Nicole Abraham 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? [merged question]

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?
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]

I believe that the OTW has a responsibility to provide the tools users need to give informed consent as to what they encounter on our platforms and curate their experience accordingly. Tools that are not currently provided on AO3, such as increased control over comments, improved collection filtering, and blocking are currently being worked on to supplement users’ abilities to control their own experiences. Adding a warning for racism could also be beneficial in this regard. I believe that this is a path that should be explored, and I plan to support the relevant chairs and committees as they have these discussions. I also respect that it will be an incredibly complex endeavor. Creating an additional required warning would include determining how racism is defined, not only in the USA from where AO3’s Terms of Service is governed, but in the many countries across the world which struggle with racism and discrimination against minorities. We would need to determine how to deal with all of the works that were posted prior to a required racism warning being added, as well as how to enforce this warning going forward. Any major policy change such as this will take time to discuss and implement in a way that is mindful both to user needs and our limited human resources.

I understand worries that the complexities of defining racism may make such an endeavor unfeasible, but I believe it is something we need to investigate and give serious consideration to, nonetheless. For the moment, there are multiple canonical tags covering racism and racist behavior, such as Racism and Racist Language that users can add to their works and bookmarks when they believe they apply. I encourage creators especially do so when possible, so that users can provide informed consent whenever possible.

The “Creator Chose not to use Archive Warnings” tag serves a number of purposes. Creators may worry that using one of the current Archive warnings may provide spoilers, or they may be unsure if their work qualifies and prefer to add it just in case. They can also include it if they generally would prefer not to include warnings. I absolutely believe “chose not to warn” should be maintained as one of the Archive warning options so that users continue to have the freedom it provides to responsibly tag their works.

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?

One of the things I like most about the current system is that users are able to tag whatever they want. If an author believes their story contains content that may be an issue for some of their readers, they can add a tag that warns for that content. AO3’s tagging system allows authors to create tags with as much nuance as they think is necessary, and how authors use these tags is taken into account when creating new canonicals.

Triggering content can consist of a very broad spectrum of issues that varies from person to person, meaning that user-led curation options are doubly important. Bookmarks are incredibly important for this—both for their ability to flag content in works and to curate these works into collections. Improving the way that we navigate collections is therefore a top priority, because providing users with the ability to create and locate spaces where they can safely avoid triggering topics is key.

Although we are improving the tools fans can use to avoid this, I would like to remind everyone: In the case where you do come across something that you find either unpleasant or triggering, you are encouraged to take a step back and close the work for your mental health. You are more important than any fanwork, no matter who created it.

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.

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]

I believe that the OTW should continue hosting content from any fandoms, regardless of how problematic the source material may be. There are many cases where, even though canon may contain hate speech, fandom takes the topic and improves upon it or deals with canonical issues in a responsible way. Not hosting content for those fandoms would remove this ability as much as hosting it could allow for potential hate speech.

Most importantly, the OTW’s mission has always been to protect fanworks and fannish history, something I strongly support. AO3’s Terms of Service state that “we will not remove Content for offensiveness, no matter how awful, repugnant, or badly spelled we may personally find that Content to be.” Removing content that we may find personally objectionable goes against many things that the OTW stands for. As long as a fan is abiding by our Terms of Service they deserve equal protection and ability to continue hosting their works in OTW spaces, regardless of content. Instead of removing content, the OTW should instead place its focus on providing more ways for fans to curate their own experience and avoid content they do not wish to see.

One thought to “Nicole Abraham 2020 Q&A: AO3 Content Policy and Warnings”

  1. It’s understamdably a large and difficult task to think about a whole new manageable system, but surely with so many fans, especially black fans, not only feeling unwelcome enough to leave but solutionising ways of changing things, it can’t be enough to say that those fans aren’t worth the task.

    It is on most parts a great system to have people tag their own content but creators will not always be aware of their own biases or have any interest in protecting certain people from triggering content.

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