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Marginalized streamers beg Twitch to ‘do better’ in wake of hate raids, poor pay

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)

During an Aug. 6 broadcast, the Twitch streamer RekItRaven — who is Black and uses they/them pronouns — emotionally described a series of traumatic, real-life experiences that informed who they are today. In response, viewers in chat told Raven that they were “loved.” This made what happened next especially hurtful. About 20 minutes later, Raven’s chat was suddenly flooded by dozens of users spamming the same message, which read in part: “This channel now belongs to the KKK.” It was the second time that had happened in just one week.

Thousands of streamers, many from marginalized backgrounds, have spent the past few days imploring Twitch to counter so-called “hate raids,” in which groups of malicious users employ dummy accounts and bots to fill a streamer’s chat with targeted abuse. Under the banner of #TwitchDoBetter, a Twitter hashtag started by RekItRaven on Monday, streamers and their fans have drawn attention to issues plaguing the live-streaming platform, ranging from harassment to an unfavorable pay split.

For scores of burned-out creators, the hashtag represents a boiling point — and some, tired of waiting for Twitch, have taken matters into their own hands. Earlier this year, for example, Twitch users went so far as to create a server on the chat platform Discord dedicated to fighting hate raids.

“I’m just tired of it,” RekItRaven, who, along with other streamers interviewed for this story, declined to share their full name for fear of harassment, told The Post. “I’m tired of feeling like I’m not allowed to exist based off of circumstances that are out of my control, and I know other people are too.”

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Another Black streamer who has participated in the #TwitchDoBetter hashtag, Vanessa, who goes by “PleasantlyTwstd” on Twitch, said it doesn’t matter if marginalized creators have audiences of five or 500,000 viewers. On Twitch, identity-based harassment is inevitable.

“Every marginalized identity creator I know has at least one story, baseline, even if they don’t stream regularly,” she said. “The thing that’s most terrifying is that the hate is aimed at all of us equally. Size, frequency, status — none of it matters. They look out for the marginalized identity and go to work.”

Streamers believe that hate raids have gotten worse in recent times. One possible reason is Twitch’s implementation of a plethora of new tags — some focused on specific identities like “Black,” “transgender,” and “disabled”— in May of this year. When streamers apply these tags to their own streams, it means that prospective new viewers (and fellow marginalized streamers) can more easily pick them out from of a crowd of millions. But tags also provide racist, homophobic and ableist trolls with a veritable buffet of targets on which to feast. Streamers who requested these tags for years still feel the pros outweigh the cons, but they wish Twitch would have done more to head off harassers.

“We need tags,” said Raven. “But as soon as we got those tags, hate raids started to increase, and there’s nothing additional in our toolbox that we can use to combat that because Twitch hasn’t given us anything.”

Twitch, for its part, encouraged streamers during a May 26 stream to make use of its reporting tools so it could take action against those who exploit tags in “nefarious” ways. “If you see something, say something,” Twitch’s global VP of trust and safety, Angela Hession, said at the time.

Contrary to popular belief, Twitch does work to combat bot accounts and other forms of fakery, removing a whopping 7.5 million bot accounts earlier this year. But that has not prevented dummy accounts from continuing to have a profound impact on marginalized streamers’ experience of the platform.

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Hate raids have become so pervasive that users have decided to take matters into their own hands. One streamer named Emily created a Discord server dedicated to helping others fight back. Twitch gives streamers automated tools to block specific words and mitigate harassment, but hate raiders use deliberate misspellings, targeted remarks that don’t contain objectionable language, and other creative loopholes to get around them. Emily’s goal with her Hate Raid Response Discord server is to arm streamers with equally creative solutions to those problems.

“My favorite is the panic button,” she said, describing a custom button streamers can create with third-party tools that forces chat into a limited mode, disables functionality that allows offensive new follower names to appear on screen, and even shuts off stream audio so that harassers don’t get the satisfaction of a reaction. “It’s a one-stop button that sends all these commands to your computer to kind of just shut it down before the trolls can even get to you.”

But keeping trolls at bay is still an uphill battle. Harassers share tactics and coordinate efforts — posting evidence of their successes and riling each other up — in chat channels of their own, which means their strategies regularly evolve. To wit, the night after #TwitchDoBetter trended on Twitter, Emily says harassers descended en masse into the Hate Raid Response Discord server. The night after that, they began systematically targeting streamers who’d tweeted out the hashtag and streamed with the “Black” tag on Twitch.

Streamers like Raven and Emily have proposed solutions that skew systemic; for example, Twitch could require everybody who signs up for the platform to enable two-factor authentication if they want to chat, which would provide a barrier to entry that might dissuade some trolls from creating mass numbers of fake accounts. Similarly, Twitch could disallow new accounts from chatting until they’ve existed for a week or some other inconvenient period of time. Other streamers have also suggested banning harassers’ Internet protocol (IP) addresses rather than just individual accounts, or at least making it so that viewers who’ve been banned from a channel’s chat cannot continue to watch that channel.

Some have decided to take their business elsewhere — at least, partially. A growing number of these streamers point to Fanhouse, a burgeoning, creator-focused platform that includes options like subscriptions and donations just like Twitch but gives creators 90 percent of profits. By default, Twitch takes 50 percent of earnings that streamers make off paid subscriptions and a comparable chunk from tips gifted via the platform’s proprietary “Bit” system. Some streamers, then, have taken to broadcasting on Twitch while also asking viewers to support them through Fanhouse alongside other, longer-running creator-focused platforms like Ko-fi and Patreon.

“I don’t want to give money to a company that I am working for, technically speaking, that does not care about my well-being,” said Raven.

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Twitch’s current pay structure only allows popular streamers to negotiate for a significantly better cut. The higher up Twitch’s most-watched list you go, the whiter and more male it becomes. The list of top 100 streamers includes just three women; the top 10 includes none. Vanessa believes Twitch’s lack of transparency around pay prioritizes a homogenous group at others’ expense.

“We’re all very loudly aware that there are many who are getting 70/30 cuts, but there’s no criteria, no conversation, no goals, nothing,” she said.

A Twitch spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s pay structure and more favorable splits.

After one streamer, Brandon “IAmBrandon” Stennis, tagged Twitch CEO Emmett Shear in a tweet that included screenshots of a streamer’s chat filled with racial slurs, Shear responded that “this kind of behavior is totally against our community guidelines (and human decency).” Shear promised to “follow up with the team.”

In the meantime, the hashtag began trending again on Wednesday after another Black streamer, Omega “Critical Bard” Jones, shared a video of a recent hate raid he experienced, in which his chat was completely eclipsed by repeated instances of the n-word. He concluded his video by saying, “Twitch, do f------ better.” The video, which was first posted yesterday evening, now has over 200,000 views.

On Aug. 11, two days after #TwitchDoBetter first trended, Twitch posted an official response to Twitter. It began by thanking streamers who “shared these difficult experiences,” and said it rolled out an update that will help “better detect hate speech in chat.” It also said that it plans to launch major updates later this year that will help streamers protect themselves. It stopped short of declaring mission accomplished, however.

“You’re asking us to do better, and we know we need to do more to address these issues,” said Twitch. “Our work is never done, and your input is essential as we try to build a safer Twitch.”

Raven said they are “cautiously optimistic” about #TwitchDoBetter changing the platform, but in a time when online harassment can lead to swattings and systemic racism continues to plague police forces, they’d feel compelled to keep trying regardless.

“I can see it in my son’s eyes,” Raven said. “I’ve talked to him about hate raids and the things that happen to me, and he always gets worried. He always asks me if the police are gonna come and kill me because of this. I need to make this world safer for [my kids] … This has always been and will always be bigger than me. I’m only one voice. But if I can throw my voice in with others, it becomes a chorus and people will start listening.”

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