AO3 News

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Since May 3rd, the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) — the nonprofit behind AO3, Fanlore, and other projects — has been dealing with malicious attacks aimed at the organization and its volunteers. We wanted to share with you some of what's been happening, as well as what we're doing to contain it, and how it may affect our response times to your inquiries and our workload in general. Above all, we need to ask for your patience, because these are complicated times for all of us at the OTW.

An unknown attacker has been sending our volunteers threatening emails with illegal child sexual abuse material (CSAM), which has been reported to several law enforcement authorities.

These attacks have not affected AO3 user accounts or accounts on any other OTW projects, or OTW donor data. At this time we have no reason to believe that emails or other private user data whatsoever associated with AO3 or any of our other projects have been exposed to any external bad actors.

We've already alerted the relevant authorities, and we're seeking legal advice on how best to proceed. Protecting our volunteers and safeguarding this investigation is our top priority right now, which means we've shut down a number of internal tools necessary to do our work effectively. This was done to better protect our volunteers from further threats.

As a consequence of this, changes and announcements that had been planned for the next few weeks are likely to be delayed. You can expect delays in response times for all OTW teams. Please note:

  • AO3 Tag Wrangling's planned changes for Dream SMP fandoms will be delayed. New tags will not be wrangled until a later time.
  • AO3 Support, Open Doors, and Policy & Abuse responses are all likely to take much longer than usual. The same applies to Fanlore teams.
  • Responses to queries sent to OTW Legal, including DMCA Takedown Notices, may be delayed.
  • OTW donation gifts may be delayed.
  • OTW recruitment is suspended until further notice.
  • The OTW's social media posting schedule will be reduced for most outlets.

There have been no changes to the following:

  • The OTW election timeline will remain unchanged.
  • AO3 invitations for new users are being sent out normally.

Please be patient with us at this time. We are trying our best to keep our projects running as smoothly as possible while also keeping our volunteers — without whom none of these projects would exist — safe. Thank you so much for your understanding and support.

(One final note: we've disabled comments on all our news posts for the time being for security reasons. If you need to get in touch with us, please use the Support and Feedback form, but bear in mind that responses will likely be delayed.)

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In recent weeks, there have been intense conversations about long-standing issues with racism in fandom, as well as the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) and Archive of Our Own (AO3)'s roles in this problem. We have received valid criticism for not showing our commitment earlier and numerous requests to clarify our position. We would therefore like to take a moment to address our users and fandom at large.

The OTW stands against racism and discrimination in all its forms. We apologize to anyone who has suffered from our inaction in making the OTW and AO3 a better environment for Black fans and fans of color. And we apologize especially to users who, due to this very inaction, have felt unwelcome on AO3. We also apologize to the scholars whose work we cited out of context, leading to their harassment and distress.

We have heard your voices and feedback; we vow to do better in the future, as outlined in our initial response plan below.

Upcoming AO3 changes

AO3 was designed specifically with maximum inclusivity of content in mind, and we remain committed to that principle. When it comes to which fanworks are allowed on AO3, there will always be significant tension between maximum inclusivity of content and making the Archive a welcoming space for all fans.

We can, however, do a better job of helping users curate their own experience on AO3 and avoid works they do not wish to see. We can also implement more tools to prevent and combat harassment. In the coming months, we plan to prioritize our ongoing work on several changes to give users greater control of their AO3 experience:

  • Providing work creators more control over comments on their works by offering the ability to freeze specific comment threads or turn off comments entirely. The option to turn off comments will be on the posting and editing forms for individual works and on the Edit Multiple Works page, alongside the existing options to turn off guest comments and/or turn on comment moderation.
  • Improving collection searching and filtering to make searching collections by fandom return collections that include bookmarks in the specified fandom. This will help users build and locate curated spaces within AO3 using the collections feature.
  • Improving admin tools behind the scenes to facilitate investigations by our Policy & Abuse team.
  • Reviewing our Terms of Service and potentially drafting revisions that will allow our Policy & Abuse team to address different types of harassment not covered under the current Terms of Service.
  • Reassessing current warnings and discussing the possibility of implementing others in the future. This is an extremely complex issue in terms of definition, implementation, and sustainable enforcement. It is not one that will be quickly or easily addressed, but we are discussing all possibilities in detail.
  • We will also continue our design work on additional features like user muting and blocking and explore other possibilities like saved searches to filter out certain works, tag muting, or taking user-added bookmark tags into account with filtering.

The above list is by no means comprehensive—we are committed to continuing to develop features that will improve our users' experience of the Archive and put them in control.

Upcoming OTW changes

Ongoing conversations have brought to light a need for us to reconsider the way we recognize and deal with issues that some of our volunteers may experience. To ensure that all voices are heard, we have opened new channels to allow for more open, honest feedback from our volunteers, and will use this feedback to identify areas in which the OTW most urgently needs to do better.

From this, we hope to build a long-term strategy that will include specific internal goals and structural improvements, which can be further divided into clear, actionable steps that we can incorporate into our upcoming Strategic Plan. As part of this, we will be considering various avenues including, but not limited to, reaching out to an external contractor or partnering with an advocacy group, and will be actively researching credible resources in the coming months.

We recognize that this careful approach will take time as we need to make sure any steps are taken responsibly and with a clear scope and objective, while also keeping up with the other duties and obligations of OTW governance. However, we believe that it is an important step to take in creating a stronger OTW for all.

Next steps

We realize that these issues and ideas are not new. We have heard these criticisms before and failed to meet many fans' expectations. We also understand that these measures are only small steps. Unfortunately, this is a complex issue with no easy answers and no simple solutions. This means that it isn't something we can fix with funding alone. We must be mindful when implementing any features or policies to consider their ramifications carefully, so that changes do not end up compounding existing problems.

Even in cases where we can't meet particular requests due to practical considerations, we will listen and consider them, and assess whether we can accomplish the same goals via other means.

We once again apologize for our shortcomings and remain, as always, open to hearing from you. We would like to offer our sincere thanks to all those who have taken the time to discuss this issue and contact us about it, and we welcome all feedback, now and always. The OTW is made by fans for fans, and we are always open to hearing fans' thoughts on what we're doing and how we could do better.

The OTW Board of Directors
OTW Chairs & Leads

The OTW Board of Directors can be reached for direct feedback and further suggestions via email.

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Published:
2016-01-26 01:43:38 UTC
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Banner by Diane with the outlines of a man and woman speaking with word bubbles, one of which has the OTW logo and the other which says 'OTW Announcement'

The OTW Board of Directors has approved changes to the Archive of Our Own’s Terms of Service and Frequently Asked Questions. Proposed additions in bold; bracketed to be deleted.

This post marks the start of a two-week public comment period. Your comments and questions will be reviewed in order to evaluate whether further changes need to be made.

Thank you for your assistance.

III. Archive Privacy Policy

E. What we will do:

1. We may collect personally identifying information when you register for a user account with the Archive, visit any of the Archive sites, or use any of the Archive services. We may use third-party services to store, process, or transmit data, or perform other technical functions related to operating the site. These services may include spam detectors, backup services, icon hosting, and e-mail services. We endeavor to use only services with comprehensive privacy policies but cannot guarantee their performance. We or the services we use may store or process your personally identifying information in data centers which may be located in the United States or other countries.

2. We will use your e-mail address internally, and if you make it public on the site, anyone can access it and use it for any purpose. We may occasionally send e-mails to you from the Archive. We reserve the right to send you notice of complaints or violations [or suspensions] of the Terms of Service, as well as to reply to any e-mail message you send to the Archive.

3. We may retain:

a. the e-mail addresses of those who communicate with us via e-mail;
b. user-specific information about what pages users access or visit;
c. the IP address of each visitor to our sites;
d. any information that a person sends to OTW or Archive e-mail addresses (i.e., any e-mail to an administrator or other official address).

….

V. Assorted Policies

A. Collections, Challenges, and Exchanges

Archive users may create collections and encourage other users to submit fanworks to those collections. The collection maintainer can set any constraints they want on the collection, including rules about anonymous works (see A.4 below) but must otherwise follow the content policy (e.g., if the collection content is explicit, it should be marked as “explicit” or “choose not to rate”). The collection maintainer may be able to ask users for suggestions for new fanworks (“prompts”), collect prompts, match participants with prompts (including contacting them via the contact information provided to the Archive or to the collection maintainer), and show the prompts on the Archive, following the general rules governing works on the Archive. Where collection rules allow, prompts may be anonymous or limited-visibility, as detailed in A.4 and A.5 below.

A challenge maintainer can communicate with challenge participants. The challenge maintainer may have access to participants’ email addresses for this purpose.

FAQ:

Assorted Specialized Policies

Collections

What do you mean by "collections"?

Collections are groups of works collected together under one heading. Collections can be fic or art fests, exchanges, 'big bangs' matching artists, authors, and/or podficcers, or other types of creative challenges, as well as simple collections of fanworks chosen by the collection maintainer. Learn more about collections.

What information can the collection/challenge maintainer see about participants?

The maintainer can see prompts as well as the username and email address that participants use to sign up, in case the maintainer needs to communicate with participants.

What's the point of having separate rules for collections/challenges?

The rules are basically the same as for everything else on the Archive. This just allows another way to group fanworks by areas of interest. There is one important special rule: if the collection maintainer says in the rules that submissions are final, then you can't withdraw your contribution from the collection, though you can always orphan it. We put this rule in place to allow gift exchanges. Ordinarily, removing a fanwork from the Archive is sad, but it's up to you. But when you've added a fanwork as a gift, and possibly received a fanwork as a gift in return, we think it's fair to say that the other participants should continue to enjoy the benefit of your contribution. In those cases, orphaning allows you to sever your connection with the fanwork while not removing it from the collection. This policy was based on prior experience with the Yuletide Rare Fandoms gift exchange.

I think my fanwork would be perfect for a collection, but the maintainer won't add it to the collection!

Unless there's an independent violation of the Content Policy, we won't intervene in collection decisions, even if they are arbitrary, biased, or wrong. You may want to add tags to your fanwork that will be of interest to people who are fans of relevant collections.

How can I start a collection?

Please consult our Tutorials. Please note that participants may provide information to the maintainer for purposes of participating in a collection or challenge. Any use of this information other than to manage the collection or challenge is a violation of our Terms of Service and can result in the termination of the maintainer's account.

Other Changes

 

Can orphaning be reversed?

Usually not. [If you orphan a work inadvertently, or wish to rewrite it and repost under your name, and you can verify your identity as the author in a way we consider reliable enough, we may be able to reverse the orphaning. But orphaning may be irreversible in some cases,] Orphaning is irreversible in most cases, so please use this option carefully.

What if what I want to post isn’t similar to one of the examples listed in the Terms of Service FAQ?

In general, you can post any non-ephemeral, transformative content that is fannish in nature. If you have doubts about any particular examples and you don’t want to risk posting it, you can always contact our [Support] Abuse team to ask, using the [Support] Abuse form.

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Published:
2013-02-25 18:17:12 UTC
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There has been a very active and thoughtful response to our recent announcement in favor of allowing meta on the AO3. We'd like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to everyone for raising their concerns, showing their support, and otherwise engaging with us as we work to define our policies, refine our processes, and improve our communication. In addition, we'd like to respond to a number of the issues raised and clarify how this decision was reached and what the process will be from this point forward.

For the purposes of this and the previous post, the term "meta" refers to nonfictional fanworks in all media. While text-based nonfiction fanworks have been a frequent focus, this decision and the surrounding commentary is meant to encompass fanworks in all media; this is one reason why multimedia hosting, posting, and filtering will be referenced frequently in conjunction with the decision to support meta.

There is still a long way to go before meta can be fully supported on the AO3, and we will address a number of the concerns about implementation and timing below. Determining how meta should be supported — for example, the details of how multimedia hosting on the AO3 will ultimately look — is a matter for our committees and users to decide through committee collaboration and user input. However, determining whether supporting meta on the Archive is consonant with the OTW’s mission falls squarely within the Board’s purview and duty.

History of the discussion

When the initial question of meta was posed to Board, it was framed as a request for clarification on whether meta fell under transformative works as we defined them for the AO3, and how to proceed with reports of meta as a violation of our Terms of Service (ToS). The Board voted last August to send the meta issue back to the committees for more discussion, in the hope that the committees could work out among themselves issues that the Board had found insoluble. The decision called for balancing the competing concerns of several committees, and the Board had been unable to reach a satisfactory agreement. However, the execution of that plan dragged on for months as we dealt with Board member hiatuses, resignations, and appointments on top of other day-to-day business, and the vote was never put into action.

When the Board reconvened in 2013, we initially had intended to continue with the plan set out by the 2012 Board, but we quickly realized that — partly as a result of the Board’s dramatically changed composition and partly because of a new focus on clarifying the Board's purview — we no longer felt it to be the best course of action. We looked at the conversations that had been happening within and outside the organization for the previous six months and came to the conclusion that it was in the best interests of both our users and our personnel that a basic decision be made as soon as possible, rather than occupy staff and volunteer time in further stretching out a question that we felt it was our responsibility as Board to settle: the question of the scope of the OTW and AO3's missions with respect to meta.

We had many users who had been waiting all that time to find out if their meta could stay on the Archive, and several committees who needed a determination in order to perform their duties. We took a fresh vote, which was unanimously in favor of interpreting the OTW and AO3's missions as inclusive of owing meta the same protections and support as other fanworks. Once that vote had been taken, sending the issue back to committees for a discussion that would not have changed the Board’s stance would have been disingenuous. We felt it was preferable to state a firm decision and engage the committees in determining how best to carry it out.

We are aware that the Board's decision seemed very abrupt to people both inside and outside the OTW, and we acknowledge that more transparency would have been preferable. The Board’s overall workload and the emotional burnout many of us have experienced as a result of the length and intensity of the meta discussion were obstacles that prevented us from communicating effectively. We regret our shortcomings in this area and will strive to do better in the future; we are working to reduce workload and burnout and clarify policies and purview in an effort to prevent this from recurring.

We are committed to fully engaging committees and users in determining how the decision will be implemented, and a revised Archive TOS and FAQ are currently being drafted under the leadership of the Content Policy Workgroup. As with other TOS and FAQ revisions, they will be posted for public comment before they are formally adopted.

Replies to some questions and concerns

We recognize that this decision will not be popular with all users, members, or even OTW personnel. Conversely, the choice to allow meta — and turning over the ability to define and craft specific policy to our committees — is a decision many support. The concerns raised by those leaving comments are ones the Board spent a great deal of time discussing, and we are happy to share our reasoning and to continue answering questions to the best of our ability. Here are some responses to common concerns and questions:

  • Meta does not require new code to be hosted in its bare form — unlike image or video hosting no new code is required for a basic level of service. For example, a nonfiction essay can be uploaded just like a fictional story, or a meta comic can be linked just like a fictional one is now, or a vid focused on commenting on the canon can be embedded like vids that build fictional narratives currently are. While there are ways the AO3 could be better organized to deliver meta, a basic level of hosting is already available.
  • The AO3 is intended to eventually have filtering based on work type/medium, allowing meta to be found and filtered. The intention is to expand the AO3 functionality to better host non-textual fanworks (e.g. vids, podfics, art, etc.), and the most-requested behaviors with respect to meta (filtering, tagging, etc.) all intersect with what will be in place for multimedia hosting and posting.
  • Refusing to host meta and waiting until we have sufficient code for works types would unduly punish users who have already posted meta works in good faith. In addition to posting meta based on good-faith interpretation of the TOS, users have been posting many types of works the AO3 is not strictly prepared to deal with on a technical and usability level, which includes meta of all media and most non-textual fanworks. Allowing and encouraging users to post all types of fanworks has been a cornerstone of the AO3's philosophy as an archive, and it would be disingenuous and unfair to punish one type of fanwork or creator but not others on this basis.
  • While text-based meta faces much less legal challenge than some other fanwork types, it still faces other challenges such as loss of hosting due to failing archives or discontinued blogging platforms. Non-text-based meta, such as meta art and vids, shares many of the same legal challenges as other non-text-based fanworks.
  • Fans should be able to archive all their fanworks together. Besides this general principle, there are specific instances of at-risk archives that include meta fanworks. Grandfathering in previously posted meta or disallowing meta except for that taken in through Open Doors leads to an inconsistent policy likely to cause confusion, conflict, and difficulty in enforcement.

We hope this answers some of your comments and concerns. We welcome further input and look forward to working with our personnel and our users in continuing to welcome a broad range of fannish endeavors under the OTW umbrella.

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Published:
2013-02-15 19:05:33 UTC
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After a long period of discussion, the OTW Board has voted to allow the posting of meta on the Archive of Our Own. We considered a range of issues while making this decision, including how this move would fit into the overall mission of the OTW, the technical and financial resources required, and demand from users of the Archive and members of the OTW. We determined that there is already a demand for meta on the Archive, and that this use of our resources is consonant with our purview and mission.

We're aware that this decision has taken some time, and we sincerely apologize for the delay. We had hoped to reach a decision sooner, but the complexity of the discussion meant we needed to think carefully about the issues. As the term of some OTW Board members ended while the discussion was ongoing, we also needed time for the new Board members to get up-to-speed with all the issues involved.

What will happen next?

Agreeing to include meta on the Archive is just the first step in this journey. The Board will now work with all related committees to define exactly how meta will be handled. Our committees, including AD&T (which will be doing the work on the technical side), Abuse, Support, and others, will be working with our Content Policy workgroup to design a workable policy.

One of the main tasks ahead of us is to agree on some definitions and policies. We need to agree on definitions that are usable and enforceable. While any category is inevitably fuzzy, we want to preserve the Archive as a site for fanworks (so for example, we don't want it to become a general blogging site). Once we've agreed on these definitions, our committees will have a whole range of tasks ahead of them, including:

  • Drafting revisions to our Terms of Service and FAQ. Revisions to the Archive TOS will be subject to a public review period (as detailed under Section IB of the TOS) before becoming final.
  • Determining technical plans for making meta more accessible. We are already planning changes to posting and browsing on the Archive to allow for multimedia hosting. We do not expect meta to require any additional coding to implement beyond what will be required for these changes, and allowing meta won't change the existing prioritization of these features, but we will need to factor it into our design.
  • Determining tagging policies to allow for multimedia and meta browsing.

What will be allowed?

Our Content Policy workgroup will be posting guidelines on what will fall under the 'meta' category and the policies which will apply to it in the next two weeks.

What does this mean for me?

Going forward, we hope that this will mean you can find and enjoy fannish meta more easily (and screen it out if you're not interested).

If you currently have meta posted on the Archive, or you plan to post some in the near future, you should be aware that our policies are still being finalized. As action on existing meta posts was suspended while Board deliberated on this issue, in the coming months some users may be contacted in connection to how their posts fit the new policies. We recommend that users wait until these policies are made public before putting a lot of effort into new meta posts. However, we hope that, long term, meta writers will feel their contributions to the archive are welcome and can join other fanworks in finding an audience at the AO3.

Thoughts?

If you have thoughts and feedback you'd like us to consider, we ask that you comment here on the AO3 version of this post, to make it easier for the various committees involved to answer you and collate your replies.

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