Comment on August 2020 Newsletter, Volume 149

  1. Or you can offer to put a fence between the wolves and the sheep, ie enforceable warnings. Works have to be clicked through to read; if readers are properly warned about what's in a fic, they won't click through and expose themselves to "wolves".

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    1. Yeah, enforceable warnings would be a much better solution. There's no clear line between "sheep" and "wolves" on an anonymous platform. Anyone can pretend to be someone they're not, but it's also horrible to force them to "prove" it. And people's definition of who is a sheep and who is a wolf can be very different. It's not going to remain only about the very clear-cut cases of racism if we allow for the removal of works/authors we don't like.

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      1. Yes, you both are right about that. But then this is still a problem and AO3 still needs to put better "fences" (I know they are working on it) and people have a rightful right to complain.

        You make a very good point on the fact that there’s no clear line between sheep and wolves on an anonymous platform. Hadn’t thought of that :(
        And the line is very thin between racist works and works that have racist things in it without being racist and it would be way too long to look at them individually
        Though, saying racist things is illegal in most country, I don’t think it should be characterized as "works/authors we don’t like". But that’s not the point and I agree that the better way to do things with a platform such as AO3 is to create warnings, etc.

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        1. saying racist things is illegal in most country

          I don't think this is true... Many countries have laws about hate speech, but not all racist speech is categorized as hate speech. By most definitions, hate speech has to encourage violence against a person or group. The laws have wording such as "to incite hatred and persecution", "incites discrimination, hatred, or violence", etc.
          That's stuff like advocating genocide, or trying to rally a hate mob to go attack someone, or rallying a hate mob to deny rights to certain people. Milder racist speech such as "I don't like X people because they are [stereotype]" doesn't fit this definition and is usually legal.

          They're still hurtful things to say, but they're protected by law because they aren't calling for specific action. On top of that, while AO3 is international, it operates based on US law, in which hate speech is legal unless it calls for immediate harm of a person. It has to be perceived as an immediate threat. There's a lot of debate on changing that, but as the law stands now, saying racist things is legal.

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          1. Oh damn I had no idea the US law was like that? This whole thing makes much more sense to me knowing that. If even their country doesn't punish racist speech, why would AO3...

            I am currently in France and it is very illegal to say something racist lmao. "Any outrageous expression, term of contempt or invective addressed to a person or a group of person based on their origin" is punishable by 1 year of jail and a 45k fine if public (internet is considered public) and 1,5k if private (source, in french: http://egalitecontreracisme.fr/ce-que-dit-la-loi). By example, saying "go back to your country, n****", or any other insult, or even defamation, counts. Of course, a lot of people say that and nobody takes any legal action but if it's, by example, on the internet it can be brought up later and give you some serious problem.

            I really didn't know it was so different in others countries, the more you know, uh. Since AO3 follows US laws I guess the debate is closed, they have no obligation to make it any different.

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            1. Ah, well, I guess the debate now is whether AO3 *should* be more strict than US law.

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              1. If we're talking about AO3 requiring warnings, then it's not really a matter of law-- they require Major Character Death, for example, even when it's things that wouldn't be illegal even in real life, like a character dying of old age. Warning tags, I'd think, would be considered under the same sort of principles that all tags are:

                1. It is a useful tag? Meaning, will users use it, and will it be used in a way that is helpful for readers trying to sort fics, find fics, exclude fics, etc? The Abuse Team also can not forcibly apply warning tags when they are missing (they only select Creator Chooses Not to Warn), so writers specifically have to use the tag, or it's useless.

                2. Because it's an official warning tag, meaning the Abuse Team would have to make rulings about where it's missing, can it be defined and enforced in a way that is practical?

                I'm not sold that the answer to either of these questions is yes, for something like a racism warning. This is not denying that there are racist fanworks on AO3; this is not denying there aren't maliciously trolling assholes who post works with the n word in the title/tags purely to upset people. And that is absolutely terrible and unfair to fans of color. But if the end goal is making the space safer for fans of color, then how helpful is a warning tag that promises that safety, when in reality it can't be enforced or isn't used on works where it would apply? I think that would actually make things /worse/, because fans of color would try to exclude that warning tag from their searches, and then still get a ton of works with content they'd think would be excluded.

                I don't know the answer. I think the question being asked is "how can AO3 better establish itself as an anti-racist space, when fandom is reflection of society, and society itself is racist?" and all I'm sure of is that anyone promising a simple answer to that question is wrong.

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