Comment on August 2020 Newsletter, Volume 149

  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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