AO3 Blocking and Muting
Blocking and Muting are a set of proposed software improvements for the Archive of Our Own. As of June 2022, only the comment blocking feature is currently available on the archive.
Current and Proposed Functionality
In 2021, the OTW laid out its plan to develop features giving users "the ability to block other users from interacting with you, or hide content by users you specify". The functionality would be split into two sets of features: "blocking" would prevent the blocked user from interacting with you, and "muting" would hide archive content or users you don't want to see.
As of June 2022, fan creators can now block specific (logged-in) users from commenting on their works or replying to their comments elsewhere on the site. The announcement indicated that more functionality would be added to the block button in the future.
Visible IDs have also been added to AO3 user accounts; eventually these IDs will be used for the archive's native muting feature, but in the meantime users can create site skins to hide users, works, series, or external works.
In May 2007, Astolat's original post proposing the idea that became AO3 included brainstorming the features needed; one she mentioned was a feature "allowing users to leave comments with the poster able to delete and ban particular users/IPs but not edit comment content (ie, lj style)".
However, banning users from commenting was not implemented in the archive's software for many years, and for a long time the committee in charge allegedly believed that it was not worth doing. A public road map was posted in 2010 and revised in 2013; blocking or muting users or works was not mentioned in either road map.
A 2012 FAQ for new users from fanfiction.net provides clues to site philosophy at a time when the invite queue was overwhelmed and site admins were discovering their code wasn't scalable. The FAQ noted that users could not turn off anonymous comments: "For several reasons, including avoiding the exclusion of users who have not yet been able to get an invite, this is not a preference we offer to authors." Among the 90 comments, no one mentioned this was a problem. (However, this decision was reversed the following year.)
Gossip about the status of the block feature was shared on fail_fandomanon several times. In 2015:
But there is also a culture within their planning that allowing, blocking, filtering out, or anything else seen as negative isn't wanted on the archive - and there's never been a sign of that changing. It was this idea from some very vocal corners, that someone saying they didn't want to see something like say "crossovers" to give a popular example, was judging or denigrating the people who wrote them, so building in a feature to filter that thing out would be the archive agreeing that "crossovers" were something that should be judged.
As of October 2016, someone quoted an OTW communication (AO3 Support email? no date given):
Hahahaha no they never will. Tons of people have already asked AO3 about a block feature, and their standard response seems to be:
We’re aware of a few trolls in certain fandoms, and have indeed considered the issue. However, we’re currently against putting such a system in place for several reasons:
- Username bans are easily circumvented through secondary, “sock” accounts.
- Due to the ease of accessibility of VPNs nowadays, it is incredibly simple for a dedicated troll to circumvent IP blocks. (We have seen several of our trolls use this practice already.)
- Due to distributed proxy systems, such as many mobile download compression assistants, it’s very easy to create false positives and block innocent bystanders.
Meanwhile, in 2014 the official AO3 News tumblr posted an answer to the question "Is there a way to block a user? At the very least prevent their stories from showing up when browsing?":
We don't offer blocking options, unfortunately, and it's unlikely we'll ever add this as a feature. We do understand why some users might want it, but it would complicate our code immensely and affect site performance, so we have to compromise.
In 2016 a user asked about a blocking function, and a volunteer replied, "I know that's on the radar, but it isn't part of this proposed change. If you haven't already let Support know that you desire this as a feature, please do, because we do track interest in features."
In a June 2020 statement on racism and the archive the OTW indicated that they were already considering a blocking feature.
- June 24: An OTW statement made in response to recent racism discussions includes a promise to "continue our design work on additional features like user muting and blocking".
- February 4: AO3 Support responds to a question on the AO3 News post about comment freezing with an update on the status of the blocking feature: "The ability to block a specific user from interacting with you is a planned feature that we have been actively working on developing for the past few months. However, since it is a complex feature that will affect multiple parts of the site, we can't give a specific timeline for when it will be implemented. We will be publishing a news post in the next few weeks which will give a general update on this topic and our progress."
- February 16: AO3-6131: Add user and work IDs to work blurbs to allow muting or highlighting - project ticket created
- February 16: AO3-6132: Add user IDs to series blurbs - project ticket created
- March 14: At the open session of the OTW Board meeting, someone asks for an update on when the blocking feature update would be posted. Answer from the meeting minutes: "At the moment we don’t have an exact date for you but it’s in the process of being finalised and translated"
- March 16: Ticket to add user and work IDs to work blurbs is deployed. Includes the display of the user ID on the user profile page.
- April 1: The OTW posts an official announcement: An update on blocking and muting
- January 6: Ticket to add user IDs to series blurbs is deployed.
- April 7: AO3-6323: Add user ID to comments - project ticket created
- April 10: AO3-6325: Add user ID to bookmarks - project ticket created
- April 11: AO3-6327: Allow users to block other users from commenting - project ticket created
- June 5: The OTW posts an official announcement: Comment blocking is coming
- June 10: Comment blocking feature goes live.
- July 9: AO3-6365: Add interface for muting users via CSS - project ticket created
Early Discussions and Growing Harassment
Fans were discussing the need for blocking or muting for many years before AO3 features were developed.
In a November 2014 fail_fandomanon thread titled "Features you'd add to AO3", several fans listed blocking, although some of the functionality they desired ("Certain authors certain pairings certain tags") is closer to the (proposed) muting feature. In a January 2015 fail_fandomanon thread titled "AO3 wish list", several fans asked for the ability to block other users from commenting.
In 2016 a reddit user asked the AO3 subreddit, "Is it Possible to Block Personally Objectionable Content Through Preferences?" A few comments on a 2017 r/fanfiction post mentioned blacklisting or blocking content on AO3 in answer to the question "What would you change about fanfiction sites?"
As the site grew, so did harassment. Many, many fans have complained about harassment and AO3's failure to address it. In particular, fans of color have described experiencing racist harassment, and some have criticized the OTW for not taking them seriously. Meanwhile, the rise of purity culture led to many complaints that anti-shippers were harassing AO3 users who posted fanworks featuring ships believed to be problematic. Stories have circulated about writers getting chased off the website by persistent trolls (see Shinocchi, for example). Fans have described receiving death threats over the wrong character topping, among other things. In some fandoms like MCYT, strategic mistagging became widespread in part because fans were trying to avoid the attention of haters (they were also trying to avoid mis-wrangled tags and YouTubers looking at fic of themselves).
Many different groups of fans have complained about seeing fanworks on the site that they didn't want to see (such as badfic, NOTPs, underage RPF, slavefic, bigoted trollfic, or unflattering portrayals of their fave). Some people have argued that having better curation tools (such as the proposed muting function) might reduce harassment, as some of the harassment is coming from people being confronted with material that they find upsetting. Trollfic is itself considered by many fans to be a form of harassment, but does not violate AO3's current policies.
If users cannot report stories put there to annoy them, they should, at bare minimum, be able to press a button and not personally see anything from that author ever again. This gives people a lot less of an ability to use AO3 for the purposes of trolling, because the people they're trying to provoke can simply block them. Heck, maybe the antis could even block people with ships or kinks they hate, and we could all be a lot happier. Fandom has always been a group with diverse and often diametrically opposed opinions, and learning to somehow ignore each other and coexist is an extremely important part of fannish culture. It's vital to making everything else in fandom happen. If you're not going to take a moderation stance about actual, unambiguous trolling, you need to GIVE US A BLOCK FEATURE.
After June 2020
After the OTW's June 2020 post indicating that the feature would be developed, fans were also critical about the lack of apparent progress on the features:
Looking forward to another year without a blocking feature despite having more than enough in reserves to pay someone a full time, livable wage to develop it.
eeeiiiggghhh, October 2021
I am genuinely frustrated with sexy times with wangxian. I've spent like an entire minute scrolling through my phone just to get to the end of my tag and the author has misused every tag possible to annoy people. The fact that they update regularly does not help either. I'm not petitioning for ao3 to take down the fic. I'm just asking if it's possible to have an update where we can curate our own searches like how people on twitter can curate their timeline with blocking or muting permanently. The fic is pushing down possibly good fics with its terrible tag length. I've avoided checking out the general tag of MDZS or wangxian just to avoid this fic and stuck to bookmarks of my favorite authors.
Although many fans wanted a blocking feature, not everyone agreed on what users should be able to block:
Please make it possible to block individual users from viewing works thanks.
Fan Responses to 2021 Blocking and Muting Update
The OTW posted an official update describing how they planned to implement the feature: An update on blocking and muting. Many commenters declared their support for the features, especially the idea of separating the functionality of blocking vs. muting, and thanked the OTW for providing the update.
The announcement was posted on April 1, 2021, so some users were initially skeptical and thought it was an April Fool's Day joke. For example: "I really, really hope this is a legitimate update post with an unfortunate timing and not a poorly thought out April Fool's joke." In response to one of the skeptics, another commented, "i don't think they would do a prank like that. people have been asking for this feature for a while, and it would be unnessesarily cruel to get people's hopes up like that." Commenters were relieved when assured that the post was genuine, apart from one anon who worried that antishippers might misuse the feature to harass people somehow.
Fan Responses to Comment Blocking Rollout
Various AO3 users have created scripts and browser extensions to make up for functionality that AO3 lacks. Tools that can simulate a block or mute function include
Related AO3 Updates
Blocking is one of the few anti-harassment features to be added that targets specific users. However, the AO3 has implemented other tools designed to prevent harassment and other unwanted user interactions:
- Users can turn off anonymous comments on their works. (Previously users were forced to archive-lock their works if they wanted to prevent anonymous comments.) Added April 2013.
- Users can moderate comments on their works. Added late 2015.
- Users can reject a gift. Added December 2015.
- Users can no longer be added automatically as co-creators on a work; instead a co-creator request is sent. Users must opt-in to allow co-creator requests. Added September 2019.
- Users can turn off comments on a work. Added August 2020.
- Users can freeze a comment thread on their work. Added February 2021.
- Users can opt out of receiving gifts. New user accounts default to not receiving gifts and must update their preferences to opt in. Added February 2022.
- Users with the "protected user" role cannot have their works cited as related works. Added August 2022
- Require users to opt in to having works invited to collections - project ticket created February 2021
- Add preference to prevent guests from replying to your comments on news posts and other users' works - project ticket created March 2022
- every time I see more of the ‘ao3 is evil’ crap circulating I think, ‘well, tumblr is evil too and I don’t see you stop using it’
- AO3's Filtration System
- AO3 News: An update on blocking and muting features, Archived version, 2021-04-01. Accessed 26 June 2022.
- AO3 News: From FF.net to AO3 - some frequently asked questions, Archived version, 2012-06-21. Accessed 24 July 2022.
- Re: AO3 Complaints & Wishlist, Archived version, 2015-06-29.
- Re: AOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (ao3) - purity and racism wank, Archived version, 31 October 2016.
- anon ask answered by ao3org, Archived version, 7 January 2014. As of 5 July 2022, this tumblr post has 1,337 notes.
- Comment on "Proposed change to the terms of service: change how abuse reports are submitted" by aewgliriel, reply by Rebecca Tushnet, Archived version, 20 May 2016.
- AO3 News: Statement from the OTW Board of Directors, Chairs, & Leads, Archived version, 2020-06-24.
- comment thread started by halcyonewaters, Archived version, 4 February 2021. Accessed 29 June 2022.
- Board Meeting Minutes: 14 March 2021, Archived version. Accessed 29 June 2022.
- post by Heuvadoches, Archived version, 22 November 2016.
- What would you change about fanfiction sites?, Archived version, 18 June 2017.
- ao3 needs a block function, so i don't have to see certain people's fic., Archived version, tweet by smolcomfort, 28 April 2012.
- when are we going to get a block user on AO3, Archived version, tweet by simplyn2deep, Sep 4, 2013.
- ao3 block users until:2017-01-01, Archived version, twitter search, 6 July 2022.
- ao3 block until:2017-01-01, twitter search, 6 July 2022.
- For example, the interracial kink Hockey fic posted in 2014 where the author then used racial slurs to describe the RPF characters in reply to comments from concerned readers. Because the slurs were not directed at specific users, the AO3 Abuse team decided that the author's actions did not constitute harassment. Many fans disagreed with this judgment. the prompt that inspired the fic, the fic itself, hockeyrpfanon thread, stopthatimp 2014 post, post from themardia, AO3 & Censorship by stopthatimp in 2016. 2014 twitter discussion. 2019 tweet.
- A 2021 example of receiving racist comments, shared on reddit: I was so looking forward to comments on my fic and unfortunately, these are the two racist ones I got today. These people have been stalking me for over a year on other platforms and now they have found my AO3. I submitted an abuse report. Is there anything else I can do?, Archived version, 24 August 2021.
- Hey, everyone. I got some hugely racist comments on two meta essays I wrote on AO3. Beware of a white supremacist user called Sugarino. Please report this account., Archived version, tweet by LadyofReylo, Jul 17, 2021.
- been deleting racist comments off my fics on ao3 for nearly half a decade now. if they gave even half a fuck, i wouldn’t be seeing them., Archived version, tweet by hammerhertls, Mar 12, 2019.
- "I have seen thread after thread of people talking about contacting the AO3's Abuse Team to report what they have experienced as targeted racist harassment in particular tags." (Possibly a reference to the 2014 racist hockey trollfic, which was tagged "interracial kink".) What's up with the AO3 and racism? by Naye, 17 June 2020.
- Example of a perpetrator's confession: i got suspended form ao3 for sending death threats smh, it was a pedophilic fic.. ofc ill tell them to kill themselves, Archived version, tweet by lovingmyirene, 15 July 2022.
- "Speaking as someone who had to delete an entire identity worth of fanfic and a complete persona due to receiving months of threats and harassment from an underage user who never received any visible discipline whatsoever? Speaking as someone who found the abuse mods' responses increasingly ineffectual and eventually expressing annoyance toward me for letting them know I was still being abused? I do not donate to AO3 anymore either." Comment on "Where We Are" by Account Deleted, Archived version, 30 Apr 2016.
- Reddit examples: "Basically I wrote a series of Explicit fanfics for a pairing I liked, of which both participants are around 15-16. I tagged and put all the necessary warnings on these fics. It still didn't stop people from getting angry at me, sending me hate, and basically harassing me out of AO3." Being harassed over writing E-rated fics has taken its toll on me, Archived version, posted by Gold_Win in r/fanfiction, 24 September 2019. another story about a friend deleting all their fic, 18 April 2019.
- Re: Meme pet peeves, Archived version, fail_fandomanon thread, 2022-09-15.
- "the unspoken rule in a majority of mcyt and mcyt adjacent nsfw and pnsfw fanbases is to keep the creators completely separate but still be accessible to people who want to find it.... we all do this to keep our community safe from doxxing and death threats that comes with being associated with RPF." comment thread on a Just Roll With It fanfic, Archived version, 03 Mar 2022. Accessed 29 June 2022.
- fail_fandomanon discussion about why MCYT fans are putting "lol no" in the fandom tag field of their fic: Re: AO3 & OTW, Archived version, 2021-11-15.
- back in the day when the tommyinnit ao3 tag was first starting and early p0ppytwt hadnt figured out that posting where everyone could see it would (rightfully) earn them buckets of hate, we had a week where we wrote fluffy platonic fics it was awesome and pretty effective, Archived version, tweet by TheWebernutter, 6 March 2022.
- "As a reminder, AO3 will not remove works solely because they portray characters or relationships in a bad light." AO3 News: January 2016 Newsletter, Volume 98, Archived version, 2016-02-13.
- Comment on "January 2016 Newsletter, Volume 98" by Aiffe, Archived version, 13 Feb 2016.
- comment by eeeiiiggghhh on an AO3 News post, Archived version, 19 Oct 2021
- Blocking tags/works/author permanently?, Archived version, post by louderthanbxmbs in r/AO3, 10 February 2021. Accessed 28 June 2022.
- comment thread started by Amara1783, Archived version, 04 Feb 2021.
- comment by Anonymouse, Archived version, 1 April 2021.
- "This better not be an April fools joke" comment by A Suspicious Lion, Archived version, 2 April 2021.
- comment by vMures, Archived version, 1 April 2021.
- comment thread started by RandomRedneck, reply by 1RoseByAnyOtherName, Archived version, 1 April 2021.
- comment thread started by daceery, Archived version, 1 April 2021.
- comment thread started by sigh, Archived version, 2 April 2021.