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  • Writer's pictureAdam Lee

The Wattpad Purge: New Moderation Bot, Mass Deletions, and "Shadowbans" Plague Users

After mass panic from users following a rankings "shadowban" and a rash of sudden story deletions, Wattpad announced a new (likely AI-driven) content moderation bot that may be responsible.

DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for entertainment purposes. Due to the nature of controversial topics and limited access to information behind the scenes, we sometimes rely on unconfirmed details, rumors, and speculation. We do our best to be clear and accurate when discussing gossip, but we can make no guarantees as to the correctness or reliability of this article's content.

Rankings Disappearing and the "Shadowban"

Toward the end of March 2024, Wattpad users on Reddit and Discord started reporting issues with rankings not showing up on some stories. Some users speculated it was a "shadowban" of sorts that limited story visibility for stories that had been flagged by their system. At least in some cases, users were told by support that their stories had indeed been flagged and hidden from rankings, but it is unclear if it was done intentionally.

The prevailing theory is that a new AI program may have overzealously flagged potentially problematic content and temporarily "shadowbanned" them all pending human review before deletion.

The Wattpad Status site reported all systems operational during this period, and listed no disruptions in Story Rankings. From what we can tell, the issue has since been resolved.

A Sudden Change of Content Policy

Around the same time, another strange Wattpad issue popped up. As of March 30th, Wattpad quietly changed the age of consent in their Content Guidelines from 16+ to 18+. The change wasn't publicly announced or addressed by Wattpad, and within a couple days the listed age returned to 16+.

Stories Face "The Purge"?

In the first week of April 2024, there was a spike in reports of Wattpad deleting stories without warning over undisclosed content violations. It garnered enough attention that Fanlore has listed it in their Timeline of Major Fandom Purges. Without any word from Wattpad, users began speculating as to which stories were being deleted and why. It became a popular theory that the system was targeting LGBTQ+ stories, sexual content, or fanfiction, but there is no evidence to support that.

Wattpad (Finally) Makes an Announcement

On April 5th, Wattpad posted an update that gave some important context to these changes. Entitled "Upgrading our moderation capabilities on Wattpad", the announcement confirmed that "new moderation tools" were being used to flag stories for deletion. They did not confirm that the tool used AI, but the wording seemed to strongly suggest it.

"This week, our teams deployed new moderation tools that will help us identify content violations faster and at a larger scale than was possible before. Our new moderation process will make Wattpad safer for everyone, while also making it easier and faster for our teams--who work day in and day out to keep the platform safe--to identify and remove Content violations."

In a probable attempt to quell user panic, Wattpad clarified that flagged stories would only be deleted if their 'investigation' confirmed a violation:

"Users can rest assured that only Content violations will be actioned by our teams, and content not prohibited by our Content Guidelines will remain on the platform."
"Our teams are in the process of removing confirmed content violations from the platform, and also reviewing stories that have been flagged for potential violations. Writers who believe their stories have been removed in error can appeal the decision by submitting a request via our Help Center. If a story is in review, it will not appear in search or story rankings until our team completes its investigation."

They also announced that a change in the minimum age of consent (from 16 to 18) would officially happen beginning April 15th. Writers with existing content that doesn't fit will have just ten days to edit out anything that doesn't comply with the new rules or risk deletion.

On April 15th, 2024, we will update our Content Guidelines by raising the age of consent in stories to 18+. This change will clarify how Teen Fic and YA writers should approach romance storylines, and better reflect the diverse cultural standards and expectations of our global reading and writing community.

These updated rules mean that untold numbers of books—including some Wattpad Originals—that followed the rules at the time they were posted would now be at risk of deletion.

The new guidelines were clarified as:

Content may still include non-sexual elements of a romantic relationship between people under 18, such as kissing and holding hands.
Content can still allude to sexual acts having occurred between two characters under the age of 18 as long as it is NOT described in any way.
Content depicting sexual acts involving anyone under 18 is prohibited.

While they didn't directly explain the reason for the change, they emphasized that it was part of a broader initiative to improve platform safety. Wattpad hasn't announced any tools to tackle their broken user reporting system, the influx of bots and scammers, or abusive and predatory user behavior.

So the official word seems to be that it's for safety reasons, but it may also be a bid to protect themselves legally. In January, the state of Iowa sued TikTok for having mature content accessible to teens. It's easy to see how an app like Wattpad might see news like this as a warning sign that they'll need to crack down on adult content.

How to Protect Your Stories

Let's be honest, whatever system they have implemented is highly suspect and we don't have a lot of faith in its ability to accurately flag "content violations". There's a real concern that books will be forever lost due to the whims of a rogue AI. So we recommend 4 steps to make sure your books are safe:

  1. Back up your stories. Do this now, no matter what. If Wattpad deletes your story, you may never be able to recover it. Move your book to a word file or Google Doc and save it in at least two places.

  2. Clean up the content. Wattpad's Content Guidelines may currently say 16+, but that will change on April 15th. If you have a story features any character between 16 and 17 years old engaging in erotic activity, age those characters up or remove the scenes entirely.

  3. Start writing in another app. Going forward, write any new chapters in another program (like Word, Google Docs, or Scrivener) rather than in the Wattpad app. You can easily copy and paste the text into Wattpad once you're ready. You'll lose less work to app glitches and moderation changes.

  4. Consider a backup app. If you post on Wattpad but are concerned over glitches and censorship, it's worth starting to build a following on another platform. Inkitt has a much more permissive content policy, and AO3 and Ream even more-so (as both have a very anti-censorship stance).

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