AO3 as a nature preserve

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Title: AO3 as a Nature Preserve (the title used here on Fanlore)
Creator: doctorbaixue
Date(s): October 20, 2021
Medium: Twitter
External Links: Twitter essay, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

AO3 as a nature preserve is a 2021 Twitter thread by doctorbaixue.

From the Essay

Responses to my tweets on #AO3[1] have revealed a fundamental issue in anti-AO3 folks' ideas about what AO3 even is: they tend to assume that sites are for the purposes of consumption, aka visitor-centric. They do not understand that some sites, such as AO3, are for ...

the purposes of preservation, aka creator-centric. It is extremely important to learn to differentiate these two different types of online institutions. They are not for the same thing, nor should they be. Archives are not meant as a "safe space" for the user. They are safe...

spaces for one thing, and one thing only: the text. This is necessary because throughout history there have been times when safe spaces for texts were revoked. That's how we got book burnings, censorship, generations of history, art, writing, culture, etc, destroyed.


Look at it this way: an archive is a natural preservation area, except for texts. Natural preservation areas are not safe for human habitation. They have no resources, there are lots of wild animals, there are many natural dangers. But the moment you start making it a "safe"...

space" for human habitation, it ceases to be a safe space for those plants and animals. Archives function in the exact same way. And we need them for the exact same reason: preservation....


Anyway, asking an archive to tailor itself to your preferences is like asking a nature reserve to lay down pavement everywhere for easier walking. It will not and should not happen, and the moment it does, it will undermine its own raison d'etre.

Selected Responses

[lungache Replying to doctorbaixue]: You make some excellent points, but I do not completely agree. AO3 can be creator and visitor-centric AND an archive. The entire point of AO3 was to be a place for fans to share fanwork to be consumed. Also, it is incorrect to assume that archives are not moderated/curated. I am generally very pro AO3 - I think a lot of the criticism it faces is unfounded. However, I don't think it's unfair to ask for moderation on things like unchecked bigotry/racism - or at least some kind of reporting and warning system.

[MihaTrochael Replying to lungache] For bigot/racist users harassing you in comments and such, you sure have a possibility to report. We could talk about adding a blocking function tho I have no idea how difficult or expensive it might be to implement one. But bigotry etc. in actual fiction is something else.

[Kinaneuy Replying to doctorbaixue] This is correct. Also reminded me of some facts videos (idk if it's real facts tho, I didn't check) that said that archive library will suck off the oxygen (air) inside it if a fire was detected in order to protect the books. Even if there was a person inside it.

[regresslons Replying to doctorbaixue] Idk I still think real person porn fics of minors and slave aus with poc should be removed but it might just be me not wanting this content to be exposed to people at all, especially untagged

[ Karin_Starlite Replying to regresslons] ]I agree with you, however if the price to preserve 1000 stories by queer or poc or women is that 1 disgusting story gets to live too, then it's worth it. Because that's what matters, protecting art by marginalized ppl that would otherwise get destroyed like millions before.

[regresslons Replying to Karin_Starlite] I really don’t agree. I believe stories by queer and poc can exist while we work hard to make places safe as well. We don’t have to choose to sacrifice writings to make it work

[Karin_Starlite replying to regresslons] But ppl are working hard. Tags are there for a reason, browser extensions to further block content exist and are free for everyone to use and protect themselves. Ao3 itself has lots of filtering options. Block and avoid the disgusting stuff and let it fade unread and ignored

[regresslons Replying to Karin_Starlite] "... multiple people going “ don’t like don’t read “ when POC are raising questions about Why very clear racist fantasies are allowed.

[dindjarined] as someone who entered fandom during the pit of voles era and saw strikethrough first hand, i agree that ao3 provides an incredible service to fandom. but for the love of the norns that site needs much better moderation.

even archives are selective about which records to preserve for posterity. you can't write a 1K fanfic about iron man and go to your local library and ask them to preserve it for posterity — unless you can demonstrate its intrinsic value to future generations.

the same way fics that romanticise and glorify racism, cp, explicit rpf content of actual children provide zero value to future generations of fandom — other than to trigger and upset people. especially when they are untagged or mistagged

i can promise you ao3 will still be a bastion of fandom if it enforced better content moderation. removing a deeply racist fic from the archive is not going to lead to the dissolution of fandom as we know it. or banning people who intentionally violate the tos by mistagging....[2]

[jkpegging] i really don’t think that any of these arguments apply…. and archive of our own is just the name of the website that like,,, ppl chose… it’s not Literally An Archive of Fanworks. like it definitely is consumer-centric not is not necessary for historians to study your racist fanfiction to know that racism exists in fandom...[3]

[HighLordMhoram] All of the points made here would be great if they were applicable. They're not. Despite its name, AO3 is not an Archive(tm). Even if that's what its creators intended, that's not what it /is/. It's a publishing space. Its purpose /is/ consumption as much as creation.,,,, it is an archive and not an Archive. Being an Archive precludes it from being anything else, which is the whole idea OP was rolling with for that thread. It /is/ something else that can also serve archival purposes, which is great imo[4]

[lurkhash] This. Listen, after LJ, FFnet, and the other archives that have gotten wreckt, AO3 rose and still stands as a key stone platform for sharing fics. Foreign creators have even been driven off their own country's archives to AO3. It's a professional neutral safe haven for everything....Remember any legal argument can be used against any content equally in the archive.[5]

[bikenesmith] sure - but ao3 has positioned itself as a site for consumption AND an archival site. you can't be the wayback machine /and/ fanfiction dot net + expect to be treated solely as one or the other

ao3 is a site that preserves millions of fanfics, but it differs from other archive sites because 1. the content is uploaded directly to ao3. its an active participant in the initial creation of the content, making it a gallery rather than (strictly) a museum

2. the site clearly invests in the "social media" aspect of fandom culture (commenting, kudos, profiles, etc), rather than the highly impersonal archival/encyclopedic focused framework you would see on wikipedia or archive dot org....

speaking of how/why one preserves something. simply preserving everything, regardless of content, is fine when an archive is not open to the public. ao3 very much is. making it a museum. that means that special measures must be taken re: how this content is framed and why

for instance, establishments like the jim crow museum (preserves racist memorabilia) are important. but the museum is not just a collection of pickaninny dolls + mammy advertisements with the label "warning! racist!"

the entire museum is dedicated to education about antiblack stereotypes + how widespread & unabashed they were. ao3 cannot say the same abt their vast array of racist material. if theyre an archive to the degree op claims they are, theyre a woefully irresponsible + mismanaged one...[6]

[whetstone] Yes to this [thread symbol] . If it’s feasible at a reasonable cost, adding a “block user” function would be great for improving individual experience without destroying the purpose of an archive. Otherwise, leave it alone.[7]

[morgandawn6] Nature parks have guide rails, warning signs. Visitors are told to keep their hands & feet inside the car at all times. AO3 is working on bigger signs, louder bullhorns (STAY IN THE CAR MARTY). May need to create 1-2 family friendly paths that circle the flamingo pond a few times

I like the nature park metaphor because it acknowledges that the park is there both for visitors as well as the creatures it's trying to preserve from extinction. As with most things, we seem to be arguing over both the balance as well as what to include. 1/n

At the outer edges of the argument, there are those who insist that we do not preserve "objectionable" or "dangerous" animals, and are advocating for extinction. As someone who has a deathly justifiable and completely rational fear of wasps, I can relate 2/n

But we all know, these horrible stinging insects of doom have a role to play & are completely natural. I still want to stress that there is absolutely NO REASON for an entire exhibit next to the concession stand. I hope AO3 gets its blocking feature up sooner rather than later[8]

[murderdimples] If we want to give the future as accurate a picture of the past as possible, that means we bring as much forward into the light as we can. That doesn't mean we bring everything! I've seen threads about deaccessioning, etc circulating already...What do we keep? How much do we save? How do we contextualize the abhorrent things?... If AO3 were a pure archive, it'd be so much easier to answer these questions in a way that balances the need to preserve vs the very serious need to deal with AO3's racism. But it's not. Its social component may be limited compared to actual social media, but they're still there. And unfortunately, that means we cannot think of AO3 as "just" an archive. I don't have any tidy answers to wrap up this thread. I have ideas, sure, but no real answers. I just wanted to highlight a part of the discussion that made my professional brain sit up and go HEY.[9]

Additional Replies


  1. ^ [1], Archived version
  2. ^ excerpts, the full tweet response is here, Archived version
  3. ^ excerpts, the full tweet response is here, Archived version
  4. ^ excerpts, the full tweet is here, Archived version
  5. ^ excerpts, the full tweet is here, Archived version
  6. ^ excerpts, the full tweet is here, Archived version
  7. ^ [2], Archived version
  8. ^ [3], Archived version
  9. ^ I have a lot of feelings about as a book conservator: the preservation aspect, Archived version