Have you heard about Twitch? Even if you haven't, your kids probably spend many hours watching or broadcasting gaming content on the streaming platform. Nothing wrong with that, except that in the past few weeks, women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault in video game streaming platforms such as Twitch.
After the victims went public, Twitch decided to open investigations about inappropriate behavior on its platform and took action against a handful of their content creators. Right after that, other game streaming platforms such as Facebook Gaming decided to take a closer look at their streamers' behavior as well.
Now that these stories are out in the open, parents are questioning if it's safe for children to browse these game streaming platforms. And we get it, so we created a comprehensive guide for parents that want to keep their kids and teens safe.
What is Twitch?
Twitch.tv is a content and streaming platform. Is not exclusively for gaming content, but it is very popular among gamers who connect to interact with players from around the world. This online platform allows its visitors to broadcast and watch live streaming or pre-recorded gameplay videos. Just like any other streaming service, they are focused on entertainment. Among the things that make it so attractive is that players can add audio comments or webcam videos to their broadcasts, while online users chat and sometimes even speak with them.
Founded in 2011, Twitch was one of the first game streaming services on the internet. It reached 45 million unique visitors in 2013, and it was sold to Amazon. In 2020, Twitch has over 140 million monthly users. Hot games such as Fortnite and League of Legends are the biggest draws. Some gaming streamers were essential to Twitch's fame. Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and Herschel "Guy" Beahm IV (AKA Dr. Disrespect) had a significant influence on growing the platform's audience. But they are both currently off Twitch. Ninja left in 2019, apparently because his brand was too big for gaming. And, recently, Dr. Disrespect was banned from the platform for what is still a mystery to the gaming community.
Another issue that put Twitch on the news recently was their decision to suspend Trump's channel for "Hateful Conduct".
Subscriptions and transactions in Twitch
But what makes Twitch so popular among gamers? Streamers on Twitch rely on a subscription and donation system to earn revenue on the platform. If you enjoy content from a certain streamer, you may pay a subscription for their channel. Those who pay can get perks such as direct interactions with the streamer, or emojis that they can use in the Twitch chat.
Subscriptions are the main revenue source on Twitch. The platform offers three subscription levels starting at $4.99. This includes a Prime system that allows Amazon Prime members to subscribe "for free" if they link their accounts. Before leaving Twitch, Ninja was the top streamer in the world, and he was making over $5.5 million per year. Besides accumulating 12 million subscribers, he was making money from ads, donations, sponsorships, and YouTube compensations.
When the streamers are starting out, they usually have to split their income with Twitch. But once they have a broad audience, they might keep 100% of their earnings.
While most of the content in Twitch is harmless, like so many other online communities, Twitch can expose kids to inappropriate content, malicious actors and cyberbullying.
As a response to recent allegations from female users, Twitch began banning many streamers accused of sexual harassment and violating its guidelines. Sadly, the harassment issue is not new. In 2019, Samantha Wong spoke out about another Twitch user who harassed her but it wasn't until 2020 that Twitch decided to take action after almost a dozen people made similar accusations.
Twitch has strict rules and guidelines against sexual content, bullying, and harassment, but enforcement is not as strict. For example, even when their terms and conditions state that they don't allow users under 13 years old, it's not unusual for younger kids to join the platform.
Also, chats in bigger channels are mostly moderated, but the discussions on many more channels are hard to control. This means that children could be exposed to inappropriate conversations with slurs or innuendos if parents are not cautious.
Twitch vs. Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming
With Twitch's popularity, other companies decided to jump in the gaming bandwagon and launch their own streaming service. Just in April 2020, Facebook launched Facebook Gaming, which is very similar to Twitch. It allows users to browse games and streamers, enjoy tournaments and play online. YouTube Gaming has the same features but it allows users to add content like Q&A's, how-to videos, among others and it doesn't require streamers to be exclusive. These elements are attracting more users, including big names such as Ninja, who picked YouTube Gaming as his streaming platform.
Microsoft also tried to compete in the space with Mixer, but in June 2020 announced that the platform was shutting down this Summer.
Six tips to keep your kids safe on game streaming platforms
While demanding accountability from Twitch and the other platforms is important, there are also things you can do to prevent your 13-year-old from being exposed to harmful behaviors and inappropriate content. We spoke with experts about internet safety recommendations, and what to do to protect them while they are online.
Tip 1: Update Parental Controls
Brian Santiago, a security operations engineer, mentions that platforms like these lack proper content filtering and parental controls. The best way to go is to access your kid's account and "make sure that the options to block messages and gifts from strangers are toggled". Santiago warns that these settings are not permanent and can be easily reversed, so you'll have to check the account settings frequently…kids are slick!
Tip 2: Restrict Mature Content for Children
Matthew Abraham, blogger, avid gamer, and parent of two teenage gamers recognizes that it was better to restrict content than prohibiting his kids from playing online. He says that "disabling mature content on Twitch in the settings is a good place to start." Mature content is usually inappropriate for children and teenagers and the setting may block some streamers who use profane language and other material unsuitable for children.
Tip 3: Monitor your Children's Activity on Twitch
Tricia Lewis, executive vice president of HackEDU, suggests that parents should monitor closely the channels their children watch on game streaming platforms and conversations users are having in the chats. Make sure that you spend a few minutes getting a feel of what's being discussed in the chat and how the streamer talks to his audience. She says that parents should be aware of how the content filters work and "understand that these settings are not foolproof, and there are no real parental controls for the service."
Tip 4: Use Chat Filters
Verónica González, a dedicated gamer and avid Twitch user since 2013, highlights that you can "turn on chat filters to hide unwanted messages in any chat across Twitch." She adds that in case of any discrimination, sexually explicit language, hostility, and profanity, there are settings like the "ignore" feature, which means that a person's message will no longer appear on screen.
Tip 5: Personal Information is a No-No
Santiago encourages parents to warn their children about sharing personal details about themselves or the family to anyone they meet online. "Personal Identifiable Information (PII) can be easily extracted from naive kids who are enticed by strangers. If you're alerted about unusual behavior from strangers at any point, you can report the account to Twitch for review," he says.
Tip 6: Explain the Dangers of the Web
All our experts concur that you need to have an open talk about the internet and the dangers that come with it. Scaring them can work, but honesty, clarity, and a free line of communication go a long way. Teach your kids to avoid situations that look suspicious, dangerous, or inappropriate. And develop a trusting relationship so they know they can come to you when they come across something unsafe online.