Rebecca Sentance 2019 Q&A: Group 2

Is there anything about the AO3’s Terms of Service or how they’re currently applied that you think should be modified?

The Archive of Our Own has a well-thought-out, comprehensive, and accessible set of Terms of Service that are designed to uphold AO3’s core values: maximum inclusivity, transparency, the defense of fanworks in all their forms, and non-commercialism. I agree wholeheartedly with these values and do not wish to change them or interfere with how they are upheld.

Furthermore, I don’t believe it falls within the purview of the Board of Directors – let alone a single member of the Board – to unilaterally decide that the Terms of Service for AO3, or how they are applied, should be modified. AO3’s Terms of Service are a legally binding document that was carefully crafted by the OTW’s Legal team, and their enforcement on the site is determined and enacted by the Policy & Abuse committee. They should only undergo changes or additions in very rare circumstances, such as the updates that were made last year to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and while the Board would help to implement and oversee the changes, they would only be carried out after extensive and close consultation with Legal, Policy & Abuse, and other key parties such as the Accessibility, Design & Technology team.

If members of the Board were to make changes to AO3’s Terms of Service due to some personal issue with how the site is run, and without consulting the aforementioned committees, it would seriously undermine our users’ trust in the Archive and its values, as well as making it actively difficult for committees like Policy & Abuse to ensure the smooth running of the Archive. In short, I don’t think it would be appropriate, productive or right for me as a prospective Board member to advocate making changes to AO3’s Terms of Service, and neither would I want to see them altered.

What are your thoughts on AO3’s policy to allow any and all fannish content including RPF and fanworks featuring abusive or otherwise dark themes?

As I mentioned in my response to the previous question, I am in agreement with AO3’s core value of maximum inclusivity of content. This was one of the founding values of the Archive, and is what sets AO3 apart from many of the other websites and archives that take a more restrictive approach to content. That is their prerogative, but the reason AO3 was created was to provide a safe haven for fans and fanworks without commercial considerations, or restrictions on what type of content can be posted, as long as it is legal under United States law.

This approach was taken in response to ventures that tried to commercialise fanworks, like the website FanLib, as well as incidents like Strikethrough and Boldthrough – the nicknames given by fans to the widespread purges of content, much of it fannish, by LiveJournal in 2007. This is why AO3 is called “the Archive of Our Own” – it arose from a need for fans to own and run their own space, and to make sure they wouldn’t one day wake up to find their work eradicated because of commercial considerations, or because certain groups found it objectionable.

This policy does mean that AO3 hosts many fanworks featuring dark themes, including abuse, as well as Real Person Fiction (RPF), which not all fans are in favour of. Many would like AO3 to refuse to host these works altogether. But to do so would go directly against the values that AO3 was founded upon. Furthermore, AO3 has a robust system of tags and content warnings that are designed to allow users to search for and filter out any content they don’t wish to encounter on the Archive. We encourage people to use the tools on AO3 to curate their fannish experience in this way.

What are your thoughts on internet censorship and freedom of expression? Does the OTW have a role to play in that ongoing conversation? If yes, what role?

As an organisation that was founded to defend fannish freedoms, the question of freedom of expression is central to the OTW. The OTW was created, to paraphrase Cesperanza, to allow fans to “own the goddamn servers” – because fans cannot be completely free in spaces controlled by corporate interests. As we’ve seen time and again with websites like LiveJournal, Tumblr, and, our permission to exist in these spaces can be revoked at any time, without warning.

I therefore believe that the OTW has a role to play in this conversation by maintaining inclusive spaces for fans where they can express themselves freely – even when, as I mentioned previously, this can involve defending content that many find objectionable. AO3 exists as a site where fanworks of any kind, as long as they are legal, can find a home; Fanlore similarly archives fan history of every kind, and considers every fannish perspective worth preserving. Our Legal team also works to ensure that fans aren’t hindered by restrictive copyright laws when they create fanworks.

Censorship is an even more serious restriction of freedoms, as it involves a government or other authority removing or regulating works that are deemed unacceptable to that authority. This can have incredibly grave consequences for fans, as we saw most recently with the suspension of Chinese fiction platforms. The OTW also has a role to play here in providing a haven for fans who are affected by censorship.

There are many strands to the ongoing conversation about freedom of expression and censorship – too many to explore here in depth. However, when it comes to fandom, I believe that the OTW will always stand in defence of fannish freedoms, and will continue working to ensure that they are protected through its projects and its advocacy.

There have been a few pressing issues, specifically the translation of the archive, and the incorporation of fanart as a category, that keep coming up during elections but are never given a concrete timeframe to be held accountable to. What will you do specifically to provide transparency to users waiting for these issues?

The translation of AO3’s interface and the introduction of multimedia hosting are both features that the OTW is very excited about not just being able to bring to users, but being able to use ourselves. As an international organisation and one that creates all kinds of fanworks, we can’t wait for these features to become a reality.

However, AO3 is run on a minimal budget and volunteer labour, and although we try to plan as much as possible for the longer term, most of our efforts and resources go towards making sure the Archive is stable and reliable and can support its expanding userbase. The Accessibility, Design & Technology (AD&T) committee is actively working towards implementing these features, but needs to balance them with other bug fixes and deployments, all while dealing with any unexpected issues or downtime.

The translation of the Archive and multimedia hosting are also complex undertakings from the perspective of the wider OTW. Multimedia hosting, for example, will require new procedures for Support and Policy & Abuse, plus additional help documentation drafted by AO3 Documentation. Visual media also raises an entirely new set of considerations from a legal perspective, particularly with regard to copyright and explicit content. Co-ordinating all of these changes across the organisation involves a significant time investment, which is why the timeline for rolling out something like multimedia hosting is longer than many people realise.

If elected to the Board, I will make sure that the AD&T and Systems teams have as much support as they need to work towards implementing these features, while helping to lay the groundwork for the wider OTW changes that are required. I will also ensure our userbase is kept informed as and when we have concrete developments to share – which we will be very excited to do.