If you publish content to Patreon or are considering setting up an account with them, you may be wondering what kind of content is prohibited and if there are any hidden trigger words that can get you in trouble on the site.

I urge everyone to start by reading Patreon’s Terms of Use, Community Guidelines, and Benefit Guidelines. Then I’ll shed a some light on what’s not covered in Patreon’s public documentation.

What sparked this post? Well, when I went to upload Scrapyard Spiders, I received this message via a yellow notification box at the bottom of my draft.

“It looks like you might be promoting a raffle, which is outside of our Benefit Guidelines. Check out our blog post for more information, and email us if you have any questions.”

Wait… what?

Scrapyard Spiders doesn’t actually violate any of Patreon’s policies. It’s a post-cyberpunk detective story set in dystopian future Anchorage, Alaska, and doesn’t contain any references to “raffles or prizes based on chance” –or any other prohibited content, for that matter. With that in mind, it wasn’t hard to figure out that there was probably a trigger word involved that had caused my post to be automatically flagged.

I write stories in my wordprocessor of choice and paste them into Patreon’s draft template once all the cleaning and revising is done. In order to locate the offending word or phrase, I pasted the story into the template a paragraph at a time until the violation warning popped up, then narrowed down my search from there.

If I’d written the story in Patreon’s draft window, I would have been notified as soon as I typed a word that tripped the algorithm. (After a little testing, I was able to see that the warning pops up within a second or two of typing the trigger word.)

The word causing Scrapyard Spiders to be flagged? Giveaway. Here’s an excerpt that shows the offending word in context.

Frank had always assumed that Smid’s Scrapyard, Rick’s Tow’n’Salvage, and Parts’n’Pawn were separate businesses. As far as their licenses and insurance were concerned, they probably were. But looking down on the lot from above, nothing defined where the back lot of one business ended and the next began. The far side of the street essentially contained three separate storefronts that led to the same common rear storage area.

Interesting, Frank thought, locating a battered chair among the surrounding debris. Wonder if they share employees, too.

It’d be a dead giveaway if the businesses did, but that kind of thing wasn’t uncommon. It also wasn’t uncommon for the same employee to be on the payroll of multiple businesses under different names. Money laundering was big business in Anchorage.

This is a pretty simple detection program and context isn’t being taken into account at all, which is a bit disappointing. However, this is offset by the fact that Patreon notifies you as soon as a trigger word is typed into a draft of a post (rather than quietly deboosting your content or surprising you with removal, as other platforms are fond of doing.)

As Patreon founder Jack Conte said in this New York times article:

“There are no automated takedowns. As a creator myself dealing with these big tech platforms and getting an automated takedown notice, there’s no appeals process. You can’t talk to a human. And I never want to do that.”

I appreciate this transparent approach. Tell me that a word isn’t allowed up front. Don’t secretly penalize me for using the wrong word in a post or story. Although the automated detection system flags content that doesn’t necessarily violate Patreon’s guidelines, it’s not hard to figure out which word has triggered the flag, and change it. Due to that transparency, I’ve decided not to publish a list of specific words that trigger Patreon’s prohibited content filter.

While it appears that you can publish the content with the flag active, I haven’t yet tested out what happens if you do. I’ve reached out to Patreon via email to ask if it’s safe to ignore the warning on content that doesn’t violate their guidelines; as of the time of publication, the Patreon Guidelines team hasn’t responded to my email. This article will be updated when I have that information.

Have you stumbled across a trigger word or had a run in with Patreon’s Guidelines team? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email at author at LelandLydecker dot com.

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