Comment on August 2020 Newsletter, Volume 149

  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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            1. Good points all around! Though I think the conversation about law was more about why AO3 will not remove offensive works, which they otherwise might have to if they were incorporated in a country with very strict hate speech laws. But anyway...

              1) Will users use it? If we're treating archive warnings on the level of any other tag, then yes. Racism is already tagged in a lot of works. Granted, many of these stories are probably critical of racism, but they contain depictions of it, and therefore it is tagged. This is the case for the other archive warnings as well. Major Character Death doesn't distinguish between grisly murder and dying peacefully of old age. And that's fine, that's the way content warnings should work. They're not there to make value judgments about the content, but just acknowledging that such content is something a large enough portion of people would like to filter. Even if the Abuse Team can't forcibly apply warnings, the fact that they can select Chooses Not to Warn is at least one more tool than we have now.

              2) This is trickier, and I don't have an answer for it, haha... If AO3 were a large corporation, sure, let's set up a whole panel for it. But as a volunteer-run site, I don't know how well it would turn out. I think any enforcement would likely be limited (at least at first) to only the most egregious cases like the obvious trolls, or things that are simple to notice such as the use of racial slurs. Perhaps it might be possible for AO3 to consult experts or partner with other nonprofits that specialize in this sort of thing.

              No matter how it ends up being defined and enforced, it's not going to be able to please everyone. The fact that people are seriously considering how to improve matters is in itself a step forward, though. :)

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            2. New mandatory tags could also be paired with stricter rules about what goes into story summaries and tags (i.e. no racial slurs), as well as adding the ability to block certain users so that their fics don't show up in your personal view. (I am of course not the first person to suggest these, and I understand that they would take time/effort to implement.)

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