In the “water is wet” category, researchers at Indiana University just published a study confirming that Twitch viewers on popular women’s streams like to talk about boobs. It also asks why big-name female streamers hear a higher ratio of chat comments about their bodies than women who run less-trafficked Twitch channels.
The researchers analyzed 200 female and male Twitch channels, both popular and unpopular, and over 70 million chat messages. After a comprehensive and truly unsurprising review of shitlords and trash memes, the researchers conclude that “the conversation in Twitch is strongly gendered.”
The difference was starkest between popular women’s and men’s Twitch channels. In those channels, viewers spam words like “boobs,” “pussy,” “hot,” “cute” and “smile,” which if you are a person who has ever been on the website Twitch.tv, might not give you cardiac arrest or anything. Asked about his findings, one author of the study, Giovanni Ciampaglia, told VICE Motherboard “Viewers on women’s stream spoke in more objectifying terms. . . which confirms that anecdotal evidence.”
For high-traffic men’s channels, the most frequent words are “points,” “winner,” “rank” and “kills.” The study took place in 2014 and was published this month—it’s possible that the gender divide in Twitch channels has closed quite a bit since then.
On popular female Twitch streamer Kaceytron, who parodies so-called “titty streamers” and invites trolls into her chat, the researchers write, “‘Kaceytron’ cluster is full of users whose vectors are highly similar to the vector for ‘boobs’, suggesting that the chat messages made by these users share high semantic similarity with the word ‘boobs.’” In English, that means that Twitch viewers like Kaceytron’s enjoy talking about breasts. In less eminent women’s channels, words about chat moderation were most frequent, implying that channels like Kaceytron’s that use minimal moderation attract the most viewers and more raucous behavior.
Interestingly, one of the reasons researchers give for the stark chat differences is the financial incentive for prominent, and potentially partnered, Twitch streamers to play into gender stereotypes. The researchers write that there’s pressure on Twitch “for streamers to increase subscribers and possibly to conform to the requests of the male viewers, the majority of many streamers’ ‘customers’.”
“No shit” studies like this can help bolster conversations about why Twitch’s culture can be so divisive across gender lines. Necessary are suggestions on how female streamers can get big without opening themselves up to harassment or showing more skin than they’re comfortable with.
And, I wonder, is there anything about Twitch as a platform that creates this rift between men’s and women’s channels?