Heather M 2022 Q&A: Diversity and Inclusion

[Note: There will be 3 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.]

How would you plan to help make the OTW a welcoming space for Black fans and all fans of color and continue the process of addressing the previously acknowledged “long-standing issues with racism in fandom”?

As a Fanlore volunteer, I’d like to start by sharing that we’re currently in the middle of our second annual Fandom in Color event. We heard the criticism that Fanlore’s content focused more on fans and fandoms that are important to white fans, and we’ve made a concerted effort to expand the wiki further with this and other events throughout the year.

Transformative Works and Cultures, OTW’s peer-reviewed journal, is currently accepting submissions for a special issue: Centering Blackness in Fan Studies. In that announcement, they specifically call out the “race issue” in fandom studies and how whiteness is often the presumed default in fandom.

But celebrating BIPOC fans and creations is the least we can do. To be more welcoming, we need to give those fans tools to combat harassment, ways to avoid racist content, and support if they encounter either of those things.

The issues of racism and anti-blackness are systemic and global and OTW won’t be able to solve them by ourselves, but implementing blocking and muting features on the Archive will help protect BIPOC fans from both those who are actively trolling and those who are, perhaps ignorantly, bigoted in their works. Updating the Terms of Service (TOS) would also give the Policy & Abuse Committee (PAC) a stronger platform on which to do their work.

What will you do to combat the racist and transphobic harassment on the platform that has been a major issue for years and make AO3 a safe place for POC/trans people, to address the criticism that AO3 only caters to cis white sometimes queer people?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to make any open platform such as AO3 an entirely safe space. Trolls and other bad actors don’t tend to follow the rules. In fact, they work very actively to find every possible way to break them.

That said, I believe that AO3 is safer today than it ever has been before because the site has implemented tools that allow users to protect themselves from harassment:

As more features are rolled out, such as the ability to mute specific users (not see works, comments, and bookmarks from them), I feel like the situation will improve even more.

I don’t want to put the responsibility fully on the people who are being attacked, however. I want to reiterate that updating the TOS will give PAC a better ability to deal with any harassment that still occurs.

I also want to support an effort to improve and streamline the training required to become a PAC volunteer. Hopefully if we can increase the size of the committee, we can try to counterbalance the massive increase in users that the site has seen since the start of the global pandemic.

How do you propose to resolve the issue some archive users have that works are racist or hateful or otherwise problematic?

The Archive has a mission of maximum inclusiveness of content. This means that racist, hateful, and problematic works will never disappear from the platform. OTW does draw the line at harassment and hate speech, but the line we draw will more often than not be too far for a lot of people.

We do not pre-screen our content. Doing so on our scale would be impossible. Instead, we rely on our users to report works and on our volunteers to investigate those reports and respond accordingly. To make this process more effective, I would personally like to regularly communicate that mass reporting campaigns slow us down and make it harder for us to take action against works that violate our Terms of Service (TOS).

I’d also like to find ways to explain our TOS easily and often. We have over 4.8 million registered users as of July 2022 and we hit 3 million in November of 2020. That’s almost 100K new accounts per month. It’s not surprising to me that users are unaware of the history of the OTW or the TOS of the site and what is actually allowed. We need to work harder to explain that so that people who disagree with our mission can find a platform that will suit them better.

Are you in agreement with the June 2020 statement about addressing racism on AO3? What specific things would you like to see OTW/AO3 do about racism, and in particular anti-blackness, on the site? Are you satisfied with the pace of AO3/OTW’s actions so far?

This question, and all of the questions listed above, prompted me to go back and reread that Statement from the OTW Board of Directors, Chairs, & Leads.

I do largely agree with the statement. I’m also happy to see the progress made on a number of the actions they said they would take. I listed a number of them in a previous question. All of these tools are ways to block harassers, and while I’d prefer the harassment not happen in the first place, at least creators have tools against it now.

Any response is too slow when racism and anti-blackness are involved, however the Archive has millions of works and millions of users and part of the slowness is due to implementing these changes without breaking other things on the site. Another part is the fact that OTW is an international site with users from around the world, and there is no singular definition of racism that is easily applied.

In future, I want to see the promised muting feature rolled out. That would allow people to stop seeing creators they don’t want to see anymore. I also want to see more tools for PAC to be better able to action harassment when it occurs. One of those tools being changes in the TOS that would clarify where we stand and how we will act in response to anti-blackness and racism.

OTW doesn’t have the ability to solve the problem of racist and anti-black members of fandom, but we do have the ability to provide tools to oppose them.

[Note: All questions from members and candidate responses appear in the form they were submitted and represent only the views of the individual who wrote them. Questions and responses are not endorsed by the Organization for Transformative Works.]