reflections on ao3's fannish next-of-kin

why I set up my FNOK, and why I chose a new one

While I'd heard about the FNOK feature before, it was the sudden passing of an online friend ("XT") that spurred me to set it up. I had met her in a small, tight-knit Discord server for our shared fandom, and her death was a shock to all of us. One of the server members brought up AO3's fannish next of kin functionality and suggested we all set ours up. The process was pretty simple, which was great because the simpler a process is, the more likely I am to go through with it.

XT and I were in a group chat with another member of the server ("F"), who I'd only known for about a year before that. Even though we only knew XT for a few months, we became the online equivalent of inseparable. After XT passed, F and I decided to be each other's FNOK because at the time, we were still really close and it felt like the obvious choice.

Unfortunately, our friendship and trust levels eventually grew strained due to a variety of factors and I realized the friendship was no longer a healthy one. I eventually chose to distance myself from them, and a few months later I decided I also no longer wanted to be involved in an FNOK agreement with them.

Before I went through with the change, I spoke with two of my long-time online friends and asked if either of them would like to be my new FNOK. One of them volunteered, so I followed the procedure laid out in AO3's TOS/FAQ and let the Abuse team know that I wanted to revoke my status as F's FNOK, and change my designated FNOK to the friend who had volunteered. It was once again a pretty simple process, which made it easier to follow through on. Which was a huge relief! (As for discussing what my actual wishes are, well, we haven't done that formally, but we probably should... so this has been a good reminder to keep that info up to date too!)

other arrangements in my online spaces, or: what makes AO3 so different?

I don't have arrangements for my other digital spaces/content. If more sites had the functionality AO3 has AND a similarly simple process, I would probably set something up just to make it easier on my spouse, but it's not in my IRL will because he has access to my computer and I trust him to do what he wants with my online presence. And also because I don't feel my/our family needs to know the intimate details of my online life in the same way I feel that my mother doesn't need to know all of what my IRL best friends and I talk about, for instance.

So, in short, what makes AO3 different is that the process is there to begin with, is accessible, and is simple.

what age has to do with the perception of preserving online content, and why younger people are more likely to wipe the slate clean and start over

I've been online since I was a preteen, so I've seen a lot of changing attitudes in fandom over the years. I don't think FNOK is a well-known concept, especially among most people my age and younger. Back in the day when things were less connected, a person who died would just... disappear, never to log in again, and their friends wouldn't know what happened unless someone knew them IRL and shared the bad news. I imagine some of the founding members of the OTW/AO3 probably went through that period of not knowing and decided they didn't want their friends to suffer the same thing, and that's why they set up the FNOK procedure. It's definitely a product of its time, but a valuable one.

As for the changing attitudes, when I was new to Tumblr back in 2011, the anonymity of it all was Sacred. It still is, to an extent, but people have definitely grown more lax, and corporations have fuelled this to no small degree. The younger generation has grown up with this lack of privacy as the norm, and I think their tendency to delete and start over is directly related to that.

I mean. I get it. No one wants to get doxxed because the ship or character they like gets cancelled for some arbitrary reason (which is a whole other box of cats that I could rant about for a few thousand words, but I won't ;) ), so to them it's safer to scrub their presence and start fresh. And that's so sad, to me. I grew up in a rural area and the internet was my lifeline to the outside world. My online presence was me, in many senses of the word.

If I deleted my tumblr, or my deviantART, or my old forum accounts, then that part of me no longer exists anywhere but in the distant memories of a few people who knew me. I can't help but think of everything that was lost when GeoCities shut down. Even of everything that was lost when Yahoo Answers closed, for a more recent example. I'm constantly terrified that Automattic will suddenly decide Tumblr's not worth it and shut it down overnight, and my last 11 years on the site will be erased in the flip of a switch. That'd be like losing my journals and photo albums, letters from friends, scrapbooks, keepsakes and things like that to a house fire. (Not to mention I have the worst memory, so even if I don't actively delve 6000+ pages deep into my blog to remember the good ol' days, it's a comfort knowing that it's there to reminisce about if I want to.) So it's tough for me to relate to people who make that decision once, never mind multiple times!

Of course there is something so... permanent about designating a FNOK. But there's something even more permanent about losing all evidence that you were online at all.

The corporate internet of the 2010s onward is deliberately fleeting, but people have been writing "I was here" graffiti in random places for thousands of years. It's so human to want to be remembered, and I think the 'kids these days' (hate that I can use that term now, lol) will one day regret that they didn't preserve those little pieces of themselves.