Black creators sign open letter to Twitch demanding improved safety and moderation tools

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A group of Black Twitch content creators has released an open letter demanding that the streaming platform do more to protect minority streamers from hate raids and harassment.

The letter was penned by Color of Change, a progressive civil rights advocacy group that has drawn attention in past years for its criticisms of Fox News and “Saturday Night Live.” After getting nearly 20,000 signatures on its #TwitchDoBetter petition last year, the organization is hoping to keep the pressure on Twitch by publishing the open letter. “We sent it to a small group of Twitch creators to get their feedback before we went public,” said Color of Change deputy senior campaigns director Erica Mateo. “The demands that are listed in the open letter were carved out in what I would call mini focus groups.”

Signatories of the letter, which is addressed to Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, include prominent Twitch streamers such as Barefoot Tasha and Vantanart. Its demands include improved communication between Twitch and creators about the processing of harassment complaints and improved algorithmic and human moderation practices to protect Black creators featured on Twitch’s front page, in addition to other safety and privacy improvements. 

This isn’t the first time streamers have joined forces to protest Twitch’s safety and moderation practices; “hate raids,” targeted attacks against women and minority streamers by waves of aggressive bots, have been a consistent presence on the platform in recent years. Though Twitch sued some users for instigating hate raids in September 2021, they have continued, with white supremacists and alt-right figures occasionally taking credit for the harassment.

The recent spate of hate raids are markedly different from last year’s raids in that they were organized by known bad actors, rather than anonymous armies of bots. “Our Safety team is actively reviewing reports and suspending users in violation of our TOS,” said a Twitch spokesperson in a statement. “Our legal team is also involved and actively investigating. We’ve taken legal action against those who’ve harassed our community in the past and continue to take these activities seriously.”

After experiencing repeated hate raids in August 2021, Twitch streamer RekItRaven started the #TwitchDoBetter hashtag, which almost immediately started trending on Twitter. In response, other Twitch creators began to press for direct actions against the platform, with creators starting the #SubOffTwitch hashtag to encourage fans to support creators outside the platform and the #ADayOffTwitch boycott movement in September 2021. “I was like, ‘I’m going to do this,’” said Twitch streamer Robert “Novanagi” Spencer, who participated in the boycott and later signed Color of Change’s open letter. “This is way more important than me trying to get some viewers.”

Twitch has responded to the criticisms. Last year, the platform directly addressed the #TwitchDoBetter movement in a Twitter thread, promising to provide ban evasion detection at the channel level and implement email and phone verification for accounts. The Amazon-owned streamer further beefed up its moderation efforts in January 2022 with the creation of an industry-first off-service conduct policy. Twitch has also begun putting out bi-annual transparency reports detailing its continued efforts to develop safety and privacy tools. 

When asked about Twitch’s response to the most recent influx of hate raiders, a Twitch representative shared a statement that the platform posted on March 11 to support beleaguered streamers and provide advice about how to stave off hate raids. After the statement, the Twitch rep said, the frequency of hate raids dropped “dramatically.”

Over the past 24 hours, bad actors have been coordinating off-Twitch to target women and LGBTQ+ members of our community with spammy and hateful chat messages. Hate has no place on Twitch, and we’ve identified and suspended the Twitch accounts of the individuals participating.

— Twitch Support (@TwitchSupport) March 11, 2022

Still, the signatories of Color of Change’s open letter believe that Twitch has not yet implemented strong enough safety tools to stem the flow of hate raiders into marginalized streamers’ channels. Part of the impetus for this latest stage of the protest came in February, when Twitch announced a schedule of virtual events celebrating Black History Month and the important role of Black creators on the platform. “When we first heard about it, it sounded cool — yay, we’re finally getting some appreciation,” Spencer said. “But you don’t really have to wait until February to just celebrate Black streamers. And that’s not just for Black creators, but any kind of creator. Whether you’re part of the LGBTQ community, whether you’re a woman or you identify as anything — I feel like Twitch should be able to celebrate that any time of the year.”

Mateo sees both last year’s petition and today’s open letter as elements of a single overarching protest about the ways Twitch has failed to serve the needs of marginalized streamers. The open letter won’t be the advocacy group’s last salvo in the ongoing battle against hate raids, Mateo said, but she declined to provide specifics about Color of Change’s next move — except that it will prioritize the voices of Black creators on the platform.

“Our main goal at all of our protest is uplifting their voices, uplifting their demands,” she said. “And so we’ll continue to find new and creative ways to do that.”

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