(I Wish It Wasn’t) Applied To Fandom: Anti Racist Moderation as Trauma Work

Today in “yeah that’s not what that means in fandom” we have… “trauma work”.

I first saw this crop up either in 2019 or 2020 where the response to “perhaps eventually there should be some kind of anti racist policy for the AO3 that would lead to overtly racist works/creators being yeeted from the platform – even temporarily” from an increasing number of people. There was a tumblr post about it and everything that picked up steam back then, and then 2/3rds of the way through September, there were several threads spiraled off a tweet doing that again (you can find a roundup of all of that here at Naye’s Dreamwidth).

Here’s the thing… that’s not exactly what trauma work is.

Trauma work is, essentially, work in therapy that focuses on a client’s trauma and involves a professional supervising the healing/unlearning process. According to someone who was undergoing “trauma work” in 2017, it’s defined as: “trauma based phsycological [sic] treatments focus on providing education, stress management, and helping the person to confront feared situations and distressing memories.”

It is not the same thing as going through abuse reports or moderating content for a website or social media platform that is, for the most part, text-based. 

People who handle moderation for user generated content are subject to traumatic sights. Two years ago, there was a piece on The Verge about the secret lives of Facebook moderators in the United States that covered the harm that moderation could do (were actually doing) to these people:

Most of all, though, Chloe worried about the long-term impacts of the job on her mental health. Several moderators told me they experienced symptoms of secondary traumatic stress — a disorder that can result from observing firsthand trauma experienced by others. The disorder, whose symptoms can be identical to post-traumatic stress disorder, is often seen in physicians, psychotherapists, and social workers. People experiencing secondary traumatic stress report feelings of anxiety, sleep loss, loneliness, and dissociation, among other ailments.

For me, it’s clear that the people using “trauma work” to talk about the effects of moderating content – something that the AO3 should already be doing in some capacity on their Abuse Team and in the context of tag wrangling – are actually talking about being concerned that moderators would deal with a form of the same secondary traumatic stress that Chloe is experiencing. 

While the concern is valid – potential trauma from moderating racist work could have a seriously negative impact on people who are doing this job regardless of who they are – it’s interesting that none of these people seem to care as much about the first hand trauma of being a fan of color coming across racist content or being subject to racism from a creator or another fan on the archive. 

You know… the thing that actually currently exists?

The thing about this hypothetical fear of traumatizing moderators of color fails to engage with is… that the thing they’re so worried about doesn’t exist

There are no moderators of color on an anti-racism task force being traumatized by checking reports of racist content on the AO3. What does exist in this moment are fans of color who are subject to coming across genuinely racist content on purpose to harm fans of color and to “get back at” characters and performers of color. They’re subject to content that uses slurs willy nilly. They are subject to irresponsible and unhelpful responses from the current Abuse Team when they do report content that is openly racist or abusive/harassing behavior from other fans on the platform.

Why is it that the folks concerned about the mental health of hypothetical people of color moderating the AO3 and being subject to “trauma work”… aren’t concerned about the realities about racism in fandom and the people who are already negatively affected?

Figuring out moderation for the AO3 that balances freedom of speech with a rejection of bigoted ideals while protecting and compensating the people handling moderation is a worthwhile goal. 

The volunteers who handle abuse reports and who handle retagging content already do see content that could offend or even harm them – but it’s not the same as how moderators on Facebook deal with frankly horrifying visuals on a regular basis. It’s not the same depth of traumatic content and it can be mitigated in ways that Facebook moderation practices don’t offer. (A buddy system for moderators or a safety plan for mental health like a therapist, for one thing.)

No matter how difficult this all is, the answer to avoiding volunteers catching some potential trauma from moderating racist works isn’t to just throw your hands up in the air and say “well shit, we can’t do anything about the racist work”, It’s also not to say that racism in fandom is somehow necessary to fandom itself as hundreds of people have been doing for weeks

You don’t solve racism anywhere by ignoring it, pretending it’s not that big an issue… or by defending its presence/supposed value to a given space

That’s not how that works.

AO3 has been in beta for like… over a decade. Why is it so scary and difficult to put some anti racism tactics in beta on the platform too? Why is everyone rejecting the idea that real professionals who advise companies on moderating user generated content – of which I am not and do not want to be – could be paid to offer an array of solutions to test and reject as necessary over the next few years? 

Why is it that the only anti-racism approaches the majority of people are proposing or panicking over seems to involve removing content and don’t also include workshops, educational material from a variety of sources and cultures, and a push for casual cultural competency? (No one can be an expert off the bat, but there are also things like how many fans outside of East Asian diasporas know nothing about in-region issues like xenophobia and have increasingly been super comfortable being racist to East Asian fans and/or about East Asian characters…)

But also… why is the idea of other people simply talking about what they wish the AO3 would do to help minimize racism in that segment of fandom so rage-inducing? Why do just our conversations trigger people into violently raging against and harassing the people complaining mildly about the status quo in fandom?

At this point, we’re not even allowed to talk publicly about our issues and our potential hopes for anti racism on the platform without some nugu “fandom old” in their twenties or thirties showing up to moan about how the archive is actually already perfect and how it’s so hard and that there’s nothing at all that can be done and act like we’re destroying fandom.

None of us talking have any power within fandom, so it’s literally harmless for us to have these conversations. 

Sure, the AO3 risks getting a minor bruise from the critique, but literally hundreds of thousands of white fans (and their little POC TOO) will show up to kiss that boo-boo and write off our words as “anti” fandom even though you know… wanting fandom to be more inclusive/less racist is actually as “pro fandom” as it gets.

White fans – many of whom are frightfully racist in public – and their POC TOO have made it clear that the AO3 is in more danger of backlash for doing something about anti racism than by staying silent.

But here’s the thing: Racism in fandom can only truly be fixed in fandom

Racism on the AO3 – real racism, not just people who can’t write characters of color well – can only be fixed on the AO3

And the people talking about it do care about “real racism” outside of fandom because… we’re largely people of color who are subject to racism outside of fandom. We’re multitasking, trying to find workable solutions and having complex conversations with other POC who get it. We’re not “simply” using fandom as a site for activism, like we’re constantly accused of. We do more than the people actively defending racist fanworks and inaction within fandom.

The thing is that people would rather pretend to care more about these hypothetical people of color who may have to deal with moderating racist fanworks on AO3… than they do very real people who see that shit now.  

It’s a silencing tactic to get out of other people actually sitting with the problem and potentially finding solutions that don’t infringe on anyone’s rights except bigots. 

Because hypothetical racist trauma from moderating a fandom space – something that’s not likely to happen – shouldn’t matter more than actual and ongoing racist trauma… which has affected fans of color for years upon years.

If you think it does and you insist on using those literally nonexistent POC dealing with moderation as “trauma work” as a shield to excuse silencing other real fans of color actually dealing with the effects of zero anti racist work on the archive… 

If you’re taking that sort of defeatist approach to racism in fandom… 

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that you probably don’t care that much about finding solutions for racism in fandom. You might just want to shut people up.

But guess what: it’s not working as well as it used to!

About Stitch

Stitch writes about what needs to be written.
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