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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Kate

Hey Wattpad—You Can't Fix Bullying By Pretending It Doesn't Exist!

Wattpad's notoriously flawed moderation system is unacceptably dysfunctional, paving the way for a platform overrun with bullies and spammers.

Wattpad's Moderation System is a Joke

Wattpad's reporting system currently works like this: if you see content that violates the terms of service, you can report it by clicking the "Report" option in the dotted drop down menu beside the content. The system asks you why you're reporting it and gives you an option to "Mute" the user rather than report them. Muting is Wattpad's form of blocking, but has multiple drawbacks (which we'll explain later) that make it less useful than most competitors' blocking functions.

Once you report an issue, you'll receive an automated email that says:

"It seems you are reporting a user for their behaviour, and we want to give you as much help as possible. Before we continue though, did you know about the mute function?"

You will also receive an email that tells you your case has been closed and is considered solved. They seem to do this automatically and the text of the automated email implies that if you don't respond from there, your complaint won't actually be reviewed by a live person. Wattpad also insists that your report be explicitly about you or your stories, so you can't report abuse happening to others.

The "Mute" Function Just Doesn't Cut It

The mute function is heavily pushed by Wattpad HQ as a solution for harassment and spam. There are two big problems with that: 1. The mute function doesn't entirely stop users from contacting you and 2. Muting a user allows negative actors to stay on the platform so that they can harass others.

Here is what Wattpad says about using mute:

"If you mute someone, they will not be able to send you an inbox message, write on your profile’s message board, or leave any comments on your stories. While muted, you will also be unable to contact them through these channels. Please also note that if you mute someone, they will still be able to read and vote on your stories."

While it's certainly better than nothing, Wattpad's mute function still allows muted users to read your stories. In an even bigger loophole, they will also be able to reply to your comments on other stories. While Wattpad won't notify you of their comments, you'll likely see them when you're notified of other comments in the thread.

Bullying is a Serious Issue on the Platform

Wattpad has a history of poorly addressing bullying issues in the past. Rather than address bullying in their writer forums, Wattpad shut them down entirely, citing bullying as the reason.

The platform started their Empathy Project to encourage users to help combat bullying, which included some rather tone deaf tips like:

"Sometimes it can help to take a break if something you see online hurts your feelings. It might be a great opportunity to spend time with people you care about, or take part in another activity offline!"

They seem to be encouraging users to handle bullying themselves rather than taking the problem on as a company. Their messaging system now includes a note reminding you to be kind when you message a user you don't follow. Comments with swear words or other forbidden phrases are automatically greyed out by their system, but are still completely visible to all users.

The Site is Full of Spammers and Poachers

You would think after Wattpad's recent data breach, spam and misuse would be a top priority, but Wattpad is currently full of spammers. These spammers fall into three main categories:

  1. Phishing - Scammers that attempt to lure users into clicking on potentially dangerous links or giving up their private information.

  2. Romance Scams - "Catfish" who pose as attractive men in order to lure users into giving them money or information.

  3. Writer Poaching - Representatives of mostly disreputable sites trying to convince writers to transfer their content to their competing platform. Many offer misleading contracts or payments that never actually come through.

By failing to eliminate these users through real moderation, Wattpad is allowing the spam community to grow and flourish.

Wattpad is Failing Its Users

After the closure of the forums, Wattpad claimed they were reevaluating their moderation policies, but it's obvious that Wattpad's priority has never been protecting its users. There is no data about how many moderators they employ, but it's safe to say (based on their heavily-automated reporting system) that it is not enough to effectively manage the amount of user reports they receive. Wattpad has spent a great deal of time updating the functionality of their app and promoting their paid stories program because both of these things help make them money. But content review and moderation isn't profitable, and it's clear that Wattpad hasn't made it a priority.

Wattpad, unless you want to wait until a serious catastrophe happens (and sends advertisers running from the platform), you need to make user reporting a priority right now. Before it's too late.

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