Anh P’s 2023 Q&A: Features & Content Policy

[Note: There will be 4 Q&A posts total, covering all the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. Candidates were limited to 300 words per answer.]

Would you be in favor to expand further features of the Archive to improve user experience? If so, what features do you think Ao3 needs to add or improve? What AO3 features would you prioritize to help people avoid what they don’t want to see?

One of the features I’d love to see on the Archive is the ability to filter all the ship fanfic with certain characters. For example, I’d love to search and filter all the fanfic shipping my favourite DC character with others, without browsing through the thousand results of tag searching index of said character. Furthermore, I’d like to use tag searching index with additional filters, such as exclusion. I also think that if we could save or bookmark previously-used searches and filters, it would improve user experience further.

To help people better curate their experience using AO3, I think a permanent tag filter feature should be prioritised, as it’d give people the ability to block tags throughout the Archive. If its implementation takes longer than expected, we could further promote other means of doing so, for example, using CSS and AO3 site skins to permanently block tags on the Archive, or accessing several unofficial browser tools to improve users experience on the Archive.

On AO3, there are several existing search and filtering features that can help users avoid seeing content they don’t wish to see. I believe our hidden search operator cheatsheet should be made more accessible, such as adding visualisation for ease of access. Additionally, I’d like AO3 to have a more intuitive way of browsing and promoting our FAQ and its translations toward fans – including our English as an Additional Language (EAL) users – for example, creating infographics to visualise it better.

I’m not a member of the Accessibility Design & Technology (AD&T) committee or the Communications committee, so I only have limited knowledge of how much work it’ll take to develop these features or create the related infographics, but I would work with them closely to support them in achieving these goals.

Do you support adding additional mandatory archive warnings (for example, warnings for incest and slavery), and do you think this is feasible?

After hours of researching and reading related documents, I think we need to be extra cautious about adding new mandatory archive warnings to the Archive as of 2023. 

In addition, even if we could all agree to add new warning labels – such as slavery – after countless hours of discussions and debates on how to define said label, some fans would still be unhappy. There’s no consensus about what the definition for the new archive warning would be, nor which fanfics would need it, thus making it an impossible task for the Archive administrators to enforce it.

Furthermore, there are practicality concerns after we deploy a new major archive warning, for example, every single fanwork on the archive might need a little notification flag at the top that says “This fic was posted before [date] when the [label] major warning was implemented.” And the orphaned fanworks would keep that flag forever.

For the above reasons, and from all the internal discussions regarding additional archive warnings that I’ve followed, I believe that adding mandatory archive warnings seems impractical for AO3 at the moment. I understand that this may be disappointing to many frustrated users who have been asking for additional major archive warnings on AO3 for some time. Right now, I don’t think new mandatory warning labels on the archive are feasible, but I’m not opposed to the idea of one if a true consensus were to ever be reached. In conclusion, I would not actively advocate for new archive warnings as a Board member, but I am not strictly opposed to them in concept. 

What is your stance on AI scraping/learning from the Archive and AI produced works on OTW platforms?

I’m against Common Crawl (CC), or any other Large Language Model (LLM) libraries, scraping and learning from AO3. I understand that in the January 2023 releases of AO3, we deployed updates to the Archive robots.txt file to disallow CC from scraping the Archive. However, CC is not the only LLM library scraping the content on the Internet; I hope we can do additional research to implement further updates that might limit other LLM libraries from scraping content on AO3. Furthermore, I want to explore the legal options to remove any data scraped from AO3 in the CC database or other LLM libraries. 

From a personal standpoint, as someone who is financially affected by AI technology, I don’t want to read AI-generated fanworks on AO3. I want to help users avoid what they don’t want to see more than I want to limit their freedom of posting fanworks. That being said, the OTW and its projects includes the AO3, but is not limited to it. As an EAL volunteer who uses typing assistance, such as Grammarly and other similar tools, for writing as well as grammar and spell checking of Fanlore articles, I think we need to treat AI-generated content and any future policies related to it very carefully.

Specifically for AO3, with the current scale of at least 32 billions words for approximately 5 millions fanworks archived, I don’t think it’s feasible for us to accurately ban AI-generated content from the Archive. For Fanlore – a collaborative fannish wiki without specific author credit – I think that AI-generated content is quite low on our list of concerns. In certain cases, if it becomes problematic – with people inserting AI-generated fictitious information – the Fanlore team would warn the individuals who do that.

In your opinion, what would a sensible policy regarding ai-generated content on AO3 look like? How would you enforce this policy such that NO human fic writers are harmed in overzealous attempts to reign in ai-generated content, as seen on art platforms which attempted an ai ban? Do you think AI is something that PAC can accurately detect and regulate/restrict?

What I want is to help users curate their experience on AO3 better, which includes helping them avoid seeing AI-generated fanworks, such as canonising the freeform tag and publicising its use. I understand that several people would prefer to never see any AI-generated fanworks on AO3, but I don’t think it’s a sensible policy to prohibit AI-generated fanworks from the Archive. 

I don’t trust the current “AI detectors” to be reliable or accurate, and I’m opposed to using unreliable software that is likely to mislabel fanworks, especially if it’s likely to lead to harassment. I believe that a policy to ban LLM-generated content without sufficient tools to detect and enforce it wouldn’t be a good policy. Furthermore, I’m worried about using AI detectors for text, as they are especially unreliable when the real human author is not a native English speaker.

AI technology is an evolving field, with related copyright laws still in development. For AO3 users, the concern that human fic writers might be harassed in an overzealous attempt to rein in AI-generated content is very valid, for I’ve seen fanartists facing similar issues. I hope that in the upcoming months, we can serve as a source of information – regarding AI copyright laws – that are likely to impact fandom, and educate ourselves better about the AI-generated content related laws. The more AO3 users and fans are informed about AI technologies, the better we can prepare ourselves and adapt for changes.

I talked with several Policy & Abuse committee volunteers, and I’m aware that they previously discussed the potential updated policy regarding AI-generated content for AO3. However, they have similar concerns about the unreliableness and biases of AI detectors, specifically toward EAL writers. Until technology allows us to 100% reliably identify LLM-assisted works, I don’t think PAC can accurately detect nor regulate AI-generated content. 

How do you feel about AO3’s principle of maximum inclusivity of fanworks? Are you willing to uphold AO3’s commitment to protecting content that many consider controversial or problematic? Where do you personally think the line should be drawn with respect to AI, racism, etc? What are the candidates thoughts on content currently being hosted on the site, including the Archive level Minor warning, and how it relates to the sites availability in various countries?

I believe that maximum inclusiveness of content or fanworks is the core of the AO3 mission. See my Board Work I answers for how I want to achieve a balance of making AO3 safer & better for our users while preserving their freedom of posting fanworks. I want to reaffirm again that, even in the near future where we’ll finish updating the AO3’s Terms of Services, I don’t support removing offensive works that are not targeted harassment. Instead, I hope to help people to avoid content that they consider controversial or problematic, such as the previously-mentioned use of site skins to permanently block tags on AO3.

To clarify my previous answers, I think the line regarding AI, racism, etc. should be drawn at targeted harassment. For example, if a fanwork written to be racist is gifted to another user as a way of harassing them, I think it’s a very valid issue to report to PAC and have it resolved as soon as possible. That being said, I’m not a PAC volunteer; as they’re our foremost authority in dealing with harassment and enforcing AO3 policies, I’d listen to their suggestions if any other concerns are raised.

It saddens me that AO3 is blocked in several countries, but I don’t want to put the burden on one fanfic archive to be the ultimate centre of fandom culture. Furthermore, I don’t think that OTW can sufficiently serve fandom as a whole if AO3 has a monopoly on fanwork archives. I would like to define my job as promoting and supporting the decentralisation of fanwork archives to foster the growth of fandom cultures. Moreover, I’d like to help other fans better curate their experience, and find a suitable fannish space for their specific choice of content, whether on AO3 or other archives.

What measures will you take to better protect creators from harassment on Ao3? Would you implement methods to protect creators from harassment in Bookmarks? Eg. Creators can set “disallow/hide comments or tags on public bookmarks or when a user changes their private bookmarks with notes to public”. Or options to delete or respond to bookmarks?

As I mentioned previously in my Board Work I Q&A, I think the sooner we have an updated Terms of Services for AO3, the better PAC can enforce it, and in turn better protect AO3 users from harassment. Furthermore, I want to work closely with PAC to support them and improve the infrastructure of PAC, in order to empower them and provide PAC with necessary tools to do their jobs more efficiently.

I think bookmarks started as a function for readers and by readers. However, as someone who enjoys reading bookmark notes of my fanworks on AO3, I understand that we need to aim for balance. I don’t think that giving the creators the ability to disable the comments and/or tags of users’ bookmarks would be beneficial in the long term. Instead, I’d propose better ways of moderating bookmark comments and tags to decrease the risk of wank and harassment, similar to moderating comments on fanworks. I’m aware that creators don’t see public bookmarks from muted users, and I recognise the risks of harassment in public bookmarks from muted users to the creators. I want to find better solutions to counter these risks.

AO3 Bookmarks are not designed for social interaction, so I don’t believe we would develop features that would allow people to respond to bookmarks. In addition, I don’t believe that we should give the creator the option to delete others’ bookmarks of their fanwork, as it’s against the original design of bookmarks – for readers and by readers. That being said, I believe this proposal is a result of harassment concerns, and a very valid issue. In light of transparency in communication, I’d urge anyone who sees bookmarks with harassing notes and comments to report them to PAC.

Preserving fan culture is a OTW mission, but when preserving & recording history, how do you think say Fanlore can acknowledge, warn or prevent replicating of harassment & hate speech? In your volunteer experience, what resources are available for volunteers & users on what to do when encountering such cases?

I want to emphasise that Fanlore – being a fannish wiki – is a collaborative space; everyone with an account can contribute and edit the content. Any Fanlore user can write or edit articles preserving and recording fannish history on the wiki, as long as they follow our policies and Terms of Service, including our Ethical Standards. Fanlore is committed to upholding standards that include accuracy and the least amount of harm toward fans, fanworks and fan communities.

Fanlore also follows a policy of Plural Point of View, as history of fandom is collective personal experiences and interpretations. We strive to create a diverse garden of knowledge where fans can share their history from their own perspectives. This policy asks fans to recognise their own POV, and invites those with differing POVs to share information about the same events, concepts, and people. Fanlore pages might be flagged by the PPOV flag to encourage editors to add more diverse POVs, and enable them to indicate that more perspectives are needed to complete the picture.

In certain cases, where content on Fanlore might contain actual harassment, experienced editors, Gardeners, and Policy & Admin volunteers actively browse and monitor the wiki; they are available to remove harassing content and flag or react to vandalism. Furthermore, we’re discussing the feasibility of implementing ways for fans to be made aware of triggering content, such as warning labels.

Fanlore has several notices available to alert users of something, such as PPOV, or AttentionGardeners – which allow Fanlore Gardeners to find pages that may need help. We also prefer to discuss issues – including warning labels for triggering content and disputes between editors – on the talk pages of Fanlore articles. In general, Fanlore works best when more editors contribute, since it’s a collaborative project rather than one where the “experts” create & maintain pages.

How important do you think it is to focus on making sure the AO3 software continues to be developed and improved so other people can set up their own archives with their own content and conduct policies?

As I mentioned in my previous answers, and from several discussions with other AD&T volunteers, I understand that we want to hire software developers and site reliability engineers, to make sure that the AO3 software (otw-archive) continues to be developed and improved so other people can set up their own archives with their own content and conduct policies.

Since making the AO3 software more accessible for fans is one of my goals, I reached out to the owners of Squidgeworld and Ad Astra – the only two fanfic archives using the AO3 software that I’m aware of – to discuss the challenges of deploying otw-archive for their sites. We had a very productive conversation, and both Walter from Squidgeworld and SLWalker from Ad Astra were very patient as they explained the hours of work and the many unexpected challenges in deploying the software on their own servers. For example, several things are hardcoded into the software (e.g. links to the internal OTW wiki) that should be adjustable. 

Walter and SLWalker are currently working on an accessible/easy-to-follow document on how to set up a fanfic archive using the AO3 software, based on their experiences. I also contacted some of my translator friends – fans who might be interested in translating said document to languages other than English. I hope that as a Board member, I can help the OTW make this knowledge widely accessible for fans, to further my wish of decentralisation in fanwork archives. I’m very happy to see that our productivity may result in a future where many more fanfic archives use the AO3 software to curate their fanwork experience in the way they want to.

Additionally, I want to increase outreach to people who can develop and contribute their code to the AO3 software – it’s open-source, after all.

Comment bots at AO3 are a growing problem. While some of the fixes for that are “better spamblockers,” would you be willing to promote something like OpenID to allow comments from people without AO3 accounts?

After several discussions with AD&T chairs and volunteers, I believe that we’re very hesitant to promote something like OpenID again in the near future. I’m aware that, to counter spambots on AO3, several authors have chosen to disallow comments from guests and people without AO3 accounts. It’s a legitimate concern to better support the ability of people without an AO3 account to leave comments, which is not a trivial issue to solve.

At the moment, volunteers from the AD&T committee are not strictly opposed to ever supporting a protocol with similar features to OpenID to offer more accessibility functions for people who have no AO3 accounts, and I agree with this stance. However, AD&T is generally wary of including third-party functions that we later have to maintain. Right now, we do not have the necessary tools nor resources for that, but further research on different ways to require verification of people without asking for an AO3 account might be feasible.  

Fandom cultures can vary significantly. How would you best reflect the specific fandom’s expectations in tag canonization and synning? May I please know if you support speeding up the conversion of large and small non-canonical tags into Canonical ones? Canonical tags make it easier to include or exclude works from search.

Since I’m not a tag wrangler, I’ve been doing lots of research for answers. Some aspects of Tag Wrangling (TW), such as No Fandom tags, have been unwrangled for years, with Additional Tag canonisation being closed down for a similarly long time. I understand that most tag wranglers only work in fandoms that they choose to, so different fandoms with different expectations in tag canonisation and synning may depend on how many tag wranglers are actively working in said fandom.

I fully support speeding up the conversion of large & small non-canonical tags into canonical ones. The TW committee is planning on a trial run of canonising the No Fandom tags in the near future, such as AI-related content tags. However, I’m not a tag wrangler; with my limited knowledge and resources, there are very few things that I – as a Board member – can do to help speed up the canonisation of AO3 tags, as the TW committee, like other OTW committees, is very self-governing in doing their job.

I believe that increasing recruitment and diversifying our recruitment practices could help increase the number and variety of wranglers to work on these issues. Additionally, a major strategic goal for the Organisation over the next three years is to improve our documentation – which several TW volunteers mentioned as a significant need for their committee. For example, the TW guidelines and training documents can be updated to better reflect various fandoms’ expectations and standardise the tags wrangling process. Standardised guidelines and detailed training documents could help to smooth the induction process for new TW volunteers, which has the potential to increase the speed of conversion and canonisation of tags on AO3.

As a Board member, I’d help monitor and support the implementation of our goal toward improvement of internal documentation, alongside the Strategic Planning committee.