Twitch's latest update introduces a tool that lets a streamer instantly transport their viewers to somebody else's channel. Known as "raiding," this has been used in the past to harass people.
Now that Twitch is making raids an official part of the platform, however, some streamers think the new feature will make it easier to participate in the positive aspects of raiding.
The "/raid" feature was introduced a few weeks ago at this year's TwitchCon during the Keynote. It was announced that raids would go from being a loosely-defined community activity to an actual command that could be typed into a Twitch chat to initiate a move from one streamer's channel to another.
The feature finally went live this week for select Twitch partners, with the company rolling out full access to all users across web, iOS, Android, and PC starting next week.
In the past, streamers who wanted to move their followers to another channel in a show of support had to dump the url into the Twitch chat several times and hope their viewers followed through.
As a built-in-feature, streamers who want to raid one another's channels can simply type "/raid" into the chat followed by the other streamer's name. Viewers will be presented with a prompt to "join." If they click to do so, a countdown begins. At the end, they're transported over to the other channel.
The streamer who initiates the raid will also immediately began hosting the other person's channel. Hosting, in which streamers who aren't currently live rebroadcast the channels of others, is already a common practice on Twitch. Raids can boost the hosted person's audience numbers and allow all the viewers to interact via a single chat.
Raid safely with new moderation tools.????
Choose who can raid you, view recent raids, engage follower only chat mode, & more! pic.twitter.com/eWLRrU3Ibh
— Twitch (@Twitch) November 2, 2017
Raiding didn't start out as a way for streamers to exchange thumbs ups and good vibes. It originated on 4chan, where internet users would conspire to bombard the same Twitch channel with negative or trolling comments. A thread about the planned attack would emerge followed by blast of sustained harassment on the unsuspecting streamer, like a flash mob for a comments section.
That's why many people greeted Twitch's original announcement of the new tool with scepticism.
All sorts of people have been the victims of raids in the past, but as with most types of abuse on the internet, the coordinated campaigns often targeted women. Outstarwalker, a Polish game developer who also works with GOG on Twitch coordination, has been raided more than a few times.
"I was raided by 4chan a few times [in 2014], as they were usually aiming at non-popular female streamers," she told Kotaku in an email. "Back when I started streaming few years ago, raids had a horrible reputation. They meant almost exclusively 4chan raids or similar events, in which a huge group of people suddenly stormed a tiny channel to post malicious messages."
But Outstarwalker says this situation has been changing. She now frequently raids other channels she'd like to boost and gets raided by others in the community in exchange. "Once my channel grew and raiding culture started to shift to positive raids, malicious raids stopped," she said.
She's only been hit by a couple negative raids in the past two years, these times organised on Discord rather than 4chan.
As streamers learned how to cope, Outstarwalker feels negative raiders lost interest and Discord channels have been too diffuse to mount many large scale attacks. At the height of their prevalence, she might have been hit with 400 users spamming her chat. These days it's less, while on the flipside a positive raid can provide a big boost. "In comparison, a positive raid from TotalBiscuit sent 3000 people my way," she said.
"It's about time Twitch offers actual tools to do [raids], as they have turned out to be a vital part of streaming culture," she said. And she's not alone. Other streamers, including speedrunners, have admitted to being excited about being able to raid more easily.
The Game Directory, Twitch's main page for looking up video game streams, is organised by current viewer account. As a result, people who focus on old or obscure games struggle to build their audiences making any additional tools a boon.
"It looks great," said Cheese, a prominent Mario 64 speedrunner, in an email. "It will finally make [Twitch raiding] more interactive and easier."
But just because there's a positive impetus behind the new feature doesn't mean it can't, or won't, also be leveraged by people interested in trolling, harassment, or abuse.
Two years ago, the streamer Scudpunk recounted an experience in which 60 strangers popped into his stream all at once and started doxxing him. In addition to posting his address and phone number, he claimed they also sent pizza orders and escort requests to his apartment, all of which eventually led him to contact the police.
More recently, full-blown swatting has become another major concern. Twitcher viewers "pranking" streamers by calling in fake reports that lead police to arrive at the streamer's location have in some cases even led to violence.
Other targeted attacks have come in the form of sexual harassment. In August, streamer Charleyy Hodson saw her Twitch chat flooded with remarks about her appearance and worse when another streamer sicced his audience on her.
It was just one example in a growing trend of live-streamed harassment.
What basically amounts to a button that makes it easy to unleash followers on other people (rather than needing them to manually go to the streamer's web page as in the past) could end up exacerbating this trend.
this is very, very bad. twitch needs to give people the ability to opt out of raids. https://t.co/z0mO9p7Cf1
— Randi Lee Harper (@randileeharper) October 20, 2017
Part of Twitch's argument in favour of expanding raids is to bring the activity into the platform's infrastructure where it can be better controlled. With /raid, streamers will be able to leave themselves open to raiding by anyone, limit it to followers, or restrict it altogether.
"While the vast majority of raids are positive, we have provided streamers with the following tools to manage unwelcome raids," Peter Yang, Twitch's Product Manager, said in an email. "During a raid, streamers and moderators can turn on Follower-Only chat from chat settings to prevent non followers from chatting." In addition, streamers will have a record of everyone who's raided them, in part so that it's easier to report instances of malicious raiding and targeted harassment.
In theory, since the name of the game on Twitch is growing your audience, smaller streamers have an incentive to leave themselves open to raids. Who knows when someone higher up the food-chain will decide to grace you with a fraction of their viewership?
While there are safeguards in place to try to protect streamers from negative raids, it's unclear this early in the feature's life whether those most vulnerable will want to take full advantage of them.
"It is important to remember that raids are a great way to help you grow your community," reads the how-to page for Twitch raids. "So we encourage you to give it a try."