing people of horrible things over writing about 2 fictional characters banging? Yeah that’s anti bullshit.

          7. That does happen, but I’ve also seen fans of color being called race traitors and self-hating just for shipping Reylo. I’ve also seen CSA survivors harassed and called pedos by antis because they write fic that deals with their personal experiences.

            It’s definitely a problem when everyone trying to have a discussion about problematic content gets branded as an “anti,” but that doesn’t mean that there’s not also a serious problem with people who declare entire ships to be off-limits (not just for themselves, but for EVERYBODY) and resort to harassment campaigns to stop anyone, anywhere, from creating content for those ships.

            I’m not sure I believe you actually read the recommended star-anise tags, as very few of the posts in them deal with racism at all, and those that do include the viewpoints of POC and are generally a nuanced discussion of how to handle racism in fandom without flat-out harassing creators.

      2. Antis just mean “against something”. And you are right most people label those concerned with racism or abusive content in their medium are often met with the “anti” label in attempts to discredit their claims. Think of it as the “sjw” label people throw around with everything. There are different kinds of antis. Anti-MAPs, anti-sjws, anti-Star wars, anti-anti. You really just to need to look at them case by case

        1. In this case, the other people in this subthread are talking about anti-shippers. Those are people who think that fans should not ship a particular ship, but instead of just being content to ship-and-let-ship (because… like… it’s just shipping. It’s really not that serious.) they instead go after fans who do ship those things with massive amounts of harassment. Other comments to this post have described some of the vile tactics they use.

          Anti-shipping should not be conflated with anti-racism, but unfortunately a lot of anti-shippers do just that.

          1. Oh shipping has always caused disruption in fandom especially with real people. Ship wars result in harassment and death threats all the time. In ships like reylo you got a base pushed by racism thus anyone who dislikes reylo “hates all women”. It’s the same toxic mentality as stan culture it can actually affect people

    1. Seconded. I am glad to see that this fundamental principle of the archive has been reiterated, alongside the strong range of new proposals made.

  6. BLOCK/MUTE BUTTON HYPE!

    No seriously, very excited about some of these features and I’m happy the ao3 decided to implement them. I’ve never had issues with comments, but I know people who have, and I think more moderation of them will help curb harassment a lot.

    1. Indeed!

      I am hoping block and mute will work on individual guest commenters too. I don’t want to blanket forbid guest comments, or blanket moderate comments, in order to keep out this one person. (I hope Miraculous Ladybug fandom’s Lilanon is just one person, anyway…) But even having the option just for registered users will help so much!

  7. You definitely need to contract a Black advocate familiar with the platform for advice. Most of the proposals you plan to put in place serve creators of racist content more than Black fans.

    1. Most of the proposals you plan to put in place serve creators of racist content more than Black fans.

      Earnestly: how?

    2. IOW, “Let people be able to drive anyone whose fic we don’t like off the site.”

      Quite frankly I’m happy AO3 is refusing to accede to the demands of a small group of disingenuous people who absolutely do not speak for all POC.

    3. Idk, I feel like the ability to block/mute users serves everyone. If someone is writing racist fic, you can add them to a blocklist and never see their content again.

      …unless by “serve creators of racist content” you mean “doesn’t let antis mass report fics they don’t like and get them deleted, or harass the authors.” Which is a tactic that has been used on both Tumblr and Twitter by fans that have that kind of vile mob mentality; I’m so glad AO3 doesn’t allow that.

      1. I agreed. Blocking is a feature that many users have wanted for a long time to help them curate their experience on AO3. It supports people who do deal with racism, and also sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism. It is also equally useful in dealing with issues that aren’t systemic bigotry, but nonetheless harassment, whether originating in an individual with a grudge or wider fandom shipwars. It’s a tool against bullying, and it’s good to see AO3 moving to implement it.

      2. When has that ever happened? I’m waiting.

        No one has ever said “X ship should not be on A03” UNLESS it’s been pedo or incest. No, I don’t think fandom interests are served by having stories about Dipper and Mabel and Grunkle Stan in a threesome. But by and large most people stay away from their NOTPs, otherwise the filtering system would barely get used. This continual “Antis want to harass all the things they don’t like off A03” is tiresome. Please let me know what the value is of a story where Kylo Ren calls Finn racial slurs then guts him in front of Rey and then proceeds to rape her next to Finn’s dead body. Again, I’m waiting.

        1. “No one has ever said “X ship should not be on AO3″ unless [bullshit reasoning]”

          No waiting required – you’ve already seen it yourself. 🙂 No matter how “pedo” or “incestuous” a ship, it stays on AO3, period. And now that AO3 is going to add blocking/muting/the ability to turn off comments, you can’t even harass authors into deleting their stuff.

          🙂 🙂 🙂

        2. You’re doing a great job of demonstrating why people want better comment moderation, and also that a lot of the complaints about blocking/moderation come down to shipwarring grudge wank. Please, keep it up.

        3. You made up or recalled this twisted Kylo/Finn/Rey story, and used it as an example. That’s a part of its value: an illuminating example of something horrifying that we can examine in the context of storytelling.

          1. Fuck. Off. I didn’t make up shit. It’s known in fandom as the Waffle House AU, made when the fuckstop in charge of the Waffle House twitter account shouted out some nasty looking “reylo waffle.” The story had Kylo murdering and gutting Finn and raping Rey next to his dead fucking body. If you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about then keep your fucking mouth closed.

    4. I think that “the author is the only one that gets to add descriptions to their work, at all times” is kind of extreme. While I agree that giving random users the power to forever tag a work racist will be used abusively, I think that there needs to be some kind of warning system so fans of color dont have to wait to be triggered by a fic before blocking the author

      1. Are you proposing that someone should review *every single fic* posted to the archive, before it goes live with the author’s chosen warnings?

      2. Isn’t that what bookmarks are for, though? Any user can tag any fic right now as long as they’re willing to have it on their account. Granted, looking through a large number of bookmarks could be made easier in a number of ways, but the essential function you’re looking for is there, right?

        1. Alyndra, it really doesn’t seem feasible to me to search through every bookmark’s tags for a mention of racism or slurs. What if there were a stoplight system where bookmarkers could tag a fic green, yellow ( maybe for canon-typical racism that’s potentially triggering) or red (for uncritical use of racial slurs) and readers could see those when filtering? Maybe in a separate box for bookmarker’s tags. Rando, would that strike an appropriate balance? Is it still too ripe for abuse?

          Now is the time for brainstorming, so I’m throwing it out there.

          1. Searching through every bookmark’s tags for mentions of racism or slurs sounds like a great job for a browser extension, honestly. (Or an app…if Tumblr wasn’t so ready to burn any and all ao3 apps to the ground.)

            Color-coding most of the works on the Archive wrt racism alone seems like a lot. You’d have people wanting it for homophobia, etc. Maybe colorcoding authors who have gotten a disproportionate number of users to block them would work better…but I can still see Twitter mobs weaponizing that in no time flat, too. Any system where everyone browsing gets to see reader reactions by default on a fic seems like it would invite too much abuse, to me.

          2. How about taking that color coding system but having it just apply to a user’s own bookmarks? Ex. I can see color coding of my bookmarks but I can’t see how you coded yours. This way the system could cover racism, sexism, anti-LGBT+, triggers specific to different users, and also just help users avoid works that they’ve read and know they don’t like but always show up when running specific searches. It would also solve the issue where people have different interpretations and reactions to fics, fics where triggering content is part of the story (ex. where an antagonist is racist, sexist, etc. and this is clearly Not OK), and stopping users from being harassed by their fics being tagged as red for no reason. Of course this wouldn’t give pre-warning of possibly triggering content, but personally I know I can have very different reactions than other people and would likely ignore how others color coded if your system was put into place.

  8. “AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle.”

    Thank you for this – for creating AO3 as this inclusive space, and for committing to the continuation of a space where we truly can share our stories and our voices, in a world that increasingly tries to stifle us.

    There’s a lot of work to be done for increased inclusivity, and I’m eager to hear more of what that will look like. I’m glad that there will be a focus on more tools for users to curate their own experiences to create safe spaces for themselves.

    Based on the conversations I saw on social media, my big fear was what others here have already commented – that these changes would be used as an opening for the extraordinarily toxic side of fandom to start imposing their censorship and guidelines based on what THEY believe to be “pure” material. It’s book-burning in digital form.

    Some of the widely RT’d twitter threads didn’t even speak to actual instances of racism in fanworks; instead, they focused on people shipping “the wrong ships.” The argument becomes less about curating content for users’ safety and more about stifling voices simply because someone doesn’t like a character or a ship.

    I’m dismayed that antis have gotten such a strong foothold in fandom and that they’ve become the loudest voices. I’m genuinely concerned that they’re finally getting the leverage to do what they’ve been yelling about for a long time now: dismantling AO3 because of what they consider its “problematic” content. (Usually meaning: a ship that they personally do not like.) Please, please do not let that happen. AO3 has become the last safe space for a lot of marginalized people in fandom, and losing that would be truly devastating.

    1. +100 to all of this. Well said.

      It’s not coincidental that these types go after more-marginalized volices, either. I never, for some odd reason, see them attacking male fans for hentai or futa. Wonder why that is? [hmmm emoji]

  9. I don’t see how providing work creators more control over comments on their works is going to help this? They already have absolute control in the form of comment deletion. Freezing threads won’t do anything to stop a dedicated harasser, and locking comments completely is using a nuke to swat a fly.

    Why have you not added a block feature already, the one thing that would actually fix this?

    1. They said they’re working on block/mute functionality. AO3 runs on some pretty old spaghetti code; it takes a while to create new features sometimes.

    2. If somebody is being harassed, then it’s way better than they be able to lock comments than have to see those comments and interact with them long enough to delete.

      It’s not perfect but it is a good step. Getting blocking in place and better Abuse team response times will also be good, but it sounds like this can be accomplished more quickly while they work on those.

    3. I’ve personally wanted the ability to fully disable comments for years and I’m not alone. It’s long overdue. I think it’s a much easier feature to implement than a blocking function which is going to take longer to code so that it both works and doesn’t break anything else.

  10. The only thing I disagree with in this terrific post is the apology to StitchMediaMix and Rukmini Pande. You published Pande’s work in your journal, and you quoted it and linked to it on your website. There is nothing objectionable about that whatsoever. “Don’t link or quote me unless you agree 100% with me and will fulfill all my demands” is not reasonable by any academic standard. It’s a naked power play. Someone who wants to be taken seriously as an academic can’t dictate those terms.

    1. “I agree with everything except the apology to the BIPOC scholars whose work on fandom racism you used in a way that was painful to them” sure is a take.

      1. I’m not stitch, and I’m not going to engage re: Reylo, but I’d be curious to know what you think does make someone a scholar.

      2. For fuck’s sake, let people criticize racism in fandom. Have you ever even READ any of her blogposts?

      3. Stitch, a scholar. *snorts*

        But in all seriousness, the way Pande particularly reacted to a perfectly normal reference to her publicly available work is baffling. Fan studies must be a very special corner of academia indeed.

      4. This is right, though? Dr Pande and Stitch posted their articles publicly. (In Pande’s case, ON the OTW site). It is always OK to cite publicly posted articles as long as a link to the source is provided. That’s how citing sources works in journalism.

        If their works were quoted WITHOUT a name and a link, they’d be entitled to an apology. But linking to their original work is good etiquette. I honestly do not understand why citing their work straightforwardly and correctly was a bad thing.

        1. + 1 Either this was an academic article published in an academic journal, in which case it can be treated as such and cited when topical, or it wasn’t. In which case, it should not be given the credence of an academic article. Academics publishing in their capacity as academics must be open to discussion and critique on that work, that is fundamental to how we operate. If Dr Pande prefers to write in a private, non-professional capacity on these matters, that is also understandable, but then the work should be published in a clearly private capacity, such as a blog not affiliated with a journal, university, or OTW.

          1. Academics publishing in their capacity as academics must be open to discussion and critique on that work, that is fundamental to how we operate.

            Academics are allowed to get tetchy about being quoted out of context and/or misinterpreted, the same as anyone else is, and academics are allowed to ask the people doing the misinterpretation and out-of-context quoting to knock it off, the same as anyone else is. I am glad OTW removed the references to Dr. Pande’s and Stitch’s work when they asked OTW to do so; I do not believe OTW was obligated to do so.

          2. Alexseanchai: Academics are allowed to get tetchy about being quoted out of context and/or misinterpreted, the same as anyone else is, and academics are allowed to ask the people doing the misinterpretation and out-of-context quoting to knock it off, the same as anyone else is.

            True, but none of the other articles or works so linked have any interpretation or quotes at all: they are provided as ‘here are some relevant studies/articles’. Were Dr. Pande’s and Stitch’s work treated differently?

    1. Tried to reply to you elsewhere and it didn’t work:

      I didn’t mean you were in Star Wars fandom – anti is the mindset, not the fandom, and they’re everywhere these days.

      Earnestly, if you are on the fringes of fandom these days, my advice to you is to thoroughly investigate anyone who ends up the face of some campaign like this. Like I said, antis are good about knowing the language to use, and they’re good at sounding righteous and angry – it disguises the fact that they’re just as petty as the rest of fandom since the dawn of time. It’s effective at making bystanders sympathize with them; think of it like a politician’s spin campaign.

    2. Tried to reply to you elsewhere and it didn’t work:

      I didn’t mean you were in Star Wars fandom – anti is the mindset, not the fandom, and they’re everywhere these days.

      Earnestly, if you are on the fringes of fandom these days, my advice to you is to thoroughly investigate anyone who ends up the face of some campaign like this. Like I said, antis are good about knowing the language to use, and they’re good at sounding righteous and angry – it disguises the fact that they’re just as petty as the rest of fandom since the dawn of time. It’s effective at making bystanders sympathize with them; think of it like a politician’s spin campaign.

        1. Ok you see what that commenter did right there and how they used soft language to motivate you into hating every anti because they “are all irrational”. That’s the kind of language they are warning you antis supposedly use, but they just used it themselves. I am pretty neutral with this whole thing but I’ve noticed people who are this strongly against “censorship of any kind” are the kind of people that talk over victims and poc for the sake of defending their entertainment from any criticism including ao3

  11. I should mention that I mean “except in cases where it’s blatantly obvious that the work is intended only to be offended”. I hit post too soon.

  12. I appreciate this post, but I’d like to know when we can expect updates on the steps outlined, especially for new archive features. Obviously development takes time, but I think a lot of us who love the archive and want to see meaningful change would appreciate a roadmap of planned technical changes (including timeline estimates and dates when progress will be reported to users). Will this be part of the mentioned strategic plan?

  13. AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle.

    Thank you so much for this reassurance ♥️

  14. Breathing a deep sigh of relief that you don’t seem to be entertaining some of the more batshit suggestions floating around (like people being able to delist works from the search results for everyone, & allowing random users to add their own tags to a work – both of which would be quickly weaponised), & are instead focusing on more common sense stuff.

    I’m curious to know what the extent of the block/mute feature will be? Will it only be comments? Or will we finally be able to stop some users showing up in search results (just our own searches, that is, not hiding them from everyone). There are some writers where I am not into their stuff & really don’t wanna see it, but I don’t necessarily have anything against them & might not even mind them commenting on my works, but would just prefer not to see their stuff. It seems like that might be covered by “saved searches to filter out certain works” but it’s not clear.

    Additional suggestion: Could you maybe consider making the FAQ more prominent? At the moment it’s buried in the About tab, which isn’t that obvious (about sections of sites ore generally just address info & company history) & it’s not like there isn’t room along the bar. There are blogs like Ao3commentoftheday that have to field basic questions about using Ao3, because users don’t know the FAQ is there. Just give the FAQ its own tab – or just change About to Help. Also, rejig it so the sections make sense (why are the sections that are tutorials on posting & editing, but then there’s a separate tutorials section further down? Why is formatting content using HTML a separate section from posting & editing, which also has questions about HTML in there?).

    I know suggesting tweaks to the FAQ seem irrelevant, but I think this is a necessary part of any changes. There’s no point implementing a bunch of new features if people don’t know they’re there or how to use them. There’s no point coming out with advice & guidelines for users on tagging/warning etiquette if you bury it.

    1. Thanks for making this suggestion! One of the things that I’ve learned from this ongoing discussion is how many great features AO3 has that I never knew about, and that I can use to make my experience as a writer and reader even better. I admit that much of that is on me for not exploring more, and wouldn’t be fully answered by the FAQ anyway, but a prominent FAQ is a useful thing on any website, especially one with as large and diverse a userbase as AO3. We aren’t all one big fandom who know the same things, we are many, coming from many different places in our fandoms and outside them.

  15. Thank you for making this statement.

    I believe it’s a great idea to let users filter their experience through the ability to block comments, block comments from specific users, etc.

    It would be a terrible idea to let readers assign tags or warning to fic. That power should be reserved to the author, and that’s why the Chose Not To Warn top level warning exists.

    I have seen a thoughtful discussion of creating a new author-made tag for “Depictions of Racism” but I totally support that all warnings on a fic should be only made by the author. And I think that tag could be added from now going forward with the understanding that it can’t be retroactive unless the authors wanted it put it on there.

    If readers don’t want to see certain fic that could be done through filters and through blocking.

    Balancing freedom to write about all kinds of things that could be considered offensive with the need for readers to curate their experience is a moving target and something that can never be perfect.

    Depiction does not equal approval, and MKISNYK are so so important to fanfic fandom. Don’t abandon that. Also FANTASY IS NOT REALITY. As long as the site doesn’t break laws on obscenity or child porn, fantasy is so important.

    Thank you for being here.

    1. “AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle.”

      THANKS FOR THAT. We don’t need AO3 becoming another FF.net. Also, I personally disagree with the idea that random people should be able to edit another’s fanfic tags – the possibility of abuse is too great.

      People should grow up a bit, if you can read/write about chatacters having sex you probably can as well curate your own experience and avoid things that will trigger you. That, of course, requires that authors tag their works accurately – so maybe some tagging education would be nice. Tags and warnings ARE essential and authors must be aware of that.

      Also, the possibility of blocking FOR YOURSELF ONLY a certain tag or person could also be helpful so that people who triggered by certain things can have a more personalised way of browsing the archive, without having to resort to general censorship.

  16. Thank you. I do think the idea of advisers is a good one. There are a lot of balls to juggle here, especially as I think maximum inclusiveness is still an important goal, and given the long history of oppressors co-opting tools intended to make spaces safer. But I also think there are likely ways of working that fandom could integrate into our daily routines that we haven’t engaged with yet. I’d recommend some First Nations people be included as advisers when you go forward with that part of the plan. Their voices are too seldom heard, and they are the most at risk when it comes to racism.

    1. I agree with cupidsbow’s comment.

      Additionally, I agree with commenters above who support giving site users more tools to curate their own experience, and I agree with concerns stated here and elsewhere that ill-conceived moderation tools will be turned against fans of color and/or place a greater burden on Abuse volunteers.

      I don’t want to see AO3 go down reddit’s path because somehow free speech maximalism means we can’t take a stand against white supremacy. I’d like to particularly note this sentence from the post: “AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle.”

      I would like to see this sentiment modified to something like, “maximum inclusivity of fans and fanworks” because that makes clear why a site so dedicated to free speech is not intended to become a platform for hate. It’s also, I think, truer to the discussion that led to the founding of OTW than “inclusivity of content”. The archive was meant to be a safe haven for as many fans as possible. It turns out that you can’t accommodate everyone, because hate groups make it impossible. Better to make the hate groups unhappy than the people they target.

      1. kudos! “maximum inclusivity of fans and fanworks”, thats such a good way of putting it.

  17. Thank you for making a statement.

    There is indeed a lot of work ahead, and I do hope a new fundraiser might take place to build funds to actually support and speed that process along, where possible.

  18. I appreciate the statement, but I urge you to listen to fans of color. Please, please, please listen to the ones you’ve namedropped. I also ask that you hire professionals to construct antiracist policies for AO3 and determine how to implement changes that black fans and other fans of color are asking for.

    Regarding changes to the warnings—we need a more concrete deadline, not just “oh, this might happen sometime in the future.” I urge you to use this space to give announcements on the expected timeline for changes to be implemented. Please keep us apprised of the progress. Please be transparent in this.

    It is worth noting that while OTW is extending a public apology to Dr. Pande and Stitch in this post, OTW has yet to actually apologize in private to these two scholars. It is difficult for me to believe that the OTW team is sincere in regards to making changes to protect fans of color and combat racism when you haven’t even attempted the bare minimum of a private apology.

    Lastly, I would like to mention how concerning I find the conflation of censorship, antis, and antiracism to be. Asking AO3 to implement antiracist policies, asking AO3 to support fans of color—these things are not about silencing people or weaponizing morality. Fans of color deserve to feel as safe and welcomed in fandom as white fans do. Racism in fandom is insidious; its history is long and awful and shameful. Too many fans of color burn out and leave fandom because of racism.

    1. Fan of color here.

      This solution and post is fine. You don’t speak for me and neither do Dr. Pande or stitch. These solutions are solid and as an author of the archive, I utterly balk at people beyond myself or a co-author having any authority to flag or tag my work period.

      In regards to not having a concrete timetable, they’re damned either way. Coding is a long process as is reevaluating TOS regarding harassment. If they gave one and missed it, they’d get torn to pieces. But you people are ripping them apart for being honest that they can’t give one.

    2. how concerning I find the conflation of censorship, antis, and antiracism to be. Asking AO3 to implement antiracist policies, asking AO3 to support fans of color—these things are not about silencing people or weaponizing morality.

      It is the antis themselves who are conflating these things. Take it up with them.

    3. I want to agree with much of what you said here, especially your last paragraph. “Fans should feel safe enough to use the archive” isn’t censorship. It’s like… a bare minimum desire for the archive to be functional for everyone. Trying to position this issue as censorship in the context of one specific ship clash in one specific fandom is a myopic framing that ignores decades of fandom history.

      1. Respectfully, I disagree. The Archive is not a safe space. It serves far too many users to ever be a safe space–safe spaces, as has been proven time and again, really do not remain safe at all unless they serve a very specific, very small community. When larger spaces attempt to become ‘safe spaces’, inevitably they become places controlled by a vocal few where other people have to tiptoe around those people’s control or face ostracism, and it promotes a culture of harassment.

        The Archive should strive to make fans feel welcomed, and there should be every attempt to allow users to easily curate their own experience (which is why I celebrate the announcement of a diverse set of blocking and muting tools), but the AO3 should not commit to making the space ‘safe’. That is the responsibility of users of the Archive.

        1. …replying to my own comment to clarify my last sentence: it is the responsibility of users of the Archive to curate their own experience to make themselves as safe as possible.

          Tools to allow users to do that are a good thing.

        2. I think this disagreement is largely about wording. I didn’t suggest that the Archive should be a “safe space”; I said that fans should feel safe enough to be able to use it. For example, I don’t expect my workplace to be a “safe space,” but I do expect it to be safe enough that I can walk in the door. You say that the Archive should strive to make fans feel welcomed, and I agree; to me, that implies and requires a certain threshold of safety be met. I also agree with you that giving users better tools is important in achieving that, and I would add that more robust responses to abuse reports, among many other things, is also important.

          1. It may be a question of wording. However, I think that ‘safe’ is (ironically) a dangerous word to use when attempting to make a space; especially when attempting to make a fiction archive. Fiction contains dangerous and unsafe ideas and this is a good thing. Many of those ideas that are considered unsafe, historically and presently, have been and are related to advancing the rights of oppressed peoples. They make those who are privileged–along one axis or another–feel unsafe as that privilege is challenged. And because they have their privilege backing them up invisibly, many attempts to impose ‘safety’ on archives, libraries, news, publishing, etc etc therefore instead result in further oppression.

  19. It’s really great to see user feedback being taken on board. Everyone deserves to have a space they feel safe in and part of being inclusive is not just allowing creative freedom and expression, but also about giving users the ability to limit the content they see (as allowing creators to post literally anything can lead to some disturbing content) and block other users (preventing harassment).

    I’m curious to see what these improvements will look like. I admit I recently submitted feedback asking for the Warnings to be reviewed, as currently Warnings do not discriminate between works that contain exploration of a topic from a mature and moral standpoint, and works that use the topic as kink, revenge, etc. It was a tall ask and I wasn’t surprised when the response I got from AO3 boiled down to ‘too hard, won’t try’, but I am surprised to see the Warnings may now be reviewed.

    I can only hope you will actually look at making changes to protect the user-base, both readers and writers, and if it’s not through enforcing Warnings then at least let it be through allowing users more tools to create and enforce their own safe space on this website.

    1. currently Warnings do not discriminate between works that contain exploration of a topic from a mature and moral standpoint, and works that use the topic as kink, revenge, etc.

      I’m pretty sure that’s deliberate and won’t be changing, since it is hard enough to get people to agree on whether a work contains (say) graphic violence, without bringing in questions of whether the author is (consciously or unknowingly) exploring the topic from—to use your phrase, though I’m not entirely sure what you mean by it—a mature and moral standpoint or out of kinkiness or thoughts of revenge or something else that, judging by your sentence structure, is clearly objectionable. (Note: kink itself is not objectionable as long as it’s risk-aware and consensual. And revenge, among many other things, is far safer to handle in fiction than reality.)

      1. It might be deliberate but it’s always been a point of contention for me on this site. I don’t agree with certain themes people include in their writing, but I understand why AO3 is censorship free and I respect that choice.

        My issues with the Warnings system is that it won’t discriminate between, say, a story where a character was raped and the narrative follows them through the healing process, and a story where a character rapes another character in a pure non-con smut-centric fic that focuses on the rape itself as though it’s the sexiest act alive, and then says the raped character deserved it because they were an arsehole anyway.

        That’s fundamentally what I don’t like about the current Warnings system, because in my eyes those are two very different stories in how they handle the subject matter. Yet they both share an umbrella tag and if I want to avoid one kind of fic by excluding works tagged with the Warning, I automatically filter out everything else as well.

        Now working in both IT and support, I understand trying to make that kind of distinction is likely nigh impossible. Which is fair. But while AO3 have certainly protected a writer’s right to write whatever they like (which opens the door to a lot of disturbing things), they have offered very limited features to support users in being able to navigate the Archive safely. And it’s nice to see that changing.

        But yeah, like I said in my OP, I can only HOPE they might adjust the Warnings. In reality it’s the ability to block users and save filters that’s likely going to vastly improve my experience on this site enough that I’ll start posting on it again.

        1. I understand and empathize with you about this. The problem is, there’s a lot of grey area. I’ve read stories that seemed as though they were “a pure non-con smut-centric fic that focuses on the rape itself as though it’s the sexiest act alive” and then, after a few kajillion thousand words, the author turns that storyline on its head. Darkfic writers sometimes take the long road in making their point, giving the reader time to delve into a mindset of a disagreeable character before allowing the rapist to either recognize the error of his ways or be upended by other characters.

          So I’m not sure I have a solution to this problem, though it’s one I’ve faced myself as a reader. (As a darkfic writer, I try to make the overall tone of the story clear through my tags. But I wouldn’t want to make tags like “ethical issues” and “self-discipline” mandatory.)

          1. I agree there’s a bit of grey area more broadly, however there is no grey area for me if a fic has contained non-con rape as smut in anyway, because it was fundamentally included for the purpose of getting readers off. A rapist learning the ‘error of their ways’ is also utter BS if said rapist is not criminally charged and / or the rapist continues a relationship with their victim. There is absolutely no grey area there for me and I don’t consider a darkfic that does that nuanced work; I see it as trying to garner sympathy for a rapist after the initial scene gave the sexual gratification both the writer and reader were looking for.

            This topic affects me greatly, which is why I appreciate any efforts AO3 makes that allow a reader to protect themselves.

          2. Just an added note that I wrote this post in the context of being someone who has criticized (through meta and commentfic) some of the handling of rape plotlines that I’ve seen in fandom. My commentary is meant to be on the difficulty, early on in a long story, of telling whether a story will handle the topic of rape badly or will approach the topic in an appropriately sensitive manner. I wasn’t intending my post to be a defense of badly written stories.

  20. AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle

    This is a massive relief to hear.

    Some of the suggestions made by people who’ve been vocal in their desire to see some kind of censorship being implemented have been extremely concerning. Yes, AO3 needs to combat racism and harassment on the site – but in doing so, it mustn’t become a place that limits creativity or implements well-meaning features that result in making it easier for antis to harass authors who post content they don’t approve of.

    Thank you for your clear and measured response.

  21. I very much look forward to turning off comments wholesale for my fic. I’m not interested in that kind of interaction. Deletion is too much work and also a bit mean in letting people go to the effort to create something that’s not appreciated and I see zero use in letting moderated comments fill up your databases and give commentees the wrong impression. This way everyone will know my opinion on receiving comments for my fic on an archive.

  22. The problem I have with this is that your response talks about curating one’s own experience as if authors who write racist (or homophobic, or, or, or) works tagged them! People who write these tropes usually either don’t realize or don’t care: either way they’re not going to put a warning on until someone (likely a fan of color) sees the problem and points it out, and even then it’s entirely dependent on on the author’s goodwill. Your response, at best, expects this to work out and at worst ignores the mechanics of it entirely. You are putting the burden on fans from minorities to avoid their own oppression without giving them any real tool to do so, which is naive at best and hypocritical at most.

    Furthermore, it is extremely frustrating to see demands for works to be signaled as containing harmful tropes like censorship when it’s nothing more or less than a trigger warning. It is even more frustrating when a solid chunk of fandom, who is in favor of tagging for regular content or ~universal~ triggers, has been campaigning against this very belief in the mainstream publishing industry.

    Like. Everyone knows any real change is going to be long and complex but also the tools outlined here sound more like they’ll be useful for writers who’d like to silence people trying to point out the problematic elements of their fics than anything else, which is like. The opposite of what’s needed.

    1. I agree with this. I think the direction the OTW needs to go is not “should we create a way to tag racist works” but “how do we create this system ethically, that both protects fans of color and allows racist writers to educate themselves and do better.”

    2. Imagine waking up to twenty messages saying your fanwork has been flagged for containing some problematic element that (let us stipulate) it does not contain. Fifty messages. A hundred messages. Maybe some are vitriolic. All are wrong. One or two mention the person who suggested they report your fanwork for containing this problematic thing that (we have already stipulated) it does not contain. That person is someone tumblr-famous who doesn’t like how you use the Oxford comma. Two hundred messages. Trying to explain yourself doesn’t make them stop. Trying to defend yourself makes them get worse. Five hundred messages.

      AO3’s existing features need to be reviewed in order to minimize the existing potential for abuse. Adding new features without first reviewing them and minimizing their potential for abuse is a really good way to get more abuse.

  23. People seem to be missing one of the most exciting proposals here, not just for being able to shut off and mute the voices and works that make AO3 feel unsafe for a particular user, but prioritizing making bookmark collections and curated reader experience a higher level concern and allowing POC users to have essentially a reader-focused space to navigate the site, which has not previously been possible, due to how default works view is and bookmarks buried and almost unsearchable.

    This is the reader-tagging, viewing tool that already exists and already allows much of the requested functionality but now it will actually be somewhat useful if readers can search and filter and view based on bookmarks rather than just works listings.

    There is plenty of positive tools for POC readers included in this, and I’ve definitely seen POC writers targeted for harassment. Anti-harassment tools will benefit everybody, but especially POC fans who need a better curated space.

    1. Wait, is the proposal to be able to search via bookmarkers’ tags as well as work tags, across multiple bookmarkers? Because that would be sweet.

      1. I’m confused–we can already search bookmarks on tags. Do you mean search on tags that aren’t canonical yet?

        1. It’s possible to search bookmark tags, but you can’t really build a complicated search filter using both some work tags and some bookmark tags, or even search on the same tag for both works tagged with it and bookmarks tagged with it..

  24. * I was aggressively harassed for three years on AO3, by a fandom stalker, before the OTW made it possible to disallow anonymous comments. I understand that the wheels of bureaurocracy turn slow, but this letter reminds me a whole lot of the response I got from abuse at that time: This is very distressing for you, the abused, but it’s just so very hard to do anything about it, don’t you know.

    * I would like to see at least two seats on the board reserved for fans of color–frankly, I would like to see seats reserved for fans of color, queer, disabled, and international fans as well. The board should absolutely not be populated by Naomi Noviks and Francesca Coppas, whatever the role of themselves and people like them in the founding of OTW.

    The Good:
    * More robust comment control
    * More robust search and filtering
    * Muting and blocking (especially if this includes tags)

    The solution for making this work may be throwing money at the problem in terms of buying new/upgrading existing servers.

    I would suggest turning anonymous comments off as a site-wide default setting. People who really want anons can have them; people who don’t care won’t miss anons; people who would have been harassed by anons won’t have to be.

    Please show you value the safety of your registered users over the desire to remain anonymous of your anonymous readers.

    The Bad:
    Reassessing current warnings and discussing the possibility of implementing others in the future. This is an extremely complex issue in terms of definition, implementation, and sustainable enforcement.

    No, it really isn’t, especially in terms of definition. You simply have to decide that representations of racism are as worthy of a warning as representations of major character death, rape, underage sex, and graphic violence. Pick up verbiage from the other big 4 archive warnings and adapt it for the new warning.

    I am underpaid to do this literally every day of my life, with ads for black box drugs within the pharmaceutical industry, which must satisfy creative director, account services, client, client regulatory/commercial/medical/legal representatives, and the FDA.

    I guarantee you it is not actually that hard–casting it as hard is a whole lot of Karenesque handwringing and while it does not surprise me to see it coming from the OTW board, it also does not impress me.

    Enforcement follows the same pattern and rule set already in place for the other big 4–you’ve been doing it for eleven years, it is not difficult for you.

    Implementation is the genuine challenge (How do you back-tag several million works? I have absolutely no idea and I wish you luck.)

    You need to hire experts with money and listen to what they tell you.

    The Ugly:
    * The non-apology format of the entire letter, both toward specific academics and toward the legion of both fans of color and others who have fallen between the cracks in AO3 moderation over the years.

    1. Re: warnings, I’d like to see “rape” changed to “sexual violence” and then “racialized violence” and “ableist violence” added.

    2. It actually is that hard. Whose racism do we use as a baseline? The US? The EU?

      Who enforces it? People who aren’t victims of it? Because then they won’t recognize it and educating them will take time. People who are? Cool so you’re okay with traumatizing volunteers as long as your feelings are priority.

      It’s not that simple!

      1. Cool so you’re okay with traumatizing volunteers as long as your feelings are priority.

        What’s extra cool is how you’re reading into my words things I never actually said and do not endorse. That’s a real neat trick. Additionally, if volunteers are not briefed on the kind of content they will encounter in the course of their work, then that is a colossal failing that needs to be remedied immediately, in tandem with any changes happening now.

        The task is creating a piece of policy that satisfies different groups of people with different needs and agendas. This is a task that happens hundreds of thousands of times a day globally, with varying degrees of success. It is a skill. It is possibly a skill entirely lacking on the OTW board.

        But to a person well-versed in writing that kind of document, advertisement, or policy, I repeat that it is not actually as hard as the OTW are saying it is, and that in my experience, as a person who has been completing this kind of task five days a week for the past decade it isn’t hard. But if they want me to write their policy for them then they’re going to have to query me for my portfolio and rates.

        1. There are currently 195 countries in the world. Do tell us, avidly waiting readers and commenters what your credentials are to determine what constitutes racism in all of them.

          1. This part as well. Making pharma labels last I checked doesn’t make one a sociologist. Where do you get off dictating “how EASY this is?”

        2. You do know that people who have to do these jobs end up with PTSD from it, correct? That the training and the review process causes actual psychological harm.

          That this is a documented phenomenon with data to back it?

          You are also aware the Abuse team is comprised of volunteers, correct? So people, in their free time, unpaid, will have to do this work?

          So again: you’re totally happy to traumatize others long as you get your way.

          1. The idea that adding a new warning is easy is undoubtedly errenous, but I’m puzzled by the tone of your comment. Are you suggesting we do away with all warnings and moderation because of the stress involved? Similarly, what about the stress endured by users who encounter hateful content that until now has been considered unworthy of a required warning? Nobody makes someone choose to become a volunteer, they at least should know the risks going in, but users don’t have the reasonable expectation that they will encounter something attacking their humanity when they click on a vaguely described work. Yes, a warning for racism and even say transphobia or misogyny in fanfic will be difficult to enforce. But deciding what constitutes graphic violence is difficult, as is dealing with different ages of consent in different countries and unusual underage situations within fiction, as is even deciding which characters are major and must have their deaths tagged. Should we just give up on all of those warnings, then, or should we let volunteers who decide to keep working do their jobs? Maybe I’m underestimating the difficulty of this, I can’t say I’ve volunteered in this capacity before. But I hope we decide anti-racism is important and something that deserves to at least be attempted by this organization. If it’s decided that warning for racism is just too difficult, then the organization should be transparent about their attempt and why it failed. Giving up on including all fans who would otherwise want to be involved is contrary to the stated purpose of OTW. Let’s take the statement made seriously and hope that it is followed up on.

          2. Alex mania, I’ll thank you to not talk over me as a fan of color the way you so delightfully condescended to me in your reply.

            You somehow don’t see the difference in a Black archive volunteer having to relive specific racist traumas they have endured to handle reports? You really don’t get to talk over FOC like you know better then.

            Also my “tone” matches what I replied to. Maybe go at them first.

            Also nice victim blaming for Abuse volunteers/workers with “well they volunteered for it and should have known.” That’s super cool of you Alex!

            It is much much easier to draw a line on the existing MAW. Underage is under 18 because the servers are in the US. Graphic violence is based on degree of description. Non-con, come on are you really claiming people can’t draw an easy line here?

            Racism involves every culture on earth and whose gets counted and whose doesn’t. There are scores of factors to draw a line with. It is incredibly complex.

            And no where did I say ditch the warnings. I’m arguing the point that if someone can make pharma labels then this is a snap. I’ll thank you not to assume as a BIPOC in fandom I’ve never encountered racism in a fic that upset me. But if I miss tags or there aren’t any and I read it, that’s on me.

            What I did with the above btw? Stopped reading that author. Because I’m an adult and it’s my job to curate my own AO3 experiences.

            Have a good day.

    3. I agree with you about the need for diverse representation on the board. And of listening to those diverse voices. There needs to be understanding of the experiences if fans from marginalized groups, and that can’t happen unless they’re present and heard.

      I agree that warnings for depictions of racism should be part of the site. Obviously that won’t mean tagging every fic which could demonstrate implicit racial bias, because that would be very ambiguous and in many cases the author wouldn’t recognize it themselves. But if someone is depicting racial discrimination, racist slurs, or racial violence in a fic, they should be adding a warning, just like the warnings for sexual assault or for more trivial things like “major character death”. It can be treated the same as other content warnings. It can start right away for new works, while you work out a way to implement it for existing works.

      1. Oh, and clarification: at the start of my post I began with addressing Candice, whereas at the end of my post the use of “you” was addressing the people running AO3. That seemed like it could be misread so I thought I should clarify it.

  25. Also, I would like to make an attempt at disambiguating antis and antiracists, since that seems to be a question up thread.

    CW: Contains a moderately detailed description of racist antiblack violence in the historical context of the USA.

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    Skip me
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    Anti: You’re a pedophile for shipping Anakin/Obi-Wan!

    Antiracist: Can we please get a warning on this untagged fic where Sam Wilson is lynched. It’s tagged for graphic violence but that doesn’t capture how traumatizing it is to encounter with a summary like, “This is one fight Sam can’t believe he was unprepared for.”

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    Skip me
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  26. AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle.

    I am very glad to see this, and I look forward to the planned changes. However, I would appreciate an estimated timeline on these steps. At what point can we expect to see the implementation of any of these changes? When you say “saved searches to filter out certain works,” does this include filtering out certain users, as well? Also, and I am genuinely curious here, because I know nothing about coding, but is it really so much harder to implement a warning for depictions of racism than it is to implement features to disable comments or block certain users? Those sound like they would be more difficult.

    Based on the comments above, it sounds like the issue of racism in the OTW, the AO3, and in works on the AO3, has intersected with a deeply acrimonious ship war in a particular fandom, which is really no surprise. Our personal investments in our particular fannish passions always fuel our wider fannish interactions. That doesn’t make the need for change any less real or urgent, and I hope the OTW balances the need for careful thought with the need for timeliness in its schedule for these planned changes.

  27. “AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle.”

    That is a good thing, and I appreciate you reiterating that. I also appreciate that you made a public statement about this issue, and outlined some of what you’re going to do, going to try to do, and going to plan to do in the future.

    I hope none of us want anyone on AO3 to have the ability to label, block, or tag someone else’s fic with whatever they deem appropriate; that would become a shitshow of epic proportions almost immediately.

    Please do keep listening to users, in particular users of color, and take their experiences and suggestions seriously.

  28. Like I’m glad these things are on your mind, but I honestly haven’t noticed a single thing that you need to apologize over. I really do hope you tune out all the extremists in this thread though because like whoa, we never would have survived by their standards.

  29. Hello, I’ve enjoyed using AO3 since 2010 and it’s been a great place where I felt safe and like I could post anything without it being taken down. I sincerely hope that doesn’t change, and while I am all for people curating their OWN experiences on AO3, I am not for people curating OTHERS experiences on AO3. Happy for AO3 to take this moment to get better, but please please do not let this change its policy on “maximum inclusivity of content”.

  30. At the very first fanfic con panel I ever attended, in 2002, someone said to other writers in the room, “We support your right to write [horrible topic]. Please support our wish to be able to avoid reading [horrible topic].” This has always seemed to me to be the right balance.

    Regarding warnings: As I said on Twitter, I’m a darkfic writer, and I support the proposal by some black fans that AO3 should expand the current warnings system. (I also support the continued option to state that one is not warning for content.) Back when AO3 was founded, its current warnings were the ones most commonly mandated in fandom communities. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the only warnings needed today. It has become clear that an AO3 warning for racism is of great importance to many fans.

    I’d like to suggest that OTW might want to consider a single warning of “prejudice / depictions of prejudice” (or, alternatively, “bigotry/depictions of bigotry”. (I’ve adapted the wording from a Twitter suggestion by Seperis.) That way, OTW wouldn’t have to enter into the fraught job of judging whether a work was prejudiced itself or simply depicted prejudice, and OTW wouldn’t have to add separate warnings for other types of prejudice that are also painful for many AO3 members, such as misogyny or transphobia.

    That’s my only suggestion; on all other matters, I’m listening with interest to what people have to say. I’m queer (in several ways), disabled, and mentally ill. I am not a person of color, however, and I would like to hear more from black fans and other POC fans. I hope that OTW will continue to listen to them.

    1. That sounds like a sensible idea in theory, but I have my doubts. How many works are actually written with deliberate depictions of racism compared to *accidental* racism which the author never intended, nor realised was there, but which others could – with absolute legitimacy or not – find offensive? Since the only way to tackle racism is to deal with it and write about it and drag it into the light, it strikes me as unlikely that most [legitimate] complaints would be issued against works which intended to depict it and would therefore tag for it. And no author who wants to be deliberately racist themselves is going to flag it! So I’m not saying it isn’t a good warning, I just think the most contentious content is still going to slip right through the net…

  31. Allow people to follow other people’s fic lists and use these lists in searches. Do not publish any followers info. That is, there should be no way to determine who is following someone’s list, or how many followers someone’s list has. Just do not collect that data at all.

    For example, I can make a list of fics that contain number 25. My friend who hates 25 can follow my list and choose to exclude fics tagged to the list from searches. My other friend who loves 25 can follow my list and choose to only show fics tagged to the list in searches. I won’t see if they did on AO3. Nobody will see.

    Some people and groups want to curate their own tags, not only for collections, but also for avoidance. They should be able to do so – without visibility to other people and groups on the site. This is already happening on Discord and what not, where people maintain various lists.

    1. If they allow people to follow lists or anything else, they do collect that data, because otherwise they have no way of knowing which lists you are following.

  32. What does blocking users mean?

    Me as a reader, blocking certain writers or a group of writers who use a certain tag?
    Me as a writer, blocking certain readers or a group of readers who don’t to see a certain tag
    Both?

    Either way, it’s the beginning of the end to the concept of an archive in general and the start of a toothless site with more censorship and a slippery slope towards everything an archive of fanworks should not be. The abuse potential is astounding.

    There have already been changes over the years like fan works not appearing as “this work has been deleted, sorry” in our bookmarks when they’ve been deleted as well as not having a 404 page for a deleted fic.

    Fandom was never intended to be a safe space. That’s what gave it power for people without voices in MSM to create our content and explore our needs and thoughts. To see its power and purpose taken away by people who mostly mean well is distressing to witness.

    An archive can’t claim to be an archive it’s not archiving.

    1. “Fandom was never intended to be a safe space.”

      That is a powerful truth at the core of all this discussion, which it is very, very important to not lose sight of.

  33. I’ve only recently registered an account on AO3 after being an anonymous reader of many fics for years, including some with ships and plotlines others find objectionable for what I view as silly reasons. I’ve also run across my share of ships and plotlines I find objectionable, and I don’t view my reasons as silly. My point is maybe me viewing someone else’s reasons as silly doesn’t mean they are silly, or maybe my own reasons genuinely are silly. Maybe it’s a little of both.

    That’s a long-winded way of saying I support more tools to let users curate their own experiences here. No one should decide whether a reason for not liking a ship or a plotline is silly for them. At the same time, anything that allows users to curate experiences for *other people* is prone to abuse. No one should be able to decide what other people can read here either, or how easily they can find it. I think most of the things you’re suggesting are solid ideas. I hope you won’t go for more extreme ideas that will lead to shipwarring censorship and toxic abuse of tools for targeted harassment some social media influencer doesn’t like. AO3 is one of the last places that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Don’t assume the loudest voices are also the most numerous. These are all good ideas and there likely isn’t a need to go further toward tools that would enable users to censor other users while deciding what readers can easily find. Don’t do it, please, no matter how loud people get on Twitter.

  34. “AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle. We can, however, do a better job of helping users curate their own experience on AO3 and avoid works they do not wish to see. We can also implement more tools to prevent and combat harassment.”

    The statements above make me hopeful that Ao3/OTW staff is going in the right direction with these changes and committed to not giving censorship a foothold while providing the tools for a better user experience for as wide a variety of fans/users as possible. Keeping my fingers crossed that this optimism is well-founded.

    Ao3 was created as a *safe space for content creators, free from content censorship*, and an *archive* for non-ephemeral transformative works first and foremost.

    Due to the former, I am against anything that gives non-creator generated tags the same weight (or the perceived same weight) as creator-generated tags. [“taking user-added bookmark tags into account with filtering”] This feature would open a metaphorical barn door for abuse, both of the personal and “anti X content” type, to come content creators’ way. I do not see why a feature like this was even considered in view of the fact that user-added bookmark tags are ALREADY being abused to harass creators and perpetuate censoring and hateful behaviour and enable “cancel culture”.

    As for why I’m so against this, allow me to quote THEO MCDANIELS’ comment further up: “(…) anything that allows users to curate experiences for *other people* is prone to abuse. No one should be able to decide what other people can read here either, or how easily they can find it.” I second this, very strongly.

    I urge the Ao3/OTW stuff not to release any feature(s) that further enable(s) the power imbalance of multiple bookmarkers’ tags overshadowing the single tag set that a creator can put on their work.

    Due to the latter, I am also against anything that blocks specific people’s (or groups of people’s) access to works posted on Ao3. I no more believe in lending out library books only to certain people than I believe in only letting certain people view and/or download works on/from Ao3.

    That said, I am very much FOR tools that give creators better control over how others *publicly* interact with their work(s), as well as for features that close off current avenues of abuse. (Such as tags on public bookmarks being used to harass authors, “shame” them for creating certain types of content, or fighting out shipwars, as well as kudos being used to remind creators of their harassers’ presence.)

    I hope that the Ao3/OTW stuff involved will consider user feedback where the functionality and UI elements of the upcoming new user (and/or tag) blocking and public feedback moderation features are concerned. [public feedback = comments, kudos and public bookmarks]

    I also urge them to consider adding a *blanket moderation options for public feedback*. Some work creators who are being harassed/trolled via their comment sections have work numbers ranging in the hundreds, so moderating comment sections for all their works requires substantial effort, even with the multi-edit tool for works. An option to blanket moderate public feedback on all of one’s works would greatly decrease the effort needed to curtail large scale harassment or trolling campaigns.

    As for new Archive Warnings being added, my opinion largely depends on what form this/these new Warning(s) would take and how they’d be enforced, especially compared to the existing Archive Warnings.

    Some people have mentioned that adding an Archive Warning for racism would be a “slippery slope” to adding mandatory Archive Warnings for “every trigger under the sun”. Others have pointed out that a racism warning would be “unenforceable” due to varying definitions of racism and the various cultural differences that strongly affect how people from different countries/areas see race/ethnicity relations, even if a workable “common” definition of racism could be found.

    While I am unsure where I stand where the first argument is concerned, I think the second one touches on a very important point: The Ao3/OTW staff should VERY carefully consider that ethnicity-, race- and xenophobia-based bias, oppression and hatred vary strongly between countries and should be extremely cautious in order to avoid taking a majorly or unfairly USA-based view/stance on the issue.

    While I understand why the discussion is currently centring around US-based views on race, I hope that the Ao3/OTW will not alienate the non-US parts of its user-base when implementing new policies covering the topic.

    I do wish all the people involved in implementing these changes the foresight, skill and knowledge, not to mention the strength and luck, needed to make choices that positively affect the majority of users and do not throw any fans under the metaphorical bus, while upholding the Archive’s mission of providing a censorship-free environment to archive and share transformative works.

  35. I’m glad that you are looking for solutions. I still remember the time I reported a work for blatantly propagating hate against a community and the reply I recieved was not satisfactory at the least. I was incredibly disappointed then. I hope that we see improvement.

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