Wattpad is an international reading platform that makes use of user-generated content. Its aim is to create social communities that revolve around online stories. These stories are penned by a wide variety of writers of all skill levels. Wattpad provides the platform for beginner authors to showcase their writings without going through the traditional method of getting published. Wattpad does not filter content or require authors to edit their works, either.
The local Wattpad community produced the first online novel that was adapted into a movie. This work was called “Diary ng Panget” by author HaveYouSeenThisGirl. It became an Internet sensation by amassing 12 million reads. Due to its popularity, it eventually picked up the attention of PSICOM Publishing Inc. PSICOM turned the online novel into a print book. This triggered a rush of other authors who wanted to get similar deals from mainstream publishers.
Toxicity and Wattpad’s online community
Wattpad is not only a user-generated writing platform but also an SNS (social network service). Readers can follow, share, like, and support their favorite authors. Eventually, ‘fandoms’ or groups of hardcore supporters emerged in the years following Diary ng Panget. Although fandoms offer a sense of belongingness to people with the same interests, it also produced a negative impact on readers.
According to William Proctor and Bridget Kies in “On toxic fan practices and the new culture wars,” toxic fans develop because the Internet has become a battleground in which new culture wars are being fought, that when something new is presented to them they will react with hostility or they would accept it.
[W]hen a fan does not win against an argument over their popular culture, they would likely feel a sense of disempowerment at the loss of privileged status, therefore, turning to social media allowing them to attempt to overcome it by tweeting, blogging, doxing and creating niche movements with other disempowered fans.—Kayla Nicole Togonon
They have explained that when a fan does not win against an argument over their popular culture, they would likely feel a sense of disempowerment at the loss of privileged status, therefore, turning to social media allowing them to attempt to overcome it by tweeting, blogging, doxing and creating niche movements with other disempowered fans.
“Toxic behaviors are often the result of hegemonic elites feeling as though they are marginalized or in the minority.” (Proctor and Kies, 2018)
A typical example of this behavior is when rabid fans lynch readers who point out questionable themes and elements in pieces of writing by their favorite authors.
When new literature goes unchecked
While Wattpad has provided a platform for beginning writers, many Filipino authors have exploited it and have made it their playground for perversions and sexual fantasies. The deviant behavior and psychology of authors have become the norm, prompting readers to normalize questionable themes that can easily roll over to practice.
Should Filipino Wattpad authors be allowed to romanticize, fetishize, and valorize sensitive themes such as rape, pedophilia, incest, and abusive relationships?—Kayla Nicole Togonon
Should Filipino Wattpad authors be allowed to romanticize, fetishize, and valorize sensitive themes such as rape, pedophilia, incest, and abusive relationships?
A small number of Wattpad readers regularly condemn these themes, and they receive hate by fans in return. The cult-like status of some Wattpad authors has prompted online dummy accounts to lynch critical readers of Wattpad works.
In one instance, a Wattpad novel normalized pedophilia by illustrating that the underage characters were “in love.” The novel in question also featured sexual coercion, grooming, and exploitation.
In Jonaxx’s “Until Trilogy,” Elijah and Klare began as cousins and ended up as lovers after justifying that the relationship can go on because Klare was adopted. While this may not seem all that disturbing, it does suggest that first cousin relationships are fine. Such deviances are problematic in the Philippine context and require more nuanced views. Normalizing incestuous relationships without providing readers the benefit of a closer look at the cultural taboos surrounding first cousin relationships are irresponsible and indicative of the author’s lack of foregrounding and knowledge of the very subjects she’s tackling. Jonaxx’s Costa Leona series implied that the girls were 11–17 years old while their respective partners were 18–23 years old. This gap in the age suggests that these works are also normalizing sexual grooming.
In Cecelib’s “Possessive” series, male characters tend to have abusive and possessive tendencies towards their female counterparts. These works also fetishize abuse. Abuse causes deaths of women and children and should not be taken lightly in the real world. Obsession and excessive jealousy is already an indication of abuse. Abuse is not ‘love-‘ it is abuse, full stop.
In JFStories’ “Indecent Proposal,” the text romanticized abuse and abduction. In the story, the male character is made to look as if he regrets each time he abuses the female character. The same author also wrote the story “Obey Him,” in the story a stepfather engages in sexual activities with his stepdaughter. The text justifies pedophilia by featuring the ‘love’ between the characters.
What must be done?
We cannot deny that some Filipino writers have capitalized on the demand for romance and sexually-charged literature. However, Wattpad barely filters readers and many of the readers are minors.
These works often go unchecked because the authors barely guide their readers. They do not provide guiding statements even if they can, online. This is a highly irresponsible behavior that must be changed.
They do not provide guiding statements even if they can, online. This is a highly irresponsible behavior that must be changed.—Kayla Nicole Togonon
Sensitive themes should be handled properly and should not be justified by trying to present the story as romance. Many successful novels did not have to use cheap plot twists and deviant themes. It is important to note that stories, even fictional ones can leave a mark on its readers; therefore, when we write, we should be grounded on ideologies that will liberate them and make them critical thinkers of their generation.