Google Docs is No Longer Safe for Fandom

A screen shot of my google drive featuring names of numerous fics such as "another jotun fic" and "mobius fic." THere is a shocked emoji in the middle of it all.
Image courtesy my own Google Drive.

It is my displeasure to inform you that Google Docs is no longer a safe place to write or share mature fanfiction with your friends or Beta readers.  We are in Hell.

UPDATES April 1st:

Hello flood of new people (mostly from Twitter it would seem)! 

If you don’t know us here at the Geekiary, we try to be upbeat and friendly here, so I want to address some of the upset comments and replies to this story first and foremost.  It seems I fell short with my intentions and upset people, and I want to course correct that as swiftly as possible!  My intention here was to help avoid potential disaster.  When this post was written I stated there had not yet been an update to the original author who fell victim to this, and I used words to indicate that things were vague at the moment such as “may” and “may not” to indicate this, as well as explaining that it had not happened to me nor anyone I knew

I apologize if it came across as me speaking as though the story were completed and this was an official change that would happen to everyone’s work immediately.  I’ve gone back to bold those words and phrases so any future readers are absolutely clear that this was a developing situation at the time it was written.  Updates will be posted at the top, hopefully to prevent any other upset!

I hear your feedback and will be more careful about my wording in the future.  Be kind to each other!

Secondly, a new theory on this has been floated.  The writer may have been suspended for sharing the post with newer emails in bulk as some sort of spam prevention.  The theory comes from this Tumblr post.  The author of this post also uses words to indicate this is just a theory (“most likely”) so I’m not stating this is the end of the story either.

Thirdly, the original author got most of her work back, thankfully, but still had restrictions on the one piece of work the last time I checked.  This story is not finished yet, and I will update it when I hear more.

Original Article:

I don’t criticize Google easily.  It’s been deeply integrated into my life for decades. I’ve had the same Gmail account for just about 20 years now. I’ve written countless articles for this very site using Google Docs and I use other Google Suite tools to keep various projects organized. And, in what now seems to be about to become a thing of the past, I used it to write and share fanfiction with Beta readers before publication as well.

This alarming new bit of news came to my attention from an Instagram post from author Sloan Spencer. When an author in one of her Discord servers shared an explicit story with someone else, they lost the ability to share their work.  They were also informed that they were at risk of losing their account altogether.  As of this writing, the author has submitted an appeal but no update has been posted regarding the results.  It apparently takes up to 5 days to hear back.  

It seems that if you don’t share your explicit stories, or your stories are PG rated, you may not be impacted by this.  Just how explicit it would need to be to get dinged by this is unclear, however.  While this is stated in their abuse policies, this is the first I’ve ever seen it enforced for something as innocuous as fanfiction. Based on the reactions around fandom spaces, nobody else has ever seen this enforced either.  I’ve been writing explicit stories using Google Docs since at least 2011 without issue.

This policy has potential implications beyond fandom and fanfiction, too.  It has other vague standards, such as  prohibiting ‘violence’ and ‘hate speech.’  Surely none of us expected fanfiction to get taken down for being sexually explicit, so what random things could get taken down under these clauses under the rule?  Would a critical essay about hate speech that uses a slur as a demonstration get taken down?  Would a draft of a news article about a violent incident get removed, too? 

Google logoOne person commenting under the Instagram post touched on this issue from the perspective of a Criminal Justice student.  “I can’t imagine trying to peer edit papers because Google would deem all my class content ‘not suitable’ and then suspend my school email.”

I’m already pretty annoyed by Google at the moment. Thanks to their algorithmic changes, our website has been suffering while AI generated content bumps us off the first pages of search results. The fact I may lose almost twenty years of content over some fanfic I shared with a beta reader is, quite simply, horrifying. I have important documents there that I thought were safe, and now I and many others are scrambling to back things up elsewhere.

Google’s motto used to be ‘don’t be evil.’  They ditched that in 2015, replacing it with the more corporate-friendly ‘do the right thing.’  Now I’m left wondering, ‘do the right thing’ for whom? Based on their algorithm updates, they aren’t doing the right thing for bloggers.  Based on the sudden enforcement of these vague rules, they aren’t doing right by writers, either. Or students. Or journalists.  Or anyone who wants to write about one of these subjects and share it with others.

It’s their right to do all this, of course.  They’re a private company that can make their own rules.  All we can do is adapt.  So back up your files.  Move them off Google Drive and keep them somewhere safe.  Go back to the old-fashioned way of getting feedback if you have to – writing down notes on a Word document and sending it back.  It’s not as easy or interactive, but you risk losing your work otherwise.

Oh, and help support us on Patreon, too, maybe.  Because, as we mentioned before, they got us there, too.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.


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7 thoughts on “Google Docs is No Longer Safe for Fandom

  1. what a goddamn nightmare. hopefully someone comes up with a good alternative, because i like to do most of my writing on my phone, and then final edits and upload to AO3 on desktop.

  2. This is terrifying. I use Google Docs / Google Drive for everything and even pay like $200 a year for extra storage. I use it for all of my writing. I’ve encouraged other writers to use it. This is terrible.

  3. It isn’t just sex that gets you the boot. I got a TOS boot without clarification but had nothing raunchy. I had my MC talk about guns, then shoot a literal fantasy Ogre in defense of others, which was the extent of the violence as well.

  4. that’s misinformation which was already debunked, pelase inform yourself properly, this takes like 30 minutes to research tops.

    here’s a link to the tumblr post:

    https://www.tumblr.com/wowbright/746117773487489024/also-if-you-read-through-the-screenshots-on

    but for people who don’t want to click through it the TL;DR is this:

    “All of their information with regards to pornography or “explicit” material have to do with imagery–revenge porn, CP, and distribution of pornography (images and video) through google. Nothing about the writing of erotica or whatever you want to call it.

    What most likely happened to the author whose docs got suspended: She mass “shared” her docs to a bunch of emails she had never interacted with before and Google’s automated detection feature flagged this as spam. The content of the docs were very unlikely to have anything to do with it.

    By all means back up your work to somewhere other than a cloud. But this is misinfo.”

    1. Hello,

      Please do not be rude about this. This article was published several days ago before people did further research. I also included a lot of words such as “potentionl” and “may” and specifically said I was looking for an update, indicating that it was a developing story and I intended to come back to it. There’s zero reason to believe I wrote this article with the intention of stating this was a completed story with no potential for development.

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