Jess White 2020 Q&A: AO3 Content Policy and Warnings

[Note: In total, there will be 6 Q&A posts to cover all of the topics brought up during the user-submitted Q&A period. The candidates were limited to 300 words to answer each question, but they were allowed to rearrange and combine questions within a single post to more clearly express their thoughts. Candidate answers represent only the views of the individual candidate and are not endorsed by the OTW.

Due to a high volume of similar questions this year, many questions were merged and duplicate questions were left out. Other than this, questions appear in the form they were submitted. Questions represent only the views of the individual questioner and are not endorsed by the OTW.]


What steps do you consider best to take combating recent conversations regarding racism in fanfiction/fandom, up to, including, and beyond adding archive-required tags for depictions of slavery and/or racist violence? What is your position on adding “Racism” (or something similar) as an Archive Warning?

Do you believe that adding new Archive Warnings to AO3 would be beneficial to the project (and why), and if you could propose a new one, what would it be? Are you committed to maintaining the CNTW option? [merged question]

In Policy and Abuse, I have noticed a trend of people taking care to tag their works with tags like “depictions of slavery”, and “hate speech”, so that people can filter out those works. So, I don’t think there would be an issue with most people using those required warnings, should the Archive move in that direction. As to this being an effective way to address racism on the Archive, The Board, Chairs, and Leads have already outlined a plan that allows users to use blocking muting and other tools once available. I am very excited for these to roll out.

An important step to ensure that whatever archive-required warnings (as opposed to tags) are added are enforceable. The Policy and Abuse committee would need clear guidelines on what does and does not violate any additional archive-required warnings, and this process could benefit from additional cross-committee input and feedback. This is hardly the first step that needs to happen, of course, but I think it’s an important one, otherwise, what recourse do we have for people who chose to break the rules? What about all the works already posted- what would happen in those situations? (I think working in Policy and Abuse makes my brain immediately go to ‘how will the rule be broken!’) It’s important to note, however, that these conversations are already taking place, and I would assume, have been long before I began volunteering, let alone running for a Board seat.

The warning Creator Chose Not To Warn is there for just that reason- so that there do not need to be more archive warnings. It serves as a catch-all for any issue an author thinks their readers might find problematic or triggering. I think it’s important to maintain, because it gives both authors and readers the option to easily filter and avoid that content. Adding new Archive Warnings sounds like a great idea, but if it was easy to do, they would already be there. That does, in no way negate the need for discussion, and the possibility that those things could be changed. I would support doing so only if the feedback from the relevant Chairs and current Board members indicated that it was feasible, and if not, how it might be a possibility in the future.

Do you believe that Black AO3 users should be able to give informed consent before being exposed to triggering content as other trauma survivors on the platform are?

What is your stance on triggering content? How should it be tagged? What are things you like about the current tagging system (in regards to triggers) and is there anything you would want to change?

The archive does not require informed consent before users are exposed to triggering content- such as homophobia, self harm, incest, fatal illnesses, miscarriage/abortion, mental illnesses, or animal abuse, to name a few, so I do not believe the TOS would ever single out a particular group. I think that the only informed consent a user can have is if the work is tagged appropriately. But a tag is not the same as a warning. Warnings are mandatory. Since warnings must be enforceable, adding them requires a significant amount of thought, discussion and feedback- and why anything we change will inevitably not fit all cases. It’s important to note that a warning like Racism or Hate Speech won’t provide much information on the specific triggers contained by a work, and it would still be up to the user to decide whether or not to access it, or the author to decide whether or not to tag for them.

My stance on triggering content is that it should remain up to the user to use the appropriate tag (or the CCNTW warning used- see above) so that users can avoid content that they wish to avoid. If a user refuses to use one of the current, or future warnings, then that is actionable under the Terms of Service. If and when the relevant Chairs and Committees decide to add another warning, I would support it, if (as I said above) there are very clear outlines on what it encompasses, so that Policy and Abuse has some recourse against users who inevitably break it.

I think the current tagging system is pretty great, and reflective of a lot of hard work put forth by the Tag Wrangler and Accessibility, Design & Technology committees. I’ve never seen a system of tagging set up like this before, and no, I do not know of anything that should be changed; I like that users have the freedom to curate their own experience.


Would you consider categorizing writing whose primary motivation is to platform hate speech as harassment (example: The Turner Diaries would count, but not poorly written Dragon Age fic)? As per TOS, “harassment is any behavior that produces a generally hostile environment for its target,” which hate speech generally falls under.

No, I would not currently be able to support categorizing writing ‘whose primary motivation is to platform hate speech as harassment’, as it depends on the work itself. The Archive does allow transformative works of everything, so if someone wrote something based on the Turner Diaries, it would be allowed to stay. This could include meta which analyzes and rebukes canon, or a fanfic that transforms canon to portray the flaws in the original- where the user’s intent is to rebuke the original work. A work derived from an objectionable canon isn’t always in itself inherently objectionable, and any kind of blanket-statement categorization goes against what the Archive was designed for.

Policy and Abuse can and does rule that a work is harassment if it actively promotes violence towards a specific user or users. Harassment, whether it involves a group of users targeting someone whose work they find problematic or a posted work that attacks a specific user, is actionable. The Terms of Service by necessity contains very broad wording, but in particular there is a difference between works that are created to harass a specific user and works that do not have a specific target.

However, I would be open to supporting a broader stance on what we currently view as Harassment. The Board, Chairs, and Leads stated that they would be “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.” I am encouraged that they are willing to move forward with this step and look forward to these conversations.


How will you protect fanworks and meta which are upsetting or offensive, across your platforms? What about if those fanworks or meta express views which are illegal/censored in some countries, but perfectly legal in others? Say a fan’s works don’t challenge problematic values endemic to older canons, or espouse problematic values directly. Providing they politely abide by AO3’s TOS, do you believe this fan deserves equal protection under AO3’s TOS (a posting platform, confidential treatment of their RL identity, ability to report harassment)? [merged question]

The Board has no say in protecting fanworks (or for that matter, deciding if they will go.) As one member of the Board, if elected, I will support the Committees that ensure that the Terms of Service remain inclusive. If someone posts a work that is offensive, but has the appropriate warnings and does not violate the TOS- that work will be allowed to stay, no matter how many write-in campaigns, or Abuse reports users organize.

The Terms of Service FAQ states that ‘Given the great variation among laws in different places, we want our agreement with you to be governed by predictable and consistent laws.’, so by choosing laws based in the US – and by users agreeing to the Terms of Service before using the Archive- they are aware that they can be exposed to content that could be considered illegal where they live. Yet they still have anonymity on choosing what to read and/or post.

All users who agree to the Terms of Service have equal protection under it- but they also have equal responsibility to ensure that their content is not in violation. You can read about which information users agree to provide when they request an Archive invitation, but you are able to use the Archive anonymously (including reporting works) if you wish. The design of this is on purpose, and the OTW creators have ensured that it is accessible by anyone who wants to. The fact that our Translation Committee has worked so hard to ensure that the OTW content is accessible to people all over the world is part of what makes us so unique.