In a recent chat, several fan academics discussed their criteria in selecting materials to use in their classroom. The relative privacy of publicly posted fanworks is something that fandom still has not come to terms with, but most historians, both fannish and otherwise, are falling on the side of including anything that is not password protected or behind a firewall (ex: members only mailing list, friends locked post). Most bloggers and Twitter and Tumbler users feel the same – if it is not locked or password protected, you can discuss and link to anything that is posted on the Internet.
I forwarded this chat to a fellow vidder who realized that because she had password protected her streaming vids on Vimeo, that this might be misconstrued by some to mean she did not want her fanvids shared or discussed.
Because vidding has traditionally been more visibility averse, I took a deeper look to see what vidders are doing – and I found that even if the streaming version of a vid may be password protected, the download versions which often sit side by side in the same post are not. The reason that most vidders password protect the streaming version of their vids may have more to do with the streaming platforms attitude towards fanvids. YouTube vids are not password protected. Viddler vids were not password protected. Blip.tv and IMeem (platforms that, along with Viddler, have either folded or are no longer hospitable to fanvids) were not password protected. Vimeo, one of the surviving streaming vid platforms is the one that most vidders use with password protection.
But back to the the default assumption that password = private: if your streaming vid is password protected, but your download is not, is your vid still “private”? If your vid post is not locked or protected and your vid post link is transmitted via Twitter and Tumblr, is your vid still “meant for just fans”? Can you (and would you want to) put limits on where and how fans share and discuss your fanworks?
I wonder if these are the wrong questions to be asking today. There are increasingly fewer levels of privacy and less separation between the fannish world and mundane world. We all, for better or for worse, inhabit the same public space and the streams are growing very muddy. So much of our interactions as fans today are being…controlled? driven? shaped?....by technology that we have no say in. Technology that is being developed by corporations that have entirely different goals in mind – namely monetizing our online content and using it to turn a profit. These large and silent players (corporations) are interwoven in our fannish culture and they are influencing how we interact with one another. These players are also ones that few fans acknowledge exist in the fandom sphere let alone talk about. Instead, we spend most of our time critiquing one another for not following a certain set of rules or a fandom specific etiquette on sharing and discussing fanworks without examining how those rules came about and how they have changed over time in response to technology. I could write pages on how email, then Usenet, then mailing lists, then websites, then archives, then blogs have shifted our fandom norms of what fannish content could be shared and made visible to the world. I could write even more about the introduction of photocopying to the fandom world and what it meant for fanzines and fan fiction and how fans shared and discussed them. And I could talk for hours about how the globalization of fandom has pushed our numbers to where we’re almost mainstream.
Some corporations do offer their users privacy controls : Facebook, Twitter and LJ/DW allow you to limit access to posts and create privacy filters. Facebook is notorious however, for making weekly changes to their privacy settings that blow away your previous privacy choices. And let’s not mention Google, the literal elephant in the Internet room.
As for Tumblr, where most of media fandom has migrated, once you post or upload an image, you have forever lost the ability to delete either the post or the image once it is reblogged. And nothing is locked. Tumblr is a place where fandom has collectively decided to park itself – and if there ever was a platform designed to wrest privacy and visibility control away from fandom, Tumblr is it.
So once again, I ask: why are we focusing so narrowly on privacy and control, arguing over whether “this content is meant just for fans,” and debating where fans are “allowed” to share and discuss fanworks, when we are all sliding down the same 45 degree slope into greater visibility and loss of control? Is there another question we should be asking, one that goes beyond the “private vs. public” equation?
As an old school “print” fan, I will continue to struggle with the increasing visibility of fandom and the exponential global access to our “members only club.” But I do know that if we do not talk about the disconnect between our cultural expectations and what is happening in the greater Internet society, we are putting fandom and ourselves in the vulnerable position of being blindly overrun by technology changes . More importantly, if we do not discuss how corporations and technology are shaping our fandom culture, we will lose even more “control” over our culture.
I think the existence of the OTW and its goal to advocate for fandom on this larger and more open playing field is a first step towards defining - and defending - our version of “fandom”.
*The Future of Fanworks (edited to add cathexys' suggested reading: Association of Internet Researchers' Ethics Guide. Note this is tangential to the main post, but should help put The Future of Fanworks chat into an academic context.)
* The Changing Face of Fandom, and Its Challenge to the Outside World (“Fandom has been around for a long, long time. It may have grown and changed and developed, but it is not going away. We will have challenges to face in our future, but we aren't going to disappear quietly back into Anonymity.”)
*OTW Fannews: Corporate assembly fandom