Twitch's crusade against garbage live chats saw a victory earlier this week. The streaming platform released an automated moderation feature called AutoMod that is already, some streamers say, a game-changer.
AutoMod filters toxicity and slurs from Twitch chat for human moderators to sift through and judge. It automatically flags any messages that may be considered hate speech or harassment. Streamers can move the threshold as high as they'd like, depending how many messages they want to filter.
When AutoMod catches these words -- even if they're spelled incorrectly to avoid detection -- it flags messages for moderators to review.
Twitch streamers generally expect some level of abuse. That's what happens when you game, dance, cook or live-stream yourself eating omelettes for thousands of internet randos. But humans can only moderate Twitch chat so quickly. AutoMod takes the weight off them to defend streamers against onslaughts of trash messages.
Just used AutoMod while streaming on the front page and just... yes.
— littlesiha (@littlesiha) December 13, 2016
Little Siha streams herself playing Mass Effect and performing choreographed dances for her 36,000 followers every day. Each week, she's on the front page of Twitch, which can draw a more indiscriminate crowd. She's regularly called a "camwhore" and a "slut."
Sometimes, randos tell her to touch up her roots and lose weight. Her moderators work so hard to keep her chat clean that once, she told me, "I had to replace two of my mods' mice because they were clicking the ban.timeout button so often."
Siha describes her first stream using AutoMod as "invaluable." "It caught so many messages, including ones where trigger words were spelt incorrectly to avoid detection," she said in an email. Harassment doesn't affect her anymore, since she's experienced so much of it, but her moderators are grateful for the extra help.
Twitch's ad copy for the feature reads, "Moderators are the sword. Now AutoMod is the shield."
Twitch moderation lead Ryan Kennedy said Twitch wants to let moderators enforce their own rules, which can be strict or loose, depending on what streamers envision for their channels.
"We wanted a solution that could set a minimum standard of chat, for all streamers, that was more than what a completely open chat and rudimentary word blacklisting could provide," Kennedy told me in an email.
EpicSenseney, who told me his moderators love AutoMod
Alex Teixeira, who streams RPGs for his 46,000 followers, described his Twitch chat as "extremely toxic and generally filled with insults towards me." He said they don't bother him, and that actually, he enjoys them as easy fodder for satirical comedy.
What does bother him is, in his words, "the normalization of racist comments from certain sects on Twitch." He doesn't want racism and homophobia to feel like a mainstay of his Twitch chat.
AutoBot auto-flags those comments. When Teixeira tested it out with his subscribers, who experimented by spamming slurs in his chat, Teixeira liked it, in part, because it deprived trolls of the human attention they so desperately crave.
With AutoMod, trolls don't get the satisfaction of knowing they're being a pain in the arse to Twitch streamers. They're simply sorted and sent into purgatory, not by a tired moderator but by a faceless robot.
"Don't give the attention to the people that are causing these problems, and nobody else gets the idea to jump on that bandwagon," Teixeira told me.
Now that streamers have more help combating harassment and slurs, maybe more will feel comfortable dipping their toe into live-streaming. Or, they will just open the floodgates and welcome the trolls. It's a show of strength, but now, an unnecessary one.