As a growing number of scandals continue to surface from users of live streaming service Twitch, the American video platform will introduce an updated Hateful Conduct and Harassment Policy later this week. Will this put a stop to the abuse and incite real change or have things already gone too far?
Now officially the world’s largest live streaming service for gamers, Twitch TV allows users to “watch and chat to millions of other fans from around the world.”
Originally founded in 2011 by US entrepreneur and avid gamer, Justin Kan, Twitch recently reported a record number of users participating in online streams and gaming tournaments.
Last year as the real world plunged into darkness with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual world of online gaming lit up like a Christmas tree, with Twitch reporting an increase of five billion hours watched between April and June 2020.
After Amazon acquired Twitch in an “all-cash deal” worth US$970 million in 2014, the platform now offers streamers the option to make money through integrated affiliate advertising which prompts viewers to purchase products through in-stream links.
The recent spike in popularity has been accompanied by allegations of bad behaviour among long-time streamers.
The most popular live streams are dedicated to watching people play Fortnite, Call Of Duty, League of Legends and Apex Legends.
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But it is in the Just Chatting channels that the majority of the drama is going down.
Like the name suggests, these “chat rooms” break the fourth wall, letting users look in on their favourite streamers outside of their typical gaming environment.
Just Chatting streams can range from six-hour webcam monologues, to risqué hot tub parties and dating gameshows.
Twitch has come under fire over the last year, as some of the site’s most famous streamers, many of whom are making a lucrative income on the platform, have allegedly been abusing their power both online and in real life.
In many cases, the accused are professional gamers whose celebrity status online might not translate over to the real world.
Ben Duncan, a 27-year-old gamer and Twitch user from London, has noticed the changes as some of his favourite players have reached high profile status.
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In June 2020 more than 70 allegations of sexism and harassment surfaced online over the course of one weekend.
One particularly disturbing story was that of well-known esports organisation, Method.
The group consequently fell apart after allegations of inappropriate conduct were made against several players, including World of Warcraft streamer Method Josh.
Mirroring the #MeToo movement that shook Hollywood and precipitated a ripple dubbed “the Weinstein effect” in 2017, associates of Method Josh began to publicly distance themselves from him.
In addition to this, the organisation’s main sponsors dropped all partnerships with the group, forcing founder Scott McMillan to issue a statement on the matter.
However, Twitch came under fire after it became clear the first reports of Method Josh’s “creepy” behaviour were reported by gaming website Kotaku back in February 2019.
The sheer volume of abuse allegations against various Twitch streamers amounts to hundred and hundreds of hours worth of content online, the most high profile accused are summarised in a Reddit post.
In July 2020 Esports News reporter Dom Sacco published an article detailing a long list of accounts from those who had spoken of their disturbing experiences with various high profile Twitch streamers.
While the sexual and non-sexual abuse claims varied in nature, the takeaway remained the same: why had so many high profile Twitch streamers gotten away with this behaviour for so long?
In addition to the Method scandal, other streamers who were accused of inappropriate behaviour included Fedmeister, SayNoToRage and ProSyndicate.
Players from the LGBTQ community were also been accused of abusive behaviour, with Sky Williams and Nairo accused of inappropriate conduct.
Most recently, this week claims have been made against US streamer Bob7, in an ongoing saga instigated by prominent debater Destiny – who boasts 578,000 – followers – and several women in the Twitch community.
Boy7 responded by publishing a 39-page online “manifesto”, in which he refuted Destiny’s claims and says they cost him his job.
Twitch has been criticised for their laissez-faire response to what feels like the gaming world’s equivalent of the #MeToo movement.
James, a gamer from Ontario, Canada, has been using the site for six years and met his fiancé through Just Chatting.
James explained the rules: “Hypothetically, you can police your own chat. Whether that’s purging what people said so everyone else doesn’t have to see it, giving people a timeout so they either get bored and leave or learn their lesson.”
“Or you can ban people, for a day or permanently until unbanned. But if you’re playing a game or unable to do that for whatever reason, you can promote viewers to the role of moderator. They get a fancy sword icon next to their name and get all of the powers you have, to use on everyone except you as the channel owner, Twitch staff and other moderators,” he added.
This version of peer moderation has resulted in a great deal of allegedly inconsistent treatment, depending on the user.
If this is the case will those who are genuinely misbehaving ever learn from their mistakes?
Whether peer moderation is the correct approach to take is unclear but in September it was reported that Hassan Bokhari, Twitch’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, had been fired following claims of sexual misconduct.
Since the start of 2021 and in the wake of growing concern for users tangible changes to Twitch’s community guidelines have been announced.
Updates have been made to policies relating to hateful conduct, harassment and sexual harassment.
These new policies are due to come into effect on Friday 22 January.
But whether they will evoke a real change in attitudes, and whether the allegations of Twitch users will be taken seriously, only time will tell.
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