Today Twitch announced the formation of a “safety advisory council” meant to more formally tackle some of the platform’s most complicated issues, including moderation, work-life balance, and safeguarding the interests of marginalized communities.
In a press release, Twitch said the council will advise on “a number of topics” which include “drafting new policies and policy updates, developing products and features to improve safety and moderation, promoting healthy streaming and work-life balance habits, protecting the interests of marginalized groups, and identifying emerging trends that could impact the Twitch experience.”
The council is made up of people from multiple backgrounds. Some, like CohhCarnage, CupAhNoodle, and Zizaran, are well-known streamers. Others are academics—for example, T.L. Taylor, who literally wrote the book on Twitch with 2018's Watch Me Play. There are also heads of nonprofits, like Emma Llansó, who leads the Center For Democracy and Technology’s efforts in areas like online freedom of expression and—notably, given Twitch’s history—lists “transparency” as one of her areas of expertise.
However, the Center For Democracy and Technology is also funded by the Koch family, Facebook, and Twitch owner Amazon, among many, many other corporate backers, so that’s not an incredible sign. And while it’s good that there are streamers on the council—after all, who knows streaming better than streamers—you’ve gotta wonder what sort of dialogue they’ll be able to create with non-Twitch experts. It’s one thing to know social media; it’s another to understand Twitch, a very unique platform with its own culture and needs.
Lastly, it’s notable to me that Twitch picked CohhCarnage for a task force partially concerned with work-life balance. Cohh, while a great streamer and a smart dude, spent 2,000 consecutive days streaming for at least a portion of each day. Perhaps, as a result, he knows how to strike a balance better than anyone. But even then, I’m not sure somebody who didn’t take a full day off for five years is necessarily the best pick to be one of the faces of an effort like this.
Twitch’s issues with harassment, racism, inconsistent application of rules, and questionable (to say the least) work-life balance are well-documented. The company is now taking aim at these thornier elements of its systemic briar patch in a more direct way, but the question is whether they’re extricable from the larger platform and the culture that’s formed around it, or if—after all these years of half-measures—they’ve taken hold at Twitch’s very roots. Moreover, is Twitch really committed, or is this just a more credible look for dressed up versions of the same old, less-than-transparent approaches? One way or another, it shouldn’t be too long before we have answers.