Twitch looks to clean up livestreaming with new policies against sexual harassment and hate
Twitch updated its harassment and hate speech policies, creating a new category expressly for sexual harassment violations and banning the Confederate flag as a hate symbol.
Twitch's new guidelines, released Wednesday, take a hard line on policing the video service, which is owned by Amazon, and weed out the most harmful elements. The policies take effect Jan. 22.
“This is a significant milestone in Twitch’s ongoing efforts to create a safe, inclusive community, and is the culmination of months of research, community feedback and consultation with trust and safety experts,” Twitch said in its blog post about the changes.
Twitch has become the go-to site for livestreaming video game play and other topics and has become a key property in Amazon’s advertising plans. Amazon bought the company in 2014, and it has adopted strict policies to keep its creators from straying too far into inappropriate subject matter.
Livestreaming can be a risky medium, and there also are chaotic live chats where the community is encouraged to participate. Like all platforms, Twitch is trying to manage offering creative freedom while discouraging the worst abuses.
Twitch’s most recent public disclosures show it has 17.5 million daily users, but those stats are from last year, and since then the site has seen a surge in new usage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the major platforms, including Facebook, Google—which owns YouTube—and Twitter, have been rethinking longstanding harassment policies in the past year. The internet companies are often abused by bad actors sharing misinformation, bullying other users and spreading hateful speech. Advertisers are watching the platforms closely for how they handle harassment and hate speech, because they have become liabilities for brands.
Twitch has been making significant inroads with major corporations that tap its network of creators to run video ads on their programs and tie promotions into their streaming. This week, Wendy’s touted its sponsorship of five Twitch gamers, for whom it created eponymous value meals to sell through Uber Eats. Wendy’s called it the “Never Stop Gaming Menu.”
Demeaning behavior targeted
The gaming community on Twitch is an active one but can also be known for somewhat crass humor and demeaning behavior. Twitch has become stricter in recent months handing out bans to popular streamers. Just this week, a streamer known a Khanada, Leon Khim, announced that a ban he received in September was now permanent, after he allegedly made violent threats. Meanwhile, Khim described his activity as simply “talking shit.”
Twitch’s newly stated policies spell out that harmful speech, even without any intention to cause harm, is still prohibited. “Words and actions have meaning and impact, even if the intent is not meant to be hurtful or cause harm,” Twitch said. “The new policy focuses less on perceived intent, and more on content and impact.”
“While trash talk and good-natured trolling are allowed on Twitch, harassment and abuse are absolutely not,” Twitch said. “In some areas, to determine where a behavior falls, we will rely on reports from the user being targeted to indicate that a behavior is unwanted. That said, we’ll continue to weigh both the perspective of the reporter and the content under review to reach a determination.”
The new policies also take on sexual harassment. Many popular streamers are women, and they can endure offensive and hurtful personal attacks.
“Sex-based insults, including objectifying statements about other users or public figures, are prohibited and will lead to suspensions on the first offense,” Twitch said.
Lastly, the updated policies spell out more forms of hate speech and symbols that Twitch would ban, including depictions of the Confederate flag.