Twitch's First Transparency Report Is A Start, But Streamers Want More

Illustration for article titled Twitch's First Transparency Report Is A Start, But Streamers Want More
Photo: Kiyoshi Ota (Getty Images)

Today, Twitch released its first-ever transparency report, a lengthy, stat-based look at the platform’s safety initiatives over the past year. It contains some interesting, albeit granular, information about Twitch’s efforts to cut down on hateful conduct, sexual harassment, and even terrorist propaganda. But it also fails to clear the haze from the question that has surrounded many of Twitch’s most perplexing decisions: Why?

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Certainly, the report contains many interesting numbers. Encouragingly, the company says it has made “a 4X increase in the number of content moderation professionals” over the past year, meaning that if users file a report, it’s more likely that someone will get around to responding to it in a timely manner. Twitch did not, however, say how many content moderation professionals it currently employs, nor did it say whether they’re in-house or contractors (aka the Facebook method, which has led to all sorts of issues over the years).

Twitch also pats itself on the back for greater moderation coverage, noting that between its AutoMod software and human moderators, 95% of live content on the platform was viewed by a moderator of some sort by the end of 2020. Most sections of the report focused on similar increases: chat messages removed by AutoMod and the blocked term functionality, both of which allow streamers to automatically pre-screen messages for specific words and phrases, rose 61% between the first half of the year and the second. Manual message deletion on the part of creators and moderators was up a whopping 98% relative to the first half of the year, which Twitch attributed to the elephant in the room: a 40% increase in the overall number of channels on Twitch between the two halves of 2020.

Twitch also pointed to increases in the number of rule enforcements against reported users and channels. Total enforcements rose 41% over the course of the year, and the numbers reflect that in categories like hateful conduct and sexual harassment, violence and gore, nudity, and terrorist propaganda (Twitch claims this is extremely rare on its platform, but it also depends on what you classify as terrorism). The company also pointed to progress on the part of its Law Enforcement Response team, which made over 2,000 reports to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2020. Twitch, however, continues to have issues with young users making channels, leaving themselves open to potential predation.

The report contains a handful of other, similar data sets, most of which paint Twitch in a favorable light. Certainly, they’re a useful measure of Twitch’s growth in these areas, and broadly, the report mirrors similar documentation provided by platforms like Discord, Facebook, and Twitter. The problem with these kinds of reports, however, is that they have a way of appearing to say a lot while revealing very little. Twitch has offered numbers and a small amount of context, but streamers and viewers remain in the dark on major issues that came to light last year.

Replies and quote tweets on Twitch’s Twitter post about the transparency report, for example, are filled with questions about the status of Twitch’s investigations into reported sexual harassment (the ongoing nature of which has benefitted accused harassers, some of whom can still stream on the platform), specific high-profile bans like that of Dr Disrespect, the lack of a trans tag and other discoverability tools for underserved communities, lengthy turnaround times on ban appeals (and data surrounding successful appeals vs denials), the Twitch employee who Kotaku reported last year was no longer with the company after accusations of sexual assault, data about DMCA takedowns, and the process by which Twitch applies its rules, which frequently leads to inconsistent outcomes.

Twitch concluded its post about the report by saying it will “look closely at the feedback we receive to inform how we can refine these reports moving forward.” If nothing else, it now has plenty of feedback to work with.

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

DISCUSSION

jamiethomaswhite
Jamie White

Twitch is an absolute *dumpster fire* right now.

You have girls basically dressed in underwear or at least readily showing their underwear with unnecessary amounts of cleavage and skin on display, laying in bed, just laying there, reading chat, sometimes they lean or bend over suggestively -on the front page-. It’s gotten to the the point that it’s now an in-joke, they call it “farming for coomers” which is pretty self-explanatory.

Yet, this is the exact same website that will ban you for playing games with “sexual content” (i.e. girls dressed in skimpy outfits ala Super Seducer and any number of games that even Steam have begun to crack down on. The new meme: “Thanks, China.”) or even just staying in the Cyberpunk character creator for too long. As well as other... “decisions”, such as saying the word simp in a negative way being a bannable offence. There’s also the fact that as long as you aren’t too big, they’ll ban you if you do any of the above and below at their whim without explanation.

At the same time, the platform is infested with ads that constantly try to interfere with content. From ads that call checks which break the video player should you be using ad-blockers. Down to inappropriate stuff like condom adverts on family friendly streams or anti-Union Amazon ads that streamers don’t get to opt-out from.

Meanwhile, the profile tools haven’t changed in the better(worse) part of a decade, and they neither worked properly or were good a decade ago (seriously, try making your front page). The site and service continually have issues, almost every week now. The site and app have even consistently made it harder to alter simple things (try going live and changing your stream title, not only does it require some Lovecraftian incantation but it also often just doesn’t listen and the vod will often display yesterday’s title). Add to this the lack of inclusive categories and tags, or at least the freedom to choose them, with which to not only describe yourself and your stream but push the engagement. I have 3 defining parts to my stream; playing games and not playing games under the all encompassing genre of “Just Chatting”, as well as “Creative”. That’s it. And the only consistent differentiator I’m allowed is that I’m English. Wow.

In the end, you have a platform that is basically the modern internet equivalent of the Catholic church running a sex-chat service, whilst completely ignoring and irritating the very people that enabled it to become that big and to be able to be acquired by Amazon in the first place, which really (not even in hindsight) was the beginning of the end.

As a viewer and a creator, the love I had for Twitch, the warm place in my heart it reserved thanks solely to the streamers and their communities alone, is long dead. Even my favourite streamers have largely given up, censoring themselves and incessantly reiterating; can’t play that, can’t watch that, can’t listen to that, can’t say that, because TOS or DMCA. Whilst plastering brand labels all over the screen and dropping sponsored spots and referrals in with their everyday content.

At this point, regulation/legislation or better yet alternative platforms are very much welcome. It was utterly miserable timing for Mixer to shut down, but that’s Microsoft for your (meet the new boss etc). Otherwise, I honestly don’t know what to do or say anymore. I stream, or at least I try. I watch, sometimes not for or with pleasure. They’re just like the carnivores that turned this place into a joke.

Everybody is just waiting for the next Twitch and the next Kotaku. It’s ironic, that now even the media and the platforms with which to access and cover games, have become aggressively monetised, P2W, ad-hellscapes like the games before them.

Sadge.