It’s no secret that Twitch has a problem with viewbots, which are fake viewers that artificially inflate streamers’ numbers. They’ve been part of the ecosystem for years, both as a means of making streamers look more popular than they are and, more recently, a tool trolls use maliciously to try to bring Twitch’s punitive wrath down on streamers they don’t like. Twitch, for its part, only acknowledged the issue sporadically. Until this week.
Yesterday, Twitch announced that it’s cracking down on viewbots in a big way.
“We have been monitoring the rise of fake engagement on Twitch and have identified 7.5MM+ accounts that break our TOS by follow-botting and view-botting,” the company wrote on Twitter. “We are taking action on these accounts and appreciate all of the reports about this issue. A majority of these accounts were detected through ongoing machine learning technology that will continue to improve and we will continue to operate going forward. We engage in enforcement when necessary including pursuing legal action.”
That’s not an empty threat on Twitch’s part, either. In 2018, the company won a case against two viewbot sellers, with a judge ordering them to pay Twitch a total of $US1.3 ($2) million.
Yesterday, Twitch also warned that as a result of this new kind of robot apocalypse — in which bots lose instead of win — “you may see sudden decreases in your follower and viewer count over the coming days.” Many smaller streamers have reported losing hundreds or even thousands of followers. It hurts their numbers, but not as bad as you’d think. Fake followers don’t really do anything; they barely participate in chat, and when they do, it’s obnoxious, borderline-meaningless spam. In some cases, they don’t even “watch” streams or contribute to Twitch’s real most important metrics: concurrent viewers and hours watched, which are what both Twitch and advertisers pay attention to when evaluating streamers. Streamers’ follower counts, then, are a generally imprecise measurement of their popularity.
That said, it turns out that some popular streamers had a lot of bot followers. For the past 24 hours, Twitch fans have been marveling at the blow Twitch megastar Félix “xQc” Lengyel suffered: a loss of 2.6 million followers in the past few days. He still has 5.5 million, but that’s a big drop off. Veteran streamer Chance “Sodapoppin” Morris wound up enduring an even more precipitous fall, going from 6.5 million followers to 3.3 million in the past handful of days. That’s nearly half his follower count gone in the blink of an eye. Other big names like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek, Raúl “Auronplay” Genes, and Ali “Myth” Kabbani each lost hundreds of thousands of followers.
These losses, however, do not seem to have led to significant drops in concurrent viewership, suggesting that the bots were either lying dormant, or Twitch already wasn’t counting them as active viewers. Streamers are broadly grateful that Twitch finally did something about this longstanding issue, though many are not pleased that it took this long — especially after some of them directly contacted Twitch about their own bot run-ins and received no response. Some are also concerned that Twitch might punish streamers who’ve been botted, rather than those doing the botting.
“We’re really sorry you experienced this,” the company said on Twitter in response to one streamer who’d been bombarded by thousands of bots. “We don’t punish users who are victims of bot attacks, so no need to worry. In this situation, we recommend reporting a handful of the accounts through the on-site tool so they can be investigated.”
Some streamers have claimed the company hasn’t been true to its word on that front in the past, but the goal, at this point, seems to be the elimination of the bots, not the botted. That said, Twitch remains vulnerable to other means of view count inflation. For example, some organisations, like Fextralife, embed their streams in popular wikis and other high-traffic pages to make it appear as though tens of thousands of people are watching, even though they’re really just scrolling right on by. Twitch itself has even done this before on Reddit. So Twitch’s homegrown Terminators might be coming for viewbots, but it’s still far from being a platform where what you see is what you get.