Qiao C’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?

1) The first project that I would like to focus on is the multilingual interface project listed on the org’s roadmap. I believe this is an important step to improve language diversity. Not only can the Archive better serve its purpose of preserving works written in different languages, but users will be much more willing to participate in OTW projects when they are in a language environment they are comfortable with. This project may take considerable time to be completed and I will keep an eye on it as long as I volunteer for OTW.
2) As a decade-long AO3 user and tag wrangler, I have noticed that our search function for some languages does not work very well. In general, for a language without spaces in the sentence, the search function regards each character (e.g., Hanzi, Kana, and Hangul) as a separate keyword, making it less functional than it should be. I hope this can be fixed in the foreseeable future.
3) We have a very expansive tag system to help people filter out fandoms, characters, relationships, or tropes they don’t want to see in a fanwork. We also recently enabled block and mute functions to make it easier to avoid specific users (which was very useful for me! Thanks to the AD & T committee). I am very interested in adding persistent tag filters into the Archive, which has proved to be very useful in my fandom experiences.

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

1) I don’t have any strong opinions on adding major archive warnings. Our considerations on whether a warning can become a mandatory one often are first, how practical it is to enforce and second, whether it aligns with the AO3’s general policy to encourage people to label their works however they want. There might also be legal concerns about whether reading fanworks containing certain content is illegal in certain countries. Those discussions together would mean that it would take a very long time to actually make a new mandatory warning come true.
2) As a tag wrangler, though, I would like our users to be aware that Incest and Slavery have always been common tags and can be used to filter out works. It’s a much more convenient path, during the long-term discussions of adding major archive warnings.

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

Personally, I wouldn’t read fanfic or kudo fanart generated by AI technology. When it comes to OTW, however, things are much more complicated than my own preference.
1) On one hand, I am in strong agreement with our attitude against AI scraping because it is done without users’ permission; however, it’s well-known that there are several existing AI writing bots that have already included the Archive in their training databases regardless of our protest.
2) On the other hand, if OTW disallows AI works, it would be hard to actually execute such a ban, because we are not equipped with technology to precisely distinguish human writing from AI writing. Recent news even reports that most technologies that claim to “detect AI works” typically label English works written by non-native English speakers as AI generated text.
A temporary solution at this moment, in my opinion, is to ask the Tag Wrangling committee to canonize a common freeform tag like “AI-generated Fanwork” for people to filter out. I suggest a freeform tag instead of a major archive warning here because the latter takes a very long time to realize, and will pose challenges for PAC to enforce.

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?

1) A sensible, or implementable temporary policy given our current capacity is to build a common No Fandom freeform tag (instead of a major Archive warning tag because the latter takes a long time to realize) like “AI-generated work” for people to filter out such content. When we have this done, we should promote it to encourage usage of the tag.
2 & 3) Given the rapidly developing technology, I think “banning” AI works is virtually impossible for a fiction platform to execute. Technology giants are now spending billions of dollars to study how to make AI think and write like humans (though this is not a very accurate or thorough description of what they are actually doing). The rapidly evolving AI technology will only make detecting and identifying harder for the Policy and Abuse Committee (PAC), as time goes by. It is impossible to train humans to identify AI works with a read-through, and tech that claims to “detect AI works” is also not reliable. Such attempts to regulate AI works would only be in vain.

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?

1) I completely support the maximum inclusivity of fanworks.
2) Yes, as long as they are legal under US law.
3-a) Personally I don’t read any AI-generated works, but when it comes to the Archive, as it is impossible to precisely distinguish AI-generated from human-written, we can only accept their existence. A temporary solution at this moment is to make a “AI-generated Fanwork” common tag to help people filter them out.
3-b) We don’t pre-screen any content, including for racism and other controversial topics; we can’t censor the author’s writing intention either, whether such intention (clearly stated or not) is posted in the Archive or elsewhere. We will take action towards those who are openly hostile towards other people or groups of people. I think we could have a more flexible approach in identifying harassment (as in Content and Abuse Policy) to make the environment safer for all groups of users of the Archive.
4) I can’t speak for users from another country which recently banned AO3, but in the country I am more familiar with – the ban is not related to contents hosted on AO3. It’s not a result of a specific work, or a fandom, or a major or minor warning (I assume this refers to common freeform tag) in the Archive, but due to domestic considerations.

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?

I don’t think we would ever allow users to delete other users’ bookmarks. Allowing authors to respond to bookmarks sounds like a misuse of the bookmark function. I assume such proposals are motivated by unfriendly, if not harassing, comments or tags on bookmarks. In light of reducing harassment rather than suppressing reader to reader communication, it makes more sense if, once a user is blocked or muted by another user, all their bookmarks for the works posted by the user who blocked them will be set automatically to private for everyone. I think this would be an improvement on the block and mute functions that we already have, while not harming the intended functions of bookmarkers.

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?

From my experience in reading and editing Wikipedia, as well as our Fanlore volunteers’ explanations:
1) Anyone with an account can write, edit, correct errors or add additional perspectives on Fanlore. I have witnessed editing wars very often on Wikipedia which is kind of inevitable due to its nature. In contrast to Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View policy, though, Fanlore has the Plural Point of View (PPoV) policy which states that personal experiences and interpretations are of interest and should be recorded. So criticisms towards certain fanworks or individual persons might be allowed according to the PPoV policy.
When encountering negative criticism, one of the solutions would be to make it possible for editors to add more warning labels to the page; they should also discuss in Talk pages which warnings would be useful. Fanlore staff tends to flag content problems instead of “fixing” them when they are personally unfamiliar with the topic of the content. Fanlore is a collaborative project and would work better when more editors join.
2) I rarely encounter such cases as a tag wrangler. However, I am aware that the resources should be a necessity for our volunteers and are currently insufficient. I would discuss with our experts and look for proper resources to better support our community.

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?

The OTW-Archive software is open source code, so we are glad to see it help more people in setting up their own archives. We are in support of fanworks preservation no matter which platform it happens on. However, the priority for our AD&T and Systems committees is always the Archive and other OTW projects, since this is what our members donate for and what we promise to them. In the future, when we have the structure and functions of the Archive optimized, have the defense against cyber attack enhanced, and our coders are eventually free from their mountain-high pile of tasks, we would be willing to provide more help to people in adapting our code, to make it easier to install it to a self-hosted archive.

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?

Comment spam has always been a concern on AO3 and previously, OpenID was indeed an available option to help users comment without logging in to their AO3 account. We removed this option some while ago, mostly because compared to the coding work we need to put in to maintain OpenID running, the actual users of this option are few. Such a function also was not reducing spam efficiently. While there is no perfect solution to the comment spam so far, I would always keep an eye on it and actively discuss with the AD & T committee on this issue.

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.

1) In most cases, active fandoms are wrangled by wranglers who are familiar with the canon and fanon. However, fannish is different among fans speaking different languages. For example in JoJo fandom, there is a very popular Chinese fanon as “Villain House” (Araki Sou, originated from Japanese fanon) which is relatively unfamiliar to English fans. Usually (and ideally), a wrangling team consists of wranglers who speak the languages that are frequently used in that specific fandom, so tags could be wrangled accurately and in time. A wrangling team could recruit internally for specific language speaking wranglers for help at any time.
2) I do support speeding up wrangling speed whenever it is possible. However, this is not decided by the chairs of the Tag Wrangling committee or by the Board of directors, but by the wrangling team of a certain fandom. If a fandom is slow on wrangling tags, it’s mostly because either the fandom is very small and currently not noticed by and assigned to any wranglers, or the fandom is large and so active that the wrangling team is struggling to keep up with tag generation speed.
Currently our expectation for assigned fandoms is that new tags should be wrangled within a month. Freeforms within a fandom, however, need to meet Rule of 3 (used by 3 different users) to be canonized, and will probably take longer to be noticed by wranglers after they reach RO3. If users think their fandom is slow on wrangling tags, they can submit a support ticket to request their tags to be wrangled. For unassigned fandoms, we have projects aimed at wrangling per users’ requests. For assigned and active fandoms, if the wrangling team asks for additional help in the workspace, there are always wranglers willing to offer help.