Important rule changes in the Red Curtain

Greetings PaperDemons. We've decided to make some changes to our rules regarding content in the Red Curtain (the adult section of PaperDemon.com); specifically, changes to the rules governing sexually explicit depictions of minors.

Buckle up, because this is going to be a lengthy and detailed post. We are dedicated to transparency, and understand that our openness is one of the reasons many of you remain loyal. In this message, we are being very raw and transparent about this issue, and in order to do so it has involved a lot of words.

I want to stress, up front, that I feel deeply for all of those affected by this decision. I understand that not everyone will appreciate the changes being made, but want to assure all of you that these decisions - as I will detail below - were made with the future of the entire PaperDemon community in mind.

Thank you, in advance, for reading this entire post, and for taking the time to understand the complicated situation. Once you have reached the end, we welcome your feedback.

On with the post...

The rules prior to today

First I want to clarify what our rules were prior to today.

As could be found in the August 4, 2020 snapshot of our rules regarding mature content, our rules stated that creators were allowed to depict minors (our intention being that said minors would be fictional, and not real people) in sexual situations in artwork so long as the bodies of the underage characters looked post-pubescent. The criteria we have used for measuring this have been things like breasts, hips, proportions, musculature, and body hair.

Our rules have never allowed depictions of prepubescent minors. Additionally, we had rules that they couldn't look photo-real or look like they were sourced from photographs of minors. Another requirement was that all such artwork be labeled with the appropriate filters, "Shotacon (post-pubescent)" and "Lolicon (post-pubescent)," so that if someone felt uncomfortable seeing this content, they could filter it out. For more context on why we wrote the rules the way we did, check out the Aug 2, 2007 news post.

We didn't have many defined rules regarding sexually explicit scenes involving minors in written works. This was simply an oversight given the low amount of written submissions to the Red Curtain.

The revised rules

Going forward, explicit sexual depictions of minors (anyone under the age of 18) are no longer allowed anywhere on the Red Curtain (and, of course, would not be allowed on the PaperDemon side either). This applies to writing, comics, and artwork submissions, even if the characters are fictional.

For visual arts (including comics), we will continue to use the existing signals of physical maturity (breasts, hips, body hair, musculature, proportions, etc) with more strictness and with an additional check to see if you stated the age of the character. Stating the age of the character is not required. If it meets the defined signals of physical maturity, we will assume the age of the character is 18 or higher. But if you do state an age and that age is under 18, the submission will be removed.

Going forward we will be a little more strict with the physical signals to be on the safe side. Admittedly it is hard with artwork to be objective but we will do the best we can. Please note that we do take into account the style of the artist.

You are allowed to age up fictional characters, including your own original characters.

You may not age up real people. Depictions of real minors (such as minor celebrities) in sexual situations are not allowed.

Written works and comics are allowed to have an indication that a sexual situation involving an underage character occured as long as the scene itself is not explicitly included. For example, the characters can mention it, or at the point where the scene would begin, it would instead fade to black.

Additional changes

We realize now that naming the underage galleries as "Shotacon" and "Lolicon" was a mistake from the beginning, because these names imply pre-pubescent minors, which was never indicative of what they contained.

Within the next couple weeks, after we've completed a review of the artwork for rule compliance, we will be moving the existing artwork into the already-in-place Young Adult Male and Young Adult Female galleries, and deleting the Shotacon (post-pubescent) and Lolicon (post-pubescent) galleries.

We've also received feedback regarding the names of some other galleries. We're working on getting those revised. We'll make a detailed blog post with those changes once it's available.

What will we do with existing submissions?

We don't expect this to impact many users or submissions.

To repeat: there are very few artworks affected by the change. There are currently 77 artworks total in the Shotacon (post-pubescent) and Lolicon (post-pubescent) galleries that we will re-review for compliance.

For written works and comics, we don't currently have equivalent galleries, so we don't have a means to do a re-review. We'll rely on the community to report submissions that aren't in accordance with our rules. If you find any submissions not in compliance with the new rules you can click the [Report to Moderators] button.

For entries that are found to no longer comply with the rules, we will give people a chance to download/archive their work. After a moderator reviews the work and finds that it no longer complies with the rules, the submission will be marked hidden or removed from the galleries so that they're still accessible via a direct link or through the submission management pages. This will be a creator’s opportunity to download or alter/edit the piece in question in order to avoid personal data loss.

What's the reasoning for the change?

This was an extremely difficult decision involving a lot of research and discussion (details are included below). As a site that prides itself on being a place for freedom of expression, it was not easy to make a decision to outright ban a particular class of content.

Generally, our position is to allow things and give people the tools to filter out content they don't want to see. However, there are times when hosting something at all presents an issue, and this is one of those scenarios.

In all things, and in this situation in particular, we have to consider the safety of our community members and the long term viability of our site. Evidence was presented that concerned me about the safety of minors on our site and our future viability as a business if we continued to allow this type of content.

Before getting into the details, let me make clear that there is no evidence that any abuse took place on PaperDemon.com or between PaperDemon members. These changes are being made as a precautionary measure.

 

TRIGGER WARNING BEGIN: The following paragraphs contain content which may be disturbing to some. Proceed with caution or skip ahead until you see "TRIGGER WARNING END"

There was evidence presented to me that content of this nature may attract and enable people who prey on children. Keeping the rules as they were enabled predators to have a platform with which they could spread their content, and attract and find victims. Evidence was also presented that this content can be used to groom minors, making them think it's normal to have sex with an adult.

Some child exploitation experts claim making this type of content available indirectly leads to the abuse of minors because it whets the appetite of predators who will then go forward with abusing/raping a child. These experts are trying to get the laws in the US changed to expand child pornography laws to include fictional depictions that don't involve direct abuse of a real child.

Evidence was also presented that adults in the US have faced child pornography charges for having fictional creations of minors in sexual situations.

Related to this, some believe that the more minors are portrayed in a sexualized context, the more people are desensitized and thus begin to think it’s acceptable to sexually engage with a minor, a person who cannot give consent.

Given the information above, changing the rules out of concern for the safety of our younger members made sense.

To be clear, there is no evidence that such predators exist or existed on our website. These changes are being made as a precautionary measure.

TRIGGER WARNING END

 

Additional reasons for why we decided to make the change…

The fictional depiction of minors (under age 18) in sexual situations falls in a legal grey area. While obscenity laws in the United States can be hard to prove, it still could be grounds for legal action to be taken against PaperDemon, and we don't have the resources to fight in a legal battle. Even if a person feels they are in the right, and have a strong chance of winning a legal case, it doesn't mean they won't end up in a legal battle, and that the battle itself won't last years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were presented with examples of cases in the United States where people were convicted for writing or possessing fictional sexualized content of minors. Since there is legal precedent for this happening, we want to make this change to avoid the possibility of cases being brought against PaperDemon or our members.

Given this reality, hosting such content could potentially put our members who are producing the content at legal risk. By agreeing to host the content, it gives the impression to our artists and writers that what they're doing is safe and legal, but the evidence presented makes the legality of it less certain.

Depictions of fictional minors in sexual situations are outright illegal in some countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

Additionally, some of our members feel that allowing this content presents a threat to the safety of the community. Whether or not I believe that hosting the content leads to abuse, I do know that some people still perceive a threat. And that goes against our community guidelines of fostering a safe and inclusive environment.

While none of these reasons alone may be an ironclad reason to disallow the content, it still adds up to a hell of a lot of grey area and risk.

And, personally, it would also be incredibly stressful and unhealthy to have to go through the process of defending this type of content and potentially go through a big internet blow up over it. I just am unwilling to do that.

Why are we making this change now?

We've had a lot of new people around here lately and with that has come a lot of fresh eyes and feedback. Some members of the Dracostryx community expressed concern over the fact that we allow depictions of fictional underage minors in sexual situations in the Red Curtain section. IIn light of this feedback, a discussion was started by the Dracostryx staff and the PaperDemon staff about whether to continue to allow this type of content on PaperDemon.

Understandable given their young player-base, Dracostryx staff expressed serious concern about the safety of their community and indicated that they would not remain with PaperDemon if we continued to host the content.

It turns out, Art RPGs are an attractive and fun thing for teens to do. And, as said, Dracostryx’s user-base skews much younger than the rest of PaperDemon. We listened to the arguments, reviewed the research presented by Dracostryx staff, did our own research, had difficult conversation with PaperDemon staff, and made a decision based on what we felt would be in the best interest of the community as a whole and in the best interest for our future.

I don't want anyone to direct any hate toward the Dracostryx community or staff for this change. They have been a great partner to PaperDemon, and acted in the interest of keeping their community members safe.

And, the decision was ultimately ours to make.

What will happen to the Red Curtain? Is more censorship coming?

The Red Curtain is safe. We are still committed to hosting adult content to give artists freedom of expression as this is core to our values. Just because we make an amendment to our rules, doesn't mean we're going to go the way of Tumblr and ban adult content. We've been at this for 18 years now, and the Red Curtain isn't going anywhere. However, do expect tweaks to our rules as we get more feedback (this is a good thing; it means we are listening and reacting to our whole community).

As a recent addition to the PaperDemon community, Dracostryx appreciates how well we've handled adult content, and they have tremendous respect for how we’ve placed things in a separate age-gated section with filters allowing people to customize their experience. The explicit nature of the Red Curtain was made clear to them before the partnership was finalized, and they had no issue with the hosting of mature content in general. This same process will be followed with any future partnerships; future communities will be made aware of PaperDemon policies, feedback will be welcomed, and policy change will only be made as it benefits PaperDemon as a whole.

What should I do with my content if it doesn't meet the new rule requirements?

If your works are fictional and you're willing to make changes, I suggest you age up your characters to at least age 18 and submit revisions. For artwork, this most likely won't require making changes to the artwork but may require changes to the descriptions. For comics, you may have to censor scenes or age up the characters to 18. For writing, you can change the stated ages of the characters in the stories to age them up.

If your works are not fictional or you're not willing to make changes, unfortunately, you won't be able to host those submissions here. I don't have any recommendations for you regarding where to host your visual works. I would suggest to you that you proceed with extreme caution and seek your own legal counsel if you do find a site that agrees to host such content.

For written works, if you're not willing to age up the characters or censor the works, you could host it on archiveofourown.org (AO3) or Adult-Fanfiction.org (AFF). Feel free to link to your AO3 or AFF profile from your PaperDemon profile. AO3 is sponsored by an army of lawyers who have the means to protect and defend such works better than we could.

Additional Acknowledgements

We want to acknowledge that just because someone drew, wrote about, viewed, or read about a fictional minor having sex, that does not make that person a predator or mean that they would become one. This rule change is not an attempt to take a moral stance or cast judgement on anyone. We understand that some young adults create this type of content because they are similar in age and relatable, and that minors themselves may create such content in order to explore and express. It just also, unfortunately, has a strong association with people who do actual harm to real minors.

We also want to acknowledge that the concept of "adult" is relative depending on your country of origin or residence. In some countries the age of consent and the age of adult is 14-16, making these rules seem internationally unfriendly and outright infantilizing. But since we are hosted and run in the US, we are subject to US laws and the US definition of "adult".

Sources

If you'd like to examine some of the sources we collected in making this decision, we've compiled them into a Google Doc for reference. Please proceed with caution. The material may be disturbing.

Final words

I empathize with those who felt unsafe as a result of our previous rules, as well as those who have works that are impacted by these rule changes. I fully expect that some people will be upset about this change and possibly leave over it. I hate to lose loyal members of our community, but there will always be times when it's hard to please everyone and this is one of those times.

Thank you for reading this post and taking the time to understand our position. We have always tried hard to listen to feedback from the community and address issues as they come up. Please don't be afraid to speak up if you have a concern about your safety or the safety of others.

Thank you to Dracostryx staff and community for raising these issues and compiling the research. I'm looking forward to moving beyond this, continuing to build a safer space for creators, and focusing again on creating awesome content for the PaperDemon Art RPG.