Dealing with harassment of users is always a challenge for internet platforms — and that is especially true for platforms that are focused on live streaming. For many years there have been accusations around sexual harassment problems for female Twitch streamers. Going all the way back to 2012 when a Twitch streamer argued that sexual harassment was part of the culture of streaming (saying ““this is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20-years-old and the sexual harassment is part of a culture”) there have been ongoing questions about how Twitch should deal with such behavior both on and off the platform.
Not surprisingly, there have been many reports of on-platform harassment for Twitch streamers to the point that some reporters have noted it is quite easy to seek out harassment and find it on the platform. In 2018, Twitch put in place new rules for dealing with harassment on the platform and it also provides a variety of tools for managing harassment within Twitch’s chat feature.
More recently, another issue has been raised: how should Twitch handle harassment that occurs off-platform? Some users started collecting reports of harassment and sexual abuse that were occuring connected to Twitch, and it was notable that many of them were not happening directly on the platform. According to an article at The Verge many of the reported claims of harassment and abuse were people who met via Twitch or were popular Twitch users, who were accused of using their position of power to harass others.
It is difficult enough to deal with harassment in real time on a streaming platform (where the incidents come and go), but figuring out how to deal with harassment that happens off-platform is even more fraught. However, in June of 2020, many Twitch streamers engaged in a 24-hour blackout in protest over what they felt was Twitch’s failure to act regarding many of the accusations.
Decisions to be made by Twitch:
- How should it handle credible claims and accusations of abuse and sexual harassment that occur off-platform between users of Twitch?
- How much responsibility should Twitch take in dealing with off-platform behavior?
- What resources are necessary for investigating off-platform behavior?
- How should serious claims be verified?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
- Is it proper for conduct outside of an internet platform to impact usage of that platform?
- Will serious accusations against “popular” users of a platform reflect poorly on the platform?
- Will widespread accusations of sexual abuse among users of the platform create an unwelcoming environment?
- Can on-platform policies impact off-platform behavior?
After this issue got lots of attention Twitch announced that it was investigating the various claims of harassment and trying to prioritize the most serious.
We want to provide an update on our investigations into the recent allegations of sexual abuse and harassment involving Twitch streamers and actions we’re taking. We are reviewing each case that has come to light as quickly as possible, while ensuring appropriate due diligence as we assess these serious allegations. We’ve prioritized the most severe cases and will begin issuing permanent suspensions in line with our findings immediately. In many of the cases, the alleged incident took place off Twitch, and we need more information to make a determination. In some cases we will need to report the case to the proper authorities who are better placed to conduct a more thorough investigation. For those who’ve come forward and would like to share additional information, and to anyone who hasn’t shared their experience and wants to do so, you can report confidentially through the reporting tools on each streamer’s channel page.
The company also promised to continue to improve the tools on-platform for combating harassment and abuse. Twitch’s founder and CEO Emmett Shear also sent an email to the entire company about the issue and the importance of building “an experience that is community-centered, safe and positive for all.”
Days later banned a popular user who was accused of harassing other Twitch streamers as well as some other users who had been similarly accused. At least one suspended user has since insisted that he was innocent and suggested he was working with lawyers to appeal the suspension.
Written by The Copia Institute, September 2020