Twitch Gives Trans, Black, And Disabled Streamers Tags, But Not Protection

Twitch Gives Trans, Black, And Disabled Streamers Tags, But Not Protection
Image: Anne Atomic

It’s been a whirlwind month for Anne Atomic. The streamer saw her star suddenly begin to rocket into the stratosphere in late May when Twitch introduced both a hot tub section and hundreds of new tags, including a particularly long-requested option: “transgender.” For Anne Atomic, these proved a potent combo; in June, her regular audience went from single digits to hundreds of concurrent viewers. But increased attention meant that she also got brigaded by transphobes from 4chan, who bombarded her chat with ugly, invasive comments. And now, a few weeks later, Twitch has indefinitely suspended her channel.

One month ago, Twitch finally gave streamers what they had spent years asking for: hundreds of new tags, many tied to specific identities and backgrounds like “transgender,” “Black,” and “disabled.” Structurally speaking, this was a big deal. Twitch is a platform with precious few avenues for discoverability beyond a rudimentary recommendation algorithm, a limited search function, and the fickle ebb and flow of specific categories, which are usually dedicated to individual games or broader focuses, like Just Chatting. The platform is overflowing with millions of streamers, and most who start small without an outside means of growing stay small forever. New tags, at least, go part of the way toward remedying that problem, especially for marginalised streamers who previously had trouble finding new viewers and each other.

But Twitch was always hesitant to add identity-based tags, in part because of fears around harassment. If the bad faith masses can click a single tag and have access to hundreds or thousands of potential marginalised victims, it makes their mean-spirited hobby that much easier — or so the thinking went. In the past month, streamers like Anne Atomic have experienced the full range of ups and downs these new tags have brought with them.

“I’m a bit of an exceptional case in this regard, as I am without a doubt the biggest magnet for hate and transphobes on Twitch as the first, and still the only, transgender hot tub streamer,” Anne Atomic, who has seen over 50% of her tag-based viewer traffic come from the trans tag, told Kotaku in a DM. “I think it’s just inevitable with the tag. We aren’t forced to use it, though. I could easily stream without putting that I am trans anywhere and no one would question it. But I prefer not to hide who I am, and I use the platform as a means to educate people.”

Other streamers, some who’ve experienced harassment as the result of tags and others who haven’t, feel broadly similarly: The good of these new tags, they say, outweighs the bad.

“A few days ago, I did receive some race-based harassment in my stream, and I’m sure it’s likely attributed to me using the ‘Black’ tag,” charity and diversity-focused variety streamer PikaChulita told Kotaku in a DM. “Unfortunately, I think this is just one of the trade-offs for having identity-based tagging. I think most (if not all) marginalised content creators expected it. However, for myself and many other creators, it’s a risk we are willing to take in order to share our identities more easily with viewers and find others like us.”

Some streamers say that their experiences with the new tags have largely been harassment-free.

“I had a single half hearted attempt at transphobia, a single comment where I banned the user and they didn’t care enough to ban dodge,” reporter, podcaster, and Twitch partner Laura Kate Dale, who has used trans and autism tags, told Kotaku in a DM. “I honestly expected a lot worse, and I suspect Twitch did too.”

“I will say that the number of people my wonderful moderation team ban every day has remained consistent,” Veronica “Nikatine” Ripley, who founded a group called Transmission Gaming that helped lead the charge for a trans tag, told Kotaku in an email. “I do not believe under any circumstances that tags result in increased harassment. People will find ways to harass minorities online, unless the platform steps in with some new moderation tools.”

Other streamers, however, don’t believe that even new moderation tools will suffice. Twitch, after all, has provided many tools meant to target problems over the years. But that approach means streamers — not Twitch itself — are expected to clean up messes, and no matter how well-equipped they are, sometimes there’s only so much they can do. This is a longstanding issue.

“There were multiple troll streamers who actually put my stream on their stream and used my stream as a way to farm hate-based content,” GameRant writer and streamer Kate “PixieKate” Irwin, who is bisexual and used Twitch’s lone, pre-update LGBTQ tag back in 2020, told Kotaku in a DM. “A number of these troll streamers assumed I was trans and made many hateful, transphobic remarks toward me even though I am not actually trans.”

It got bad enough, she said, that she ended up clipping instances of hate speech and getting an openly misogynistic streamer banned. However, they just came back under a different name a few months later.

“Now that there are new tags, I am honestly afraid to use them,” Irwin said. “I am afraid because Twitch does not do a good enough job of preventing misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia on its platform.”

Other streamers agreed that as long as Twitch fails to protect marginalised streamers — an area in which its track record is exceedingly spotty — it’s only gone part of the way toward helping them stand out and find communities.

“Twitch could definitely do better as far as protecting creators,” queer singer and talk show host Project Ruby — who noted that new tags have resulted in new opportunities for him — told Kotaku in a DM, “from having stricter username creation tools, to moderating tools, and even platform-hired moderators to generally make sure the website is safe for marginalised creators.”

Dominick Evans, a queer disabled streamer who consults Hollywood on those issues and who spent years advocating for a trans tag, was less forgiving about Twitch’s halting steps in the general direction of progress.

“This was not a victory,” Evans, who noted that he’s gained new viewers through tags but also dealt with disability-based harassment, told Kotaku in a DM. “This was a consolation prize, and while it will help some people find community, which is always a great thing, they won’t do anything to combat any prospective hate we get as a result.”

Problems with the basic structure of Twitch’s tag system run even deeper than that, according to Lucia Everblack, who helped develop a third-party stream-tagging platform called Peer2Peer.Live that many marginalised Twitch streamers used before Twitch updated its tag library.

“There’s no way to fully verify it if someone using a tag is someone who should be using a tag,” Everblack told Kotaku of Twitch’s system in a DM. “Twitch has limits to how many tags you can have, so you have to sacrifice part of who you are if you have multiple parts of how you identify…They also don’t persist between streams, and people can’t see them when you aren’t broadcasting. They should be part of someone’s permanent identity instead of just a piece of their stream. It’s a huge miss because it would be a great way for viewers to also showcase the most important parts of who they are as well.”

For Critical Bard, a queer Black streamer who is no stranger to Twitch’s issues with supporting marginalised creators, some of these problems are not just theoretical.

“I raided a streamer using the LGBTQIA+ tag once last week, and I mentioned how the tags have been able to help queer folk like us,” Critical Bard told Kotaku in a DM. “They responded saying they are not queer (but are an ally), and it just made me feel some type of way…My fear is that someone will go into another’s chat thinking it’s a safe space, and it turns out not to be.”

Everblack believes that tags and other identity markers absolutely can help streamers and viewers. She said, for example, that prior to using Peer2Peer, a disabled trans man “didn’t even know other trans men who streamed, let alone any who were disabled.” Then they found a community. Others, she said, have learned about new identities by having access to an even broader array of tags than Twitch recently added. Twitch, she concluded, can’t just stop here and call it a day.

“Twitch in general really needs to step up their game,” Everblack said. “It’s far too easy to create anonymous accounts, especially ones with abusive names. There is also a big lack of tools to prevent follow botting, people can still watch you when they are banned, and the punishment for harassment even as someone who is partnered leaves much to be desired.”

Anne Atomic agrees. She contends that her indefinite suspension (effectively a ban in Twitch terms) demonstrates the limits of Twitch’s purported dedication to representation. She said that when Twitch’s hot tub section first opened, she got suspended for “adult nudity” after trolls flooded her chat, despite “wearing a bikini I have worn many times before — and no different than what many cisfemales wear.” She appealed the suspension but never got anything more than an automated response from Twitch. In reaction to this, she started wearing pasties under her top just to be safe, but she later got suspended again, albeit just for one day. Now she’s been indefinitely suspended.

“I have little doubt I get constantly reported by transphobes/misogynists on the platform,” Anne Atomic said. “I really can come to no conclusion except that they either triggered an auto ban due to reports volume that no one bothered to review since I’m not a partner, or that I scorned the ire of a Twitch admin who did not like what I was doing.”

Image: Anne Atomic Image: Anne Atomic

As evidence of this, Anne Atomic points to an email she recently received from Twitch’s partnerships team, which cheerily informed her that she was “on the right track” to become a Twitch partner and that they just wanted to observe her channel’s newfound growth for a little longer before upgrading her to partner status. Twitch did not suggest that she needed to alter her content in any way.

In response to Kotaku’s inquiries about what exactly happened, a Twitch representative said that the company does not comment on individual suspensions and instead pointed to a portion of its recent post about hot tub streams in which it wrote, “We will always aim to avoid being overly punitive based on assumptions–when we have taken enforcement action on this content, we’ve only done so in the case of a clear violation of our guidelines.”

Anne Atomic said that she just wants to understand exactly what she did wrong, rather than receiving an automated list of things she might have done wrong, per the current format of Twitch’s suspension emails. But she fears that won’t happen.

“They simply don’t seem to care enough to even bother reviewing things or so much as even giving a canned reply,” she said, “because being one of the biggest trans streamers on the platform still is very small by their standards and doesn’t mean much.”

As for what happens next, Anne Atomic is at a loss.

“I’ve been devastated by this, and it has seriously wrecked my future plans,” she said. “More than anything I’ve wanted to just give up and go on to other things. I loved doing what I did, though, and every night I actually felt like I was making an impact on people’s lives and changing things for the better…I feel like I’m letting down the trans community now, and that if this stands, it discourages any other trans people from even trying it and sets us back even further.”

Comments

  • People are real quick to criticise platforms for not doing enough to immediately protect against harassment, false reports, etc… But then the moment a platform goes to far the other way with bans, etc, they get fucking blasted again for their focus being too wide reaching and heavy handed.

    And some people are out of touch with reality if they think they should have enough real life people on staff to put actual eyes on each and every single reported issue, and still be able to review everything in even a remotely timely manner. That is simply delusional.

    Automated moderation is the only way to cover platforms of these sizes if you want a timely response taken, but as we’ve seen time and time again the outcome will forever be bitched about no matter which way the bots are tuned.

    I also expect if Twitch ever did come up with some sort of genuinely effective punishment for harassment, trolling, etc, that when someone ol’ Mr Grayson here knows got caught in a ban wave an article would soon follow about how Twitch have overstepped their bounds, how dare they, etc. The usual indignant shtick basically.

        • Ever notice how you only ever post on idpol articles, almost always attacking someone in the comments rather than straight commenting on the article?
          Real curious behavior.

  • Ok, so I can get the tags White and Male then?
    I mean at the end of the day I don’t see why we need to walk around advertising our skin colour and sex on a sign… but what do I know…

    • Yes, they clearly need a “not a minority, so no need to direct all your undeserved vitriol and death threats at me” tag.

    • Have some cheese with your whine, mate.

      People trying to build communities and help each other are being harassed into oblivion and your biggest takeaway is “Nobody has expressly created every single thing for me, specifically.”

    • Or maybe they already get “special treatment” of the bad kind? If people are harassed online due to an identity which you do not share, are their complaints not valid? Does something have to apply to you before it exists?

      • While I agree to an extent…. the lack of those tags is one of the ways to avoid that “special treatment of the bad kind”. I think what djbear is saying is the article comes across as “we want to be easier to find… but only by people we want to find us” and honestly it just doesn’t work like that.

        The site can only do so much, its the human element that its so hard to control

      • It is asking for special treatment. They are demanding special enforcement treatment because they deem their harassment more important than any other form of harassment.

        Tools already exist to combat that harassment they speak of. They are seemingly refusing to use them and demanding special treatment from twitch because of their identity.

    • What’s that? An article that mentions trans people? Must have a couple of comments from DJ, telling us all how awful they are.

      Seriously, with the amount of energy you put in hating trans people for existing, either your an egg in denial, or you actively hate trans people.

      • Please provide me with the comment where I said trans people are awful because they are trans.

        Ill wait snowee, Shouldnt be that hard.

        • How about you post the link to the the last article featuring trans people were you wrote something that wasn’t complaining about them?

          • To be fair, he primarily hates women as can be demonstrated from his twitter feed which is a non stop screech of the most toxic and pathetic misogyny.

            It’s a good question whether he’s a full blown transphobe just because he had to tick all the garbage fire boxes, or whether just hates on female presenting trans folks as part of his terror of women.

          • Why does Worrito feel the need to make boldface lies about other users, that can easily be disproved with 5 seconds of google?

  • Yep wanting to exist publicly and not have people wanting you dead is “special treatment”

    • “Yep wanting to exist publicly”

      Who is saying they can’t exist publicly?

      ” not have people wanting you dead is “special treatment”

      So non LGBTIQ streamers have never received death threats at any point at all?

      Tools already exist to counter the things you highlight. A good mod team and existing moderation bots can wipe this stuff out easily.

  • What I don’t get is…. why SHOULD there be tags for “Trans” or “Black”, or anything else that is tied to race, gender or sexuality? isn’t the point of the tags being tied to games and types of games to give everybody an equal chance of being discovered? If you don’t have a camera then it 100% makes ZERO difference what you are, and if you have got a camera then… people can SEE what and who you are.

    These tags ONLY make it good for people who ONLY want to see people of a certain race or gender…. or people who only want to troll those people….. honestly its a terrible idea

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