Wattpad has a community problem, so it’s killing DMs

Community publishing platform Wattpad is removing the ability for users to send each other direct messages, claiming that the feature has “only been relevant to a small percentage” of its global user base. Users will retain access to their DMs until May 6th, after which all existing messages will be deleted and the feature will no longer be available, according to Wattpad’s help center.

Wattpad is instead encouraging its users to communicate via the public commenting feature on stories or the conversation section of profile pages. There is currently no means for users to download their existing DMs, and Wattpad says that it’s unable to retrieve such data. The feature will still exist in a limited capacity solely for Wattpad to communicate with writers, though the company notes that users will be unable to respond to such messages.

“One-to-one messaging hasn’t supported the community aspect of our platform”

“Over time, we’ve found that Direct Messages have had limited utility for our readers, and that one-to-one messaging hasn’t supported the community aspect of our platform,” reads a blog post published by Wattpad on Monday. “Providing an open forum, commenting is more aligned with our product vision for readers to connect over incredible stories, share ideas, points of view, and experiences.”

Claiming that DMs don’t align with “the community aspect” of Wattpad also indicates the company likely had more serious motivations to shut down the feature beyond it having an insufficient number of users. A Forbes report in 2022 described the platform as a “sandbox for sexual predators,” finding that minors were frequently being groomed via Wattpad’s messaging feature. Scams, bullying, and other harassment are also known issues facilitated by DMs.

Available on the web, iOS, and Android, Wattpad has around 94 million users as of August 2022 and is especially popular with young women and teenage girls, with fanfiction, romance, and teen fiction ranking as the most popular genres.

Wattpad CEO Allen Lau has described the platform as an “IP factory for user-generated content”

While removing user-to-user DMs may improve platform safety for minors, it also serves to reduce Wattpad’s liability and protect its reputation from impacting its other business interests. Wattpad CEO Allen Lau has described the platform as an “IP factory for user-generated content,” with stories published on the platform having been notably adapted into movies and TV series like Netflix’s The Kissing Booth and My Life With the Walter Boys.

The impending shutdown has disgruntled the few users who did utilize Wattpad’s messaging feature. Posts protesting the decision can be found all over social media, alongside a petition calling to prevent Wattpad from deleting existing user-to-user messages.

This also comes as Archive of Our Own (AO3), another popular platform for hosting fanfiction run by the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), has temporarily disabled the ability for unregistered users to leave comments due to an “influx of abusive spam.”

OTW communications representative Claudia Rebaza tells The Verge that while the spam issues have been ongoing since 2022, the move was driven by users now receiving comments that had explicit images embedded. OTW’s systems and coding teams are currently “looking into longer-term responses,” and more information will soon be made available to AO3 users.

AO3’s current situation regarding abusive comments should be warning enough that Wattpad may just be shifting its own issues out of private messages and into public comment threads. Trolls and perverts are hardly shy after all, and (in my own experience) fanfiction hosting sites tend to attract plenty of toxic degeneracy from users who don’t share the same appreciation for beautifully written tomes about Captain Kirk boning Spock.

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