How Twitch is now holding streamers responsible for their audiences

Twitch has a toxicity problem. There are plenty of people who would suggest that “this is just how the gaming community is” and “anyone on the internet needs a thick skin” but things have gone too far. From stream raids, to real life threats and harassment, to the insane expansion of the inappropriate and arguably racist Ugandan Knuckles meme, to AGDQ going into subscriber only mode because of rampant transphobia, Twitch’s communities can be at times unpleasant and, at worst, dangerous.

When Twitch was small, this wasn’t a big deal. After all, you are always going to find groups of loud people being garbage on the internet. But Twitch isn’t small anymore. It’s a massive international phenomenon. It’s the main streaming platform for mainstream e-sports. It hosts streams that pull in higher ratings than some network television. It’s not just for “the internet” anymore. It’s for the mainstream gaming audience, and that audience is huge.

Up until recently, Twitch chat might’ve held back Twitch from ever receiving proper respect as mainstream media. However, over the weekend Twitch managed to do exactly what I and many other people have been asking them to do for a while. They held their streamers accountable.

A new set of stricter Twitch community guidelines were recently posted and they take a no tolerance standpoint on any hateful or toxic conduct. First and foremost, any conduct deemed hateful by a streamer will result in immediate and indefinite suspension. This means racial slurs, homophobic or transphobic comments, ableist slurs, and anything that can be deemed hateful is grounds for a streamer to lose their channel. It doesn’t matter if it’s “just a joke.”

Additionally, streamers will be held to this standard even outside of Twitch. If they are found to incite hateful behavior or speech on some other platform other than Twitch, their channel can be suspended. If they use any other services to direct hate or harassment on someone on Twitch, their channel can be suspended. This includes things such as chat raids, inflammatory YouTube videos or even forum posts. As Twitch said in their blog post “Hate simply has no place in the Twitch community… Please remember, even if you’re just joking with your friends, you’re still choosing to stream on a service that reaches a large audience.”

Additionally, Twitch has taken a firmer stance on sexual content as well. They have finally made it absolutely clear what sort of attire is acceptable on a stream. They have also made it clear that users are not allowed to harass streamers that they feel are breaking this rule.

“Attire in gaming streams, most at-home streams and all profile/channel imagery should be appropriate for a public street, mall or restaurant. As a reminder, we will not tolerate using this policy as a basis to harass streamers on or off Twitch, regardless of whether you think they’re breaking this rule.”

It’s clear that this new policy has been put in place to both stop streamers from exploiting sexual images for views, and to stop people from harassing female streamers who are rightfully following Twitch’s policies.

Perhaps the biggest change (and the most alarming for more controversial streamers) was found in Twitch’s expanded harassment policies.  Specifically, Twitch streamers can now be held accountable for the actions of their communities.

Creators are role models and leaders of the communities they create or foster around them. Creators should consider the consequences of their statements and actions of their audiences; we ask that you make a good faith effort to quell any efforts from those in your community to harass others.

Twitch should not be used to incite, encourage, promote, facilitate, or organize hateful conduct or harassment, whether on or off Twitch. We will suspend communities, organizations and individuals that do so.”

This has caused a backlash from some streamers who feel that it is absurd to expect streamers to be able to control the actions of their community and, to an extent, this is correct. However, a streamer can attempt to control the actions of their community through the use of heavy moderation and strict behavior policies. Streamers can always kick people who are being toxic.

The common argument against this is that it’s already hard to make money as a streamer, and kicking anyone will hurt their bottom line and possibly cause a mass exodus of their loyal fanbase.

I think I speak for Twitch here when I say “tough.” If you can’t survive as a streamer without creating a community that harbors toxic individuals, then you can’t make it as a streamer period. Twitch has made it clear. Hate has no place on their service. If you are only making a living by allowing hate to foster, then you aren’t making a living in the way Twitch is okay with.

There is also a general worry that streamers will start being suspended for random toxic individuals coming into their chats and disrupting their normal streams. To be honest, I think that’s an unfounded worry. Twitch has made it very clear. They are looking for streamers to make a “good faith effort” to stop harassment and keep their communities non-toxic. You just need to try to do the right thing.

It is entirely likely that a lot of popular streamers will end up suspended once these guidelines go into effect. Luckily, Twitch is willing to help. The guidelines will go into effect Monday, Feb. 19, at 9 a.m. Pacific time. All streams must remove any VODs and clips that violate these new guidelines before then. Twitch will also be reaching out to popular streamers who might violate these guidelines with tips and assistance to help them conform to their new policies. That’s far more than they actually needed to do.

With any hope these new guidelines will make Twitch a better place in the future. If anything, they will certainly make Twitch a better place for mainstream content such as the Overwatch League.

What do you think? Will these policies make Twitch a better place or is Twitch going overboard? Let us know in the comments.