Organization for Transformative Works/Policy & Abuse

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OTW Committee
Committee Name: Policy & Abuse Committee
Organization: Organization for Transformative Works
Focus: Handling complaints and reports about content posted on AO3, solving account ownership issues and responding to user queries.
Committee Roles:
External Links: Archive Of Our Own, Report Abuse
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Organization for Transformative Works Committees

AO3 Documentation, Accessibility, Design & Technology, Board Assistants Team, Communications, Development & Membership, Elections, Fanlore, Finance, Legal, Open Doors, Policy & Abuse, Strategic Planning, Support, Systems, TWC, Tag Wrangling, Translation, Volunteers & Recruiting, Webs

The Policy & Abuse committee (PAC) is responsible for investigating reports regarding violations of the Terms of Service for the Archive Of Our Own (AO3), and ensuring every case is dealt with fairly and transparently. Policy & Abuse also assists users with account ownership issues and queries about AO3 internal policies.

Policy & Abuse determines if complaints are about legitimate violations of the Terms of Service, and what to do about them if they are. Their major goals are to adhere completely to the Terms of Service when handling cases, to make their reasoning and processes as clear and transparent as possible, and to keep every individual case completely confidential.

The committee works closely with other Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) committees, such as the Support committee, the Translation committee, and, when needed, the Legal committee.

Anyone can contact Policy & Abuse via the Policy Questions & Abuse Reports form found at the end of any page on the Archive of Our Own.

Committee History

The Policy & Abuse committee was originally named "Abuse committee." In 2018, it was renamed "Policy & Abuse" for clarity.

In 2021, to address the team's workload issues, Policy & Abuse announced a change in the committee's purview, with some ticket types becoming the responsibility of the AO3 Support team instead[1].

In January 2023, more responsibilities were transferred from PAC to Support in an effort to alleviate PAC's workload: Fannish Next of Kin and duplicate works.[2]


Discussion and Criticisms

The internal procedures of Policy & Abuse, as well as the rationale for some of their decisions on what constitutes a terms of service violation, have always been somewhat opaque to AO3 users, leading to various criticisms of the committee, speculation about what is a TOS violation and why, as well as complaints about unfair treatment by users who were reported for TOS violations. It is difficult to ascertain whether claims of unfair treatment are valid because committee members are bound by confidentiality agreements never to discuss specific cases, so only the "wronged" TOS violator's point of view gets shared in public. The committee itself has also changed over time, leading to uncertainty over whether valid complaints of bad decisions in the past are still relevant critiques.

Users also don't know when our policies have gotten better. Take one of the examples given by EndOTWRacism organizers: in 2014, a comment section devolved into one side directing racist abuse at the other. PAC ruled that all users were equally at fault and refused to act against any of them. PAC would not make the same ruling today. PAC wouldn't have ruled the same even in 2018. It's a different committee, one that takes harassment very seriously, even if there are still serious gaps in our approach.[3]

AO3's harassment problem has been a perennial topic of discussion (see AO3 Blocking and Muting), with some fans blaming PAC and others blaming the terms of service itself.

Many fans on twitter who believe that noncon, incest, underage, or other problematic themes in fanfic should be removed from the archive interpret PAC's refusal to remove these stories (because they are not against the terms of service) as a failure to moderate effectively. (Some fans also mistakenly believe that AO3 doesn't even have reporting functionality.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12])

Various groups of fans have engaged in mass-reporting of some types of content. Veteran AO3 users who are familiar with the TOS have tried to clean up the archive's increasing influx of non-fanworks, spam, and commercial promotion. Meanwhile, anti-shippers and k-pop stans on twitter have tried to organize reporting of underage and noncon stories, then react in outrage upon discovering that these are not TOS violations. According to an interview with Russian news media, even the Russian government's Internet censorship department attempted to report underage stories before blocking the archive. (Similar rumors have circulated about the Chinese government attempting to contact OTW over AO3 content, but there is no equivalent interview with a Chinese official making this claim, so it's unclear where the rumor came from.)

Many fans think that the massive increase in valid and invalid reports led to slower response times by the committee, though the reasons for the slowdown are difficult to confirm. To improve the committee's workload, ADT coders first instituted limits in 2015 on the number of times a work could be reported in a month[13], then limits on reporting user profile pages in 2017[14], and then finally in 2022 limits on the number of reports a user could submit in a 24-hour period[15]. The text on the report form was also updated to stress that users should not seek out TOS violations and should only report violations they find in the course of their normal AO3 browsing.

There were varied responses to the report limits. A PAC volunteer publicly described relief that these limits discouraged individuals from searching out works to report, coordinating multiple reports about the same issue, or reporting non-stop: “I think our record was four hours straight, not only was it overwhelming but lots of it was stuff that was already reported.”[16]. On the other hand, some frequent reporters felt these limits conveyed indifference from the committee regarding rampant and escalating misuse of the archive, or these limits redirected blame to users who were trying to help the committee clean up the archive and signaled they had no intention of fixing inefficient procedures.

More information about PAC's internal workings and drama were revealed during the 2023 OTW Management Controversy.

Relevant Links


  1. ^ Changes to Support and Policy & Abuse Responsibilities, AO3 News, published September 13, 2021.
  2. ^ Further Changes to Support and Policy & Abuse Responsibilities, Archived version, AO3 News, 2023-01-12.
  3. ^ comment by Azarias, Archived version, 25 May 2023.
  4. ^ Ao3 needs to add a report button or something there are some fics out there that should never see the light of day 🤢, Archived version, tweet by gjungkook_, 14 October 2017.
  5. ^ It'll never have a report button cause it was built off an ethos of "no censorship", no matter how fucked up the content is. It's why the moderation's so shit., Archived version, tweet by mvn2099, 25 Dec 2021.
  6. ^ Seyy i keep seeing people complain ao3 doesnt have a report button when ITS RIGHT THERE. RIGHT ON THE PAGE. im so tired, Archived version, tweet by InkfaceFahz, 27 Apr 2020.
  7. ^ i just saw the most disgusting thing on ao3 but there's no report button :( im really really upset, Archived version, tweet by jiminieloved, 25 Apr 2020.
  8. ^ Ao3 seriously needs a freaking report button/feature because some of the things i saw on that website is freaking disgusting and i hate that i basically have no way to report them, Archived version, tweet by CatgirlWilluz, 18 Jan 2021.
  9. ^ @AO3_Status Hi ik this is more of the writers fault but there are so many problematic fics to the point that I can't hate on every single one. Can you please add a report button or something? 😭, Archived version, tweet by phoebeslas, 15 June 2022.
  10. ^ Legit why I think Ao3 should have a report button.. just like Twitter you are allowed to write what you want but you might get reported.. I don’t want freedom to write what you want to count when it’s about disgusting shit like that.. some tags are legit describing porn scenes., Archived version, tweet by Rosanroy55, 3 Sep 2022.
  11. ^ Why isn't there a report button on AO3?? The amount of disgusting CP fics I've seen is disgusting 🤢 8yr old WY and 30+ Yr old's wrong!!, Archived version, tweet by SpicyRamen10969, 7 March 2023.
  12. ^ The thing that will always shock me in AO3 is that they allow people to post explicit and mature story with s3x and with the "underage" tag. That so messed up, its clearly p3d0p0rn... And they is no report button on the fanfic page.., Archived version, tweet by PoseidonGreen1, 6 March 2023.
  13. ^ AO3-4257: abuse form: only accept 5 reports per work URL (Accessed 9 July 2023.)
  14. ^ AO3-4729: abuse form: only accept 5 reports per profile (Accessed 9 July 2023.)
  15. ^ AO3-6274: Limit number of abuse reports per email per day (Accessed 9 July 2023.)
  16. ^ Ask an A03 Policy & Abuse volunteer (Accessed 30 January 2024.)