"The author has put her work out to the public, meaning she has to accept that people will say good things and bad things."
That’s the exact phrase I encountered in a negative comment* on AO3 today, and I’ve said my piece in response, but I realized I had a specific problem with this argument that I failed to tackle there. It’s the idea that all spaces on the Internet are equal, and that everyone’s entitled to act however they wish and say whatever they want in those spaces because they’re open to the public.
Here’s the thing. There are still rules of decorum in public spaces. A restaurant, for example, is a public place, in the sense that anyone can walk in and order a meal. However, the guests eating at that restaurant don’t share the same rights of ownership as the person who owns it, runs it, and pays the taxes for it. If the owner institutes a dress code, people are expected to comply and may be refused service if they don’t. If a customer is rude to the staff, the owner or the manager is fully within rights to show that person the door. Just because it’s a public place doesn’t mean there aren’t established rules of behavior, both explicit and implicit, that should be followed.
The Archive of Our Own is a public space in the sense that you don’t need a password to access most of it, but it is owned, maintained, and funded by the fan community (hence the name). And the community that owns it has declared the AO3 a “safe space” for fan creators and those who enjoy their work.** If an outsider comes in and violates the “safe space” rule of the AO3 by posting rude comments or unsolicited criticism, the fans are fully within their rights to protest that outsider’s actions. That’s why fandom gets upset when fics are posted without consent to other sites such as Goodreads, or when the mainstream media features fanart without permission in their opinion pieces. Those audiences are ignorant of the context of the works–those works were not created for them. Fanworks belong to fandom. If you want to partake of fanworks created by fans, for fans, in the space provided by fans, you must play by the rules.
*I was not the writer of that fic, nor do I speak for her, but this issue goes beyond one specific fic anyway.
**For new fans: Reasons for the safe space rule have been discussed extensively elsewhere. Try The Daily Dot’s geek section, search for fandom articles. They are written by members of fandom who are reporting from within the culture.