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[Fandom stats] Warnings on AO3

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In my ongoing series of geeking out about AO3 stats, I decided to delve deeper into use of the major archive warnings on AO3.

The archive warnings are:

  • Graphic Depictions Of Violence
  • Major Character Death
  • Rape/Non-Con
  • Underage

There are also two other options for AO3 authors: Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings, and No Archive Warnings Apply. The labels are not mutually exclusive.

I was curious about how frequent each of the four major warnings are, and how often an author uses more than one of them. I was also curious how the remaining two labels are used -- do authors ever combine either of them with warnings?

In the first figure, I break down all the works that use at least one of the four major archive warnings by the type(s) of warnings used.

Major character death (only), Graphic depictions of violence (only), and underage sex (only) are, respectively, the most used warnings.  Rape/non-con (only) is far less common than any of these, and less common than death + violence together.

The second figure shows the number of overall works on AO3 (first column), compared to the total number of works that don't use any of the four major archive warnings (second column). The third and fourth columns show the number of works using each of the non-warning labels.

From this chart, we can see that the proportion of works that use any of the archive warnings is small (9.4%).

Most authors claim that this is because none of the warnings apply, rather than that they're choosing not to warn.  (Note, however: in this figure, I did not account for overlap -- the "no warnings" and "chose not to use warnings" columns include cases where the authors ticked that box and others as well.)

From figures 3 and 4, we can see that people don't necessarily have a common understanding of how to use "No archive warnings apply" and "Author chose not to use warnings":

Hundreds of people (possibly thousands) use "No archive warnings apply" with at least one major archive warning, and thousands use "Author chose not to use warnings" with at least one major archive warning.  (Overlap not accounted for in these figures -- works with multiple archive warnings checked show up in all relevant categories.)

However, there aren't that many authors who are just checking all the boxes:

  • 287 works use all four archive warnings
  • 26 works use all four archive warnings + "Author chose not to use archive warnings"
  • 3 works use all four archive warnings + "No archive warnings apply"
  • 2 works use all 6 labels.

I'm not actually sure what people mean when they check a warning and also check one of the no warning options.  I wonder if there are any fairly common intentions.

Edit: Tag wrangler Erindizmo makes the following good point:

From the AO3 TOS FAQ: 'or "choose not to use archive warnings" and "underage" if the creator wants to disclose the underage content but doesn't want to say whether the work contains major character death'. So that is a valid use case, but I have no idea why the 'No archive warnings apply' overlap.

Other readers have pointed out that, by default, the "Choose not to use archive warnings" box is checked, so authors may also be more prone to leave that box checked (accidentally or intentionally) even if they do choose warnings.

Conclusions:

  • Only 9.4% of AO3 fics use any of the major archive warnings.
  • Rape/non-con is by far the least common warning.
  • Major character death is the most common warning.
  • Use or "No archive warnings apply" or "Author chose not to use archive warnings" is no guarantee that major warnings were not also used.