Zoë Tucker 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.]

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]

All works that follow the AO3’s Terms of Service (TOS) will be allowed on the Archive. The TOS begins by outlining our goal of maximum inclusiveness, and I personally support our Legal committee’s work to ensure it is possible for the Archive to continue hosting these works and the efforts of our Policy & Abuse committee (PAC) to prevent harassment against creators of upsetting or offensive works. I cannot state strongly enough my belief that under no circumstances should any work be removed or any work creator doxxed or harassed for any TOS-abiding content whatsoever. I care about making sure users have a safe space for their works as well as a safe space for reading. Readers should not be forced to read content they do not want to consume, and authors should not be censured or harassed based on what topics they choose to write about. Our goal as an archive is to give all of our users the tools and resources they need to post and read the works they want to without harassment.

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]

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]

I am committed to maintaining the Choose Not To Warn (CNTW) option. It aligns with my belief that descriptive tags should be an optional tool for our creators to find their audience, rather than a proscriptive set of rules (as I expand upon in my next answer). I believe a CNTW option is helpful for those authors wishing to avoid harassment about tagging their works with a given warning, those who are unsure if a warning fits their work, and those who simply wish to avoid spoilers or otherwise don’t wish to engage with Archive Warnings.

While I understand how adding Racism as an Archive Warning could be beneficial, I don’t think any new Archive Warning tag would be sufficiently beneficial to be worth the cost in volunteer hours to create and implement, especially considering the amount of other actions in which the OTW could invest time instead. It would take cross-committee efforts to decide on a term, how it would be enforced, and to make a decision about legacy works from before the creation of the tag. Implementing such a warning would dramatically increase the work of Policy & Abuse and contribute to burnout as well as increase the time it would take to the team to respond to new reports. We would need to expand and strengthen this team significantly before such could be considered a feasible option.

Racism in particular would still remain an extremely difficult Archive Warning tag to implement. Our current Archive Warnings cover major character death, rape, graphic violence, and underage sex. Each of those involve a specific event happening in the work, which makes it possible for us to make decisions on if a specific event fits into those categories. Racism, however, is an insidious and multi-level problem, and could be anything from a casual comment to explicit acts of violence. Given the difficulty of deciding what is and is not racist among just two people, I don’t aim to define racism or any form of discrimination for our millions of users from hundreds of countries. Some things are racist merely by merit of what is not addressed. Others could be handled in good faith by a person of color/minority group member but would be considered racist if handled by a white person/majority group member. AO3’s Policy & Abuse committee will never have the information needed to make responsible and consistent calls on these issues without knowing the social and cultural norms of each cultural group represented on the Archive, and without knowing the identity of each user. We will not do the latter, and cannot promise the former. Instead, as I lay out in my previous set of Q&A responses, I believe it is important to focus on results-oriented work, and to give users the power to define what is appropriate within their communities with tools such as bookmarks, filters, and user-blocking.

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?

I hope to work towards an AO3 that protects as many people as possible from things they don’t want to see. I view it as a goal to make sure as many users as possible have as safe and comfortable an experience as possible on our Archive. That said, many trauma survivors are not provided the opportunity to provide informed consent before being shown triggering content: no creators are required to use any descriptive tags, and there are many topics that could be presented in a traumatic way that would not be required to be marked as Explicit or Mature or fit into our Archive Warnings.

I believe that no creator should be required to tag their works with anything specific. As per current policy, a user could post both a fluffy drabble and an explicit, triggering work marked as Not Rated and Choose Not to Warn, and both would be perfectly within our guidelines. What tags a work creator chooses to use is a personal and community choice, but will not be and does not need to be the same choice across all works on the Archive. I view it as a fundamental founding value of the Archive that work creators are not required to use descriptive tags on their works.

What I like about our current tagging system is that it allows people to use the same tag to either avoid or to seek out the same topic, and that it gives users the freedom to use the terms they want to without having to rely on volunteers thinking of those terms beforehand. As a reader, the tagging system has always met my needs with the aid of bookmark tags I can add myself, and the relatively recent addition of exclusion filters has made them work even more effectively for me.

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.

I’m not sure what specifically this question is asking, but I’ll try to answer both options of what I think it might be here.

If this question is asking specifically if I believe we should not allow fanworks of specific canons on the archive, I think it is important to allow people to engage with works in a transformative way on our website, irrespective of the canonical material. Fanworks of offensive canonical material may be used as an avenue to further victimize other people. However, it’s also entirely possible for that fandom to be an arena for those harmed by the original work to explore their response to it. Sometimes it can be difficult even for someone inside of a community to make a determination as to which is the case for a given fandom or work.

If the question is generally asking if I believe there is a way for us to effectively outline criteria for discerning the intent of specific works on the archive in order to determine if fanworks are primarily intended to exist as hate speech, then I do not. There is no way to systematically identify the primary intent of creators for every work that might be reported as racist, which is what would be required in order for our PAC team to constructively moderate works under this given guideline.

In either case, I do not want to put our volunteers in a position of deciding which fandoms or fanworks are morally good or bad. Instead, I hope to use a results-focused and flexible approach to give our users the power to decide for themselves what types of works they do or do not want to see.