October 18, 2021

Twitch streamers stage a walkout to protest and bring awareness to harassment – The Verge

On Wednesday, September 1st, a number of channels on Twitch will go dark as streamers participate in #ADayOffTwitch, a walkout designed to bring attention to the ongoing hate and harassment that’s plagued the platform for the last several weeks.

Created by Twitch streamers ShineyPen, Lucia Everblack, and RekitRaven, the walkout aims to bring greater awareness to the problems creators are suffering on Twitch. The Verge spoke with these organizers, streamers, and others to talk about #ADayOffTwitch, how they’re coping with the precipitous rise of hate raids, and what they hope the platform will do to protect its users in the future.

A Day Off Twitch was born out of the #TwitchDoBetter movement, a hashtag created by streamers affected by the hate raids that have exploded across Twitch in recent weeks. Though the action of bombing a streamer’s chat with racist, sexist, transphobic, and generally abusive messages is not new, the phenomenon has seen a dramatic increase, thanks to users employing bots to overwhelm chats with hundreds of automatically generated messages. In response to what they thought was Twitch’s slow response to the abuse, streamer RekitRaven created the #TwitchDoBetter hashtag to urge the Amazon-owned streaming platform to deploy better tools to stem the tide of harassment.

Twitch has promised that fixes are forthcoming, but in the meantime, streamers are left to contend against the hate raids with community-developed tools and resources. ShineyPen, a Filipino, trans streamer, thought more should be done in addition to talking about the problem, so he decided to organize a walkout. “A Day Off [Twitch] is largely about coming together in solidarity. The one day off is a step in the many steps we have to take towards change,” Shiney tells The Verge.

RekitRaven echoed Shiney’s statements that this walkout is more about solidarity among marginalized streamers than a means to impact Twitch’s bottom line. “I think it’s important to band together for the good of everyone who’s been affected and to show that we’re not gonna back down,” she says.

The responses to A Day Off Twitch have been varied, even among its supporters. Because of Twitch’s endemic hold on the streaming community, it’s just not feasible for some smaller streamers, arguably the population most affected by hate raids, to take a day off. For some creators, Twitch is their only means of income. Users trying to make or maintain affiliate or partner status — designations that grant creators access to many different methods of monetization — could jeopardize their finances or the health of their channel by taking even one day off. There are also contractual obligations like advertising deals or partnerships that prevent streamers from skipping a day.

Other streamers oppose A Day Off Twitch for more philosophical reasons. To them, the people behind these hate raids are working to bully marginalized streamers off the platform, and taking a day off is giving them exactly what they want. Continuing to stream and speaking out against the abuse is therefore the best way to counter trolls who might not otherwise face repercussions for their actions.

As September 1st nears and A Day Off Twitch gains traction, there’s a noticeable silence from some of Twitch’s biggest stars. And some of the larger streamers who are talking about it don’t have nice things to say. Asmongold, a longtime World of Warcraft streamer who made headlines when he switched to Final Fantasy XIV, said in a stream, “Nobody gives a fuck if you take the day off. Nobody knows who you are.” He goes on to say he would participate in a Twitch walkout if every other big streamer got involved and that he believes “in the power of numbers.” Asmongold has 2.4 million followers on Twitch and did not respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

There’s a wider feeling of abandonment and hypocrisy concerning larger streamers’ silence on the matter of hate raids. During pride month or protests for racial equality, streamers large and small voiced their support for the communities affected. Yet some of those same voices aren’t being heard now. “I accept that not everyone will be on board with supporting #ADayOffTwitch,” ShineyPen says. “I believe that many, not all, of these bigger creators are speaking from a privileged perspective.”

“Being vocal has the potential to hurt them financially,” Parris Lilly, Twitch streamer and host for Xbox’s 2021 Gamescom presentation, adds. “Nobody cares how POCs are treated as long as it doesn’t affect them.”

RekitRaven was less concerned about larger streamers’ seeming unwillingness to participate in or even acknowledge the Twitch walkout. “All I can say is I’m not worried about that. We’re already making an impact. The world is watching.”

Twitch is also watching. A spokesperson for Twitch told The Verge, “We support our streamers’ rights to express themselves and bring attention to important issues across our service. No one should have to experience malicious and hateful attacks based on who they are or what they stand for, and we are working hard on improved channel-level ban evasion detection and additional account improvements to help make Twitch a safer place for creators.”

Twitch’s support for A Day Off Twitch extends even beyond its statements. The platform is kicking off its Subtember event on September 2nd, a day after the protests, presumably so streamers who may participate can still take advantage.

As Twitch works on developing those safety improvements and streamers still contend with the dangerous hate raids that are leading to doxxing and swatting, the conversation of moving to other platforms has yet again cropped up. Twitch is the biggest fish in the streaming pond, but it is not the only one. Even after Microsoft shut down its Mixer platform, Facebook and YouTube offer alternatives to streamers fed up with what they feel is Twitch’s slow and reactive response to harassment.

DrLupo, once one of the biggest streamers on Twitch, announced he signed an exclusive deal with YouTube Gaming, making the platform an attractive alternative to Twitch and, most importantly, one that can be financially viable. The Verge asked YouTube Gaming what protections it had in place for streamers, but it did not respond in time for publication.

While it does not have the reach of Twitch or YouTube, Facebook Gaming is also slowly growing its streaming presence especially among Black creators — a frequent target of hate raids. Facebook Gaming’s Black Creators Program guarantees monthly pay, early product access, and offers mentorship programs to participating Black streamers.

Luis Olivalves, Facebook Gaming’s global gaming creator partnerships director, also shared the platform’s policies for streamer protections:

The majority of creators come to Facebook Gaming to build positive and supportive communities around the games they love. To do this, it’s important for creators and their moderators to have tools and resources at their disposal to foster the safe and inclusive environments they want.

We also hear from our creators and gaming communities that the use of real names on our platform, which reduces anonymity, contributes to a generally more positive environment on Facebook Gaming.

While we find that raids are most commonly used in a positive and supportive way on our platform, it’s important our creators have control over who can and can’t raid their channels. Creators on Facebook Gaming can disable raids altogether, or select individual creator pages to ‘block’ incoming raids from.

Disabling raids and the ability to screen raids before they could cause harm is one of the biggest asks from the Twitch community.

And if moving off Twitch simply isn’t a feasible solution, there are now ways to continue to use the platform while depriving Twitch of its cut of streamers’ profits. Streamlabs, a popular streaming tools service, recently announced it’s adding a tipping function that allows viewers to set up recurring donations. Currently, only streamers who meet certain criteria are allowed to collect subscription money of which Twitch takes 50 percent. This Streamlabs option makes it possible for anyone to receive recurring donations, 100 percent of which goes directly to the streamer after processing fees.

The organizers of A Day Off Twitch don’t necessarily want to jump ship yet. “I don’t have plans to find a new platform,” ShineyPen says. “However […] I do believe that having an alternative is good to have in our back pockets.”

The connection to Twitch is strong. It’s the place where these streamers have built friendships, communities, and business opportunities, and they don’t want to lose that place because of the maliciousness of racist, transphobic trolls.

“There are so many marginalized individuals out there who are seeking a place to feel safe, to feel like they belong and to have representation and that’s what we’re doing,” ShineyPen says.

“We owe it to ourselves and our communities to at least try to improve conditions and make it a better place,” said Lucia Everblack.

According to Everblack, A Day Off Twitch is already successful, even before it’s begun. “The whole goal was to generate broader discussion.” But more than awareness, Everblack and the walkout’s organizers and participants just want their communities to feel safe and be protected. “We don’t just want solutions to current problems,” Everblack says. “We want policies in place so that these kinds of problems never happen again or at least never get this severe.”

Correction: The article originally misidentified streamer ShineyPen’s race. We regret the error.

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