This article was contributed by Parent Zone

Parent Zone provides information, help, advice, support and resources to parents, teachers, health professionals, police officers, internet safety officers and HR professionals - anyone who engages with parents.

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Wattpad: unleashing creativity…or unleashing unwanted content?

Wattpad website

Most of us have tried to write a story at some point. Whether we dreamt of becoming the next Brontë sister, or the next JK Rowling, we’ve wondered if our creativity could make people want to turn the pages. Wattpad is a popular online platform that allows millions of people to share their stories. But concerns have been raised that there is no quality control and pornographic and other troubling content is slipping through.

What is Wattpad?

Wattpad is a global community of readers and writers. It’s huge, with over 80 million monthly users all fighting to become the next big thing. The platform works with major partners such as Penguin Books and Hulu, offering the possibility that anyone might get published or adapted onto the big screen without needing contacts in the industry. 

How does Wattpad work?

Wattpad allows anyone who has an account to post and read (most) stories on the platform or mobile app for free. Wattpad offers advice on how to get noticed by readers, providing tips on online engagement, marketing and how to hook your reader. There are also opportunities to get discovered through tags, writing contests, ‘the Wattys’ award ceremony, and Wattpad Picks, a curated reading list.

Watt’s not to like?

Your child has the ability to showcase their personality, identity, ideas and imagination to the whole world through nothing more than internet access, a mouse and a keyboard. 

But Wattpad is very lightly moderated, which means that children may be at risk of seeing potentially harmful content, including the glamorisation of mental health problems and pornographic stories. On the App Store, Wattpad has a suggested 17+ age rating - but younger users can still download it unless their parents have enabled parental controls

Wattpad’s content guidelines

Wattpad has an extremely long list of content guidelines that cover everything from sexual content to hate groups. 

These guidelines can be confusing - for example, they say that explicit sex scenes should be rated mature (for over-17s) but they also say (under ‘prohibited content’) that sexual intercourse scenes are banned from the platform. 

It’s not at all clear what ‘explicit sex scenes’ refers to - and some users have uploaded inappropriate stories. 

The responsibility for tagging books (specifying what kind of content they are) is left to writers, which means that pornographic or harmful content could slip through without even a mature tag. 

You can read Wattpad’s full content guidelines here.

Do Wattpad’s guidelines work?

Following a 2017 investigation by a Medium writer, who reportedly discovered books featuring pornographic content featuring underage actors, incest, and rape, as well as a writer who asked every young girl who responded to his book to direct-message him - Parent Zone set up both an under-17 and over-17 account. We found it was possible to access mature stories through either. 

Google results are not filtered for inappropriate stories and content that should be rated mature isn’t. As long as your email has been verified you can send messages to any user - including to under-17 accounts - and there’s no option to turn off your inbox or make your account private. There’s also no age verification. All you have to do is provide a date of birth and you’re good to go.

Actions you can take

If your child is using Wattpad, there are some steps you can take to ensure they are aware of the risks and know the actions they can take if they are upset or worried over something they have seen.

  • Test it yourself: The best way to understand how Wattpad works is to test it yourself. Getting familiar with both the website and the app will help you get a feel for why your child wants to use Wattpad. It will also show you what the risks are.
  • Discuss boundaries: Banning your child from using Wattpad completely could well be counterproductive. Curiosity is a natural part of growing up and forbidding the use of Wattpad may lead them to set up an account without permission. Instead, you could discuss what they might come across, how they should respond and agree on any boundaries you think should be in place to limit the risk of harmful exposure. 
  • Follow your child’s lead: Introducing a worrying subject such as porn or suicide to a child who isn’t familiar with it might upset them or lead them to investigate further. It might sound accusing, or as though you don’t ‘get’ Wattpad and what they get out of it. You could perhaps gently ask what sort of stories they like reading or writing on Wattpad. If they don’t want to talk to you, try to get them to confide in a family member or friend who knows your child. Let your child know that you are here for them if they have seen or read something upsetting. If they confide in you try to listen, keep calm, and together make a plan. 

Parent Zone approached Wattpad for comment but they didn’t respond.

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