Kathryn S’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?

Some features that have been suggested and that I think would be useful to help users avoid things they don’t want to see are the ability to block a tag throughout the archive and the ability to turn off being able to see bookmarks of their own works (if browsing by bookmarks rather than by works). Personally, I would love to be able to use filters on my History and Marked for Later, but I understand that it would be a big project in order to avoid overloading the servers.

Our ADT volunteers are best positioned to know how much work it will take to develop any of these features, and so the best thing that I could do as a board member to make them happen is to help set priorities and work to expand and support the committee, including paid staff and new tools if those would be useful.


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

I’m not opposed, but it’s an extremely complicated prospect, and the coding is the least of it. Considerations include but are not limited to:

  • How do you choose which warnings to add?
  • How do you define the warnings in such a way that PAC can enforce them? Remember, with optional tags the creator gets to decide whether it applies, but for mandatory warnings, PAC has to have a definition that they can consistently and fairly enforce.
    • Consider, for example, incest. How closely related? Does relation by marriage count? What about step-families? Adopted families? Given the kinds of family trees that can show up in fiction, how can we expect PAC to be able to cleanly and consistently determine whether a warning like this applies?
  • What do you do about works that were posted before the new warnings? Put them all behind a warning that they were posted before certain mandatory warnings were in place? Add Creator Chose Not To Warn to everything posted before a certain date, thereby making it functionally useless as a warning? We hope that the AO3 will exist and grow for decades to come, but that is still millions of works that would be modified without the creator’s approval.

Additionally, as time marches on, more mandatory warnings will be requested. Do we expect to do another round of additional warnings every couple of decades, thereby adding layers of blanket warnings to older works? The best decision in the long view may be to only have mandatory warnings that have some sort of legal basis for existing (namely, the Underage warning), and find other ways to help users protect themselves from other kinds of content.

However, I think that the first priority is to expand the capacities of PAC and ADT so that they can give this proposal the time and consideration it needs without having to be as concerned about being overwhelmed.


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

Regarding AI Scraping, ADT is doing what they can to prevent scraping while keeping the AO3 accessible. There is more information in their post here.

I am inclined to consider AI-produced works as fanworks, because they would not exist without the fan’s prompt, even if they did no further work. A fannish playlist, for example, would be considered a fanwork, even though the fan did not produce any of the music, only curated the list.

Fortunately for those who wish to avoid them, I am not aware of any evidence that AI produced works are a significant problem on the AO3. They are also frequently tagged as AI-generated, and per the most recent public Board meeting a canonical tag is in the works, which would make it easier to exclude them with filters. There is no monetary incentive for posting on the AO3, unlike platforms that show ads and share revenue. Either people will enjoy the work and it will get attention, or they won’t enjoy it and it won’t get attention. Posting excessively would potentially be considered spam, and could be investigated by PAC under our current policies.

There are also numerous accessibility and equity issues with trying to determine whether a work was written by an AI. AI-detection tools that are currently available are more likely to incorrectly identify works by less experienced writers, people with neurodivergence, and people who speak English as a foreign language as AI-generated.

Furthermore, where do you draw the line on whether a work should be considered AI-generated? Only works that are written entirely by AI and posted without editing? What about works that are moderately edited? Substantially edited or rewritten? What about using AI to help create a chapter outline? A work outline? What about using software like Grammarly?


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?

Given both the OTW’s commitment to maximum inclusivity and the impossibility of effectively enforcing any sort of ban, it is best to permit AI works, so that people tag or otherwise declare them as such rather than hiding them and people who wish to avoid them can do so.

If we had any level of ban, accusing people of posting AI-produced works or reporting them as such would instantly become a new avenue of harassment. Additionally, as I stated above, writing by neurodivergent people, less experienced writers, and people who speak English as a foreign language are more likely to be marked as AI-generated by the AI-detection tools that are currently available. Quite frankly, I doubt that AI-detection tools will ever be reliable enough that our PAC volunteers would feel comfortable using them for enforcement purposes. Finally, having a policy that cannot or will not be enforced is a bad idea on every level, and can even open up an organization to legal liability.


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 feel very strongly that we should keep the AO3’s principle of maximum inclusivity. Whatever fandom, pairing, or trope it is that you most love, I guarantee that there is someone who wants to banish it from existence.

One of the reasons that the AO3 has such a comprehensive tagging system is that we wanted to be able to be maximally inclusive while helping users find the works they wanted to see and avoid the ones they didn’t. Many people disagreed with this when the AO3 was being designed. They argued that tags were equivalent to spoilers and that tagging would make users too comfortable and unwilling to broaden their minds, especially when one of the purposes of art is to make people uncomfortable.

Furthermore, as soon as anyone starts drawing lines about what can and can’t be included, the most vulnerable, marginalized people are the most affected. (Consider that we are currently blocked in China and Russia specifically because we allow LGBTQ+ content.) Many people write about their negative or traumatic experiences in order to process them. Others write about societal ills, such as bigotry, in order to confront others with the reality and impacts of these problems. These people are most likely to tag their works with the dark or controversial topics they are writing about, and therefore would be the first to be banned. People who write these topics for shock value or out of ignorance are the least likely to tag them, and it would therefore be their work that remains.

Regarding the Archive-level Adult Content warning, it is true that the current definition is US-centric. However, this is because the OTW is incorporated in the US, and must consider itself a US-based organization in financial and legal matters.


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?

In addition to the OTW-wide comment moderation policy I proposed in the previous Q&A, I would regard PAC as the experts in this space. A review of our Terms of Service is currently underway, in part to increase their ability to deal with works, comments, etc. which do not fulfill the definition of harassment but which are clearly intended to make the AO3 a hostile space for others.

Bookmarks belong to the person who created the bookmark, not the person who created the work. Creators are not even notified if someone bookmarks their work! If the language in the bookmarks reaches the level of harassment, that can already be reported to PAC. Bookmarks created by users that you have muted are also automatically hidden. Other features for hiding or limiting bookmarks have been proposed, but it is unlikely that we will change the core principle that bookmarks belong to the user who created them, not the user who created the work being bookmarked.

Unfortunately, giving creators the ability to disallow bookmarks, or comments or tags on public bookmarks, would defeat the purpose of bookmarks, which is to allow users to share their thoughts on works in a public space other than the work’s comments, which are the creator’s space. It would be similar to if Goodreads allowed authors to disallow reviews entirely or delete (non-harassing) negative reviews.


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?

Fanlore already has a policy on Ethical Standards for Community Content (link). In essence, this states their goals of accuracy and objectivity, as well as upholding ethical standards, including harmlessness, to protect fans, fanworks, fan communities, etc. Fanlore additionally has a Plural Point of View policy, which means that they want to present multiple perspectives and interpretations as much as possible.

Fanlore is a wiki, not an archive, and as such is a collaborative space. The talkpages for each article and the Fanlore Discord are spaces where editors can discuss how to best present difficult topics. There are also common practices on Fanlore that can be implemented, such as linking to external sources rather than including text or images directly in the article, so editors don’t have to come up with new strategies on their own. The idea of content warnings in article headers, where appropriate, has also been proposed, and Fanlore volunteers should be empowered to implement these if they agree it would be useful.

If harassing or defamatory remarks are purposely added to an article, they can be deleted by another editor. If someone repeatedly makes harmful edits, they can be blocked. Controversial articles can also be protected to limit editing fights.


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?

In the previous set of questions, I wrote a lot about what I think the OTW can do to ensure that it supports numerous fannish projects and fandom homes.

The AO3’s code is, and always has been, publicly available on GitHub. We consistently get code contributions from non-volunteers, which is wonderful! There are two archives that are currently using the AO3’s code: SquidgeWorld (multifandom) and Ad Astra (Star Trek).

It seems that the biggest issue with others using the AO3 code is that the AO3 is orders of magnitude larger than most fanworks archives, and so is extremely overpowered and technically complex for someone trying to start a smaller archive. Creating (and maintaining) a small-archive version of the AO3 code would be a separate project, which means that we would have to substantially expand and support ADT so that they could do this work.

There are also other ways to achieve the same ends, such as funding continued support of eFiction software or creating tutorials for how to use currently available resources to create a fanworks archive. For example, it is very easy to create a DreamWidth community with whatever content restrictions you choose (within the Terms of Service) where people could post their fanworks. If you are worried about losing fanworks if people delete or lock their accounts, you could require that all works be directly posted to the community instead of linked from personal pages.


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?

This doesn’t quite answer the question, but one thing we could do in the short term and without any technical work is to spread the word about the benefits of having an AO3 account, as well as addressing common concerns and questions. Benefits include being able to view works that are restricted to logged-in users, subscribe to updates on works and series, and mark works for later. To address three concerns I am aware of:

  • Doesn’t it take a long time to get an invitation? – The invitation queue is usually 7-10 days; however, if you have a friend with an account, they may have invites attached to their account that they could send you without having to worry about the waiting period!
  • Aren’t accounts just for people who post fanworks? – Nope! There is absolutely no requirement to post works in order to have an account, and there are numerous benefits for users who are not creators (see above).
  • What about my data? – The AO3 limits the amount of data we collect as much as possible in order to protect our users. Creating an account only requires an active email address, username, and password.

Regarding the specific questions, the AO3 actually supported OpenID in the past! However, it saw very little use in comparison to the amount of work that was required to keep it up, and there hasn’t been much demand to reinstate it since it was disabled. Ultimately, ADT is best positioned to solve spam issues, and the best thing I could do as a board member is to work to increase their capacity as a team.


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.

Tag wranglers have policies and standards for canonical tags, since each tag has to be unique and reasonably standardized across the entire archive. However, they do have some flexibility to reflect the specific fandom’s conventions and expectations. Additionally, creators have always been able to tag how they want to tag and have those tags synned to canonical tags if appropriate.

Increasing the speed of canonization and synning is primarily an issue of getting enough volunteers. We traditionally recruit at specific times so that Chairs can handle the interviews and training process in batches, but the OTW and AO3 may have outgrown our ability to make committees large enough to handle the workload while using this method. We should explore the possibility of having open recruitment at all times for at least some committees. Perhaps each committee could have a designated training team so that training can be run continuously rather than in batches.