Explicit and Dark Content in Fandom—Keeping Yourself and Others Safe

Fotolia.com | © Gajus

Fotolia.com | © Gajus

“Don’t like, don’t read!” used to be pasted into the summary or author’s note of every second fanfic on FanFiction.net. The phrase has recently fallen out of use—with good reason! In the age of dashboards, tags, and newsfeeds, the phrase seems comically out of step with reality. We all know what we don’t want to read but that doesn’t prevent us from finding such content while we’re scrolling through the latest fandom posts.

Desktop and laptop users have the option of installing browser add-ons to filter out Tumblr posts tagged with or containing certain words. These scripts can take a while to kick in though, so when you load a page you might be staring at content you’d rather not see for a good few seconds before it’s taken off your screen.

Moreover, people are increasingly using mobile phones or tablets to access the internet. Filtering is still an option for mobile users, but functionality is currently sacrificed in the process. And of course filtering will only work if you know about plug-ins and mobile filtering tools. Additionally, you have to know which words to blacklist and update your blacklist regularly. The downside to a comprehensive blacklist is of course that you might miss posts you actually want to see (the filters aren’t very smart and sometimes even filter out posts that don’t contain a single blacklisted word). It can occasionally feel like an uphill struggle or that you can’t fully relax because you constantly expect to see triggering content show up on your dash or in your fandom tags. At the same time, there is an increasingly vocal minority who condemn creators of content they don’t like by very selectively applying the argument that “fiction is reality.”

This can leave such content creators feeling hounded. Some are sent hate mail or even death threats or asked to spill their life story to anonymous internet users. Many of them already feel that they are doing everything they can to keep others safe by looking up lists of common triggers and painstakingly comparing such lists to the content in their fanfics and tagging accordingly. They write long author’s notes explaining that they would obviously not condone the actions of their characters in real life. Of course, there are a minority who do things to aggravate the rest of their fandom, such as putting too much explicit or triggering content into their fandom’s primary tags.

So, what can you do to keep yourself safe in fandom?

Tumblr Savior for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera: This script searches for words on your blacklist and then hides posts containing those words from your dash. It’s very easy to install and adding words to your blacklist is straightforward and painless. The downside is that the script can take time to act or hide posts you actually want to see.

AO3 Savior for Chrome and Firefox: This script is a clone of Tumblr Savior and therefore acts in a very similar way. The downside is that it’s nowhere near as straightforward to use as Tumblr Savior since users have to modify the code itself to blacklist words. A tutorial can be found here.

Washboard for Tumblr for mobile devices, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari: This web-app replaces your regular Tumblr interface with one that has a built-in blacklist. Unlike Tumblr Savior, there is no delay in hiding blacklisted content. The drawback to using this web-app is the loss of functionality: no instant messaging or blog activity. However, the basics like browsing, liking, and reblogging are possible. On the upside, the app is extremely user friendly and blacklists can be imported from Tumblr Savior or created again from scratch without hassle.

AO3 Tag ID Fetcher: This new javascript bookmarklet by flamebyrd was added to our filtering toolset just in time for 2016. It simplifies finding AO3 ID tags, which can then be used with AO3’s native filtering system (details of which can be found on the filter-me-ao3 Tumblr blog).

New X-kit: This tool can be used to filter out Tumblr posts and get rid of recommended blogs and posts. It’s good and user friendly, but it will slow down your browsing experience if you have an old machine or slow internet connection.

Additionally, you can make liberal use of the block function on Tumblr and unfollow people who post a lot of content you don’t like or that triggers you, even if they do try to tag (after all, they may occasionally slip up). Also, feel free to drop your Tumblr mutuals polite messages asking them to tag certain content.

As is evident from the above list, a lot of people put time and effort into keeping themselves safe, so it’s only fair not to make that job even harder. If you worry your created content may affect others negatively, there are things you can do to help keep others safe.

Tag your fics appropriately or select “choose not to warn.” When tagging and writing the summary, keep in mind that AO3 filtering scripts are not the most user friendly and are therefore not widely used. Your summary and tags should be descriptive enough that people who will want to read your fic can find it, but shouldn’t themselves be triggery or explicit. On that note, *squees* and enthusiasm about the horrific things you’re about to put someone’s favorite character through are also best kept out of the tags and summary.

Tag posts and reblogs appropriately. You may also want to consider putting keywords (i.e. your tags) at the top or bottom of the post somewhere so that Tumblr Savior will pick up on them even if someone forgets to tag when they reblog. You may also want to consider whether your post is appropriate for the main fandom tags or not. This will vary depending on fandom—your fandom may have a convention of posting certain kinds of explicit or triggery content on a separate site, e.g. Dreamwidth. If your fandom doesn’t have a Dreamwidth community for this purpose you might want to set up one yourself!

Children’s Fandoms
Check whether kids might be using Google to find pics or information about the characters you’re drawing or writing porn for. This should be obvious for shows such as My Little Pony, however, in some cases a tiny bit of research may be required. For example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be primarily aimed at adults, but Marvel is also currently releasing very popular animated shows aimed at kids aged 6-11 with the same characters! When you’re creating explicit or triggery content involving characters that many children love and adore, you may want to be extra careful to keep your content away from kids. It can be a good idea to disable your Tumblr from appearing in Google searches. Navigate to tumblr.com/settings/blog/*yourblogname* to select this option.

It all requires a bit of work from both sides, but there are many tools to help keep you safe and many ways in which you can help keep fandom safe for everyone.

About Jae Bailey (17 Articles)
Jae Bailey's life-goal is to invent a job that combines science, fandom, and really hot curries. Jae holds a PhD in Physics in one hand and a graphics tablet pen in the other.

3 Comments on Explicit and Dark Content in Fandom—Keeping Yourself and Others Safe

  1. The last paragraph sounds completely unreasonable to me because when hiding a tumblr blog from tumblr searches, you’d also hide it from those who actually want to find this type of content.

    I’m all for tagging correctly and using warnings but content creators are not responsible for the kids of some random stranger on the internet. I don’t know how many times it needs tobe hammered into peoples brain before they get it, but the internet isn’t a playground. There will be adult material and even then, it’s hard to actually “stumble” over something. Most people who complain about nsfw or dark art have actually looked it up on purpose.

    When I was a kid and found all sorts of dark and nsfw content, it didn’t outright kill me, but if parents don’t want their children to find this stuff, they should actually monitor them or use filters. If children are entering adult spaces, that’s not the fault of the content creator.

    Yes, tagging and warning is good and important, but let’s not forget that even in real life, we don’t always have the same luxury. Books for example almost never have content warnings.

  2. As someone who has on occasion written dark/explicit/problematic material I have never really felt “hounded” to make potential readers aware of content. It seems to be just common sense; use built in warning systems, tag everything, and be open about the content of your fic. It’s not hard.

    • I agree completely. I’ve never had a problem making sure people didn’t stumble on something by accident.

      Now, I’ve been reading something, just happily reading, and BAM sexual assault of a sudden and graphic kind, or any kind of non-con, utterly out of nowhere that wasn’t, in any way, tagged, or expected. Shit like that don’t fly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: