Editor's note: This story includes obscene language and descriptions of racist attacks.
Many users of the popular streaming platform Twitch are boycotting on Wednesday.
Those involved in #aDayOffTwitch say the core issue is the company's lack of response to so-called "hate raids" that have been occurring on the platform, which offers livestreams of video gaming. A hate raid occurs when a streamer is live and they receive an influx of bots following them and then spamming the same message in their chat box — usually something racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise toxic.
Raven, who streams under the name RekItRaven, has been one of the main organizers of the boycott. (NPR is not using their full name, as they've been the victim of doxxing on the platform.) Raven first started drawing attention to the issue of hate raiding when it happened to them in July. They were streaming, when a number of bots entered their chat and spammed them with the question, "Hey are black Goths called Giggers?"
TW: Racism.— Raven is The Devil 😈 (@RekItRaven) July 31, 2021
Video for reference of my previous tweet.
I'm tired y'all. I'm tired of existing in a space that literally doesn't want me in it.
It's more than fucking exhausting. pic.twitter.com/yR7ObVoJJ0
Raven was taken aback by the attack's specificity. "It was not the normal 'you're fat, you're Black, you're a woman' remarks that I'm very used to getting," they say in an interview. It got so bad that the attacks started including Raven's address and personal information about their children.
Raven and others in the Twitch community say these attacks tend to target streamers who are Black or queer or from other marginalized communities.
The Amazon-owned streaming company did not make anyone available for an interview but said in a statement that it supports streamers' rights to bring important issues to attention.
"No one should have to experience malicious and hateful attacks based on who they are or what they stand for, and we are working hard on improved channel-level ban evasion detection and additional account improvements to help make Twitch a safer place for creators," the statement reads.
No one should have to experience malicious and hateful attacks based on who they are or what they stand for. This is not the community we want on Twitch, and we want you to know we are working hard to make Twitch a safer place for creators. https://t.co/fDbw62e5LW— Twitch (@Twitch) August 20, 2021
Dealing with hate raids so far
Eric Vice, who streams under the name TheeEricV, has also been the victim of hate raids — 12 times to date, by his estimate. The spambots usually would come in and repeat the same message: "N-words should die, or something like that," he says.
Hate raids are enough of an issue that he felt the need to post a guide telling other streamers how to deal with them — a process that involves clearing chat for as long as the raid lasts, then using a third-party tool to remove the bot followers from your account. It's a fix, but an imperfect one. "There should be better tools in place," Vice says.
Similarly, Raven has a number of safeguards in place to help defend themselves from bot attacks. This includes having moderators, activating block lists of certain phrases and setting their chat so that only subscribers can comment. Again, this is an imperfect solution that severely hinders participation, which in turn can limit audience growth — which is particularly important if Twitch is a source of income, as it is for Raven.
Twitch has provided safety guides for streamers to follow should these attacks happen. But one part of the protest is demanding Twitch take a more proactive stance and not let the burden fall to the streamers. Also part of the demand is more open communication with the company, which is especially important since these attacks disproportionately impact smaller creators, says Morgan Romine, co-director of AnyKey, a nonprofit that supports diversity in video gaming.
"If you look at the top 20 streamers, those are the ones that get a lot of attention, and they have a lot of clout because those are the ones making the biggest advertising dollars," Romine says. But as it is mostly Black streamers being targeted, "their streaming experience is being completely disrupted with hate right now."
How effective is #ADayOffTwitch?
It's hard to measure how widespread the boycott is. While the hashtag #ADayOffTwitch is getting some traction on Twitter, there isn't much discussion of it on the popular Twitch subreddit r/livestreamfail as of midday Wednesday. But there has been some back and forth among some of the larger celebrities in streaming regarding how pragmatic the boycott is. To Vice, that's evidence of the boycott's success. "The fact that we're doing this interview right now is a testament to it making noise," he says.
While Raven is obviously hopeful that people take part in the boycott, they're sympathetic that some streamers can't, whether because of contractual obligations or any other reason.
"There's no pressure to not stream if you can't do it," Raven says. "We just want to be heard, and we're tired of hurting."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Users of the popular streaming platform Twitch are boycotting today under the hashtag #ADayOffTwitch. Organizers of the protest say the company is not doing enough to protect streamers against what's known as hate raids. That's when a streamer is suddenly inundated by waves of bots posting racist, sexist and homophobic messages. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more. And just a warning - this piece includes offensive language and descriptions of racist attacks.
ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: RekItRaven is a streamer on Twitch with a goth-y aesthetic. And they were streaming like normal one day back in July, when...
REKITRAVEN: A bunch of programmed bots came in...
LIMBONG: And all started repeating the same question over and over and over.
REKITRAVEN: Hey, is a Black goth a gigger?
LIMBONG: This wasn't the only time. It happened again and again. NPR isn't using Raven's full name because it got so bad that the bots started posting not just their personal information but Raven's kids', too.
REKITRAVEN: You can hate me all you want. That's fine. Leave my kids out of it. They did nothing to anybody.
LIMBONG: Raven tried to get Twitch to address this new form of mass trolling. But after not getting any satisfactory response, they started organizing today's boycott. #ADayOffTwitch supporters say these hate raids target streamers who are Black or queer or disabled, which is to say the types of people often attacked online.
ERIC VICE: They want us to cry. They want us to be sad. They want us to scream, shout. And I won't do it.
LIMBONG: Eric Vice streams as TheeEricV on Twitch, which, by the way, is owned by Amazon. Vice has been hate raided multiple times and posted a video teaching other streamers how to weather the attacks as they happen, which involves clearing chat for a period of time and then using a third-party tool to remove those bots as followers.
VICE: There should be better tools in place. We shouldn't have to know how to use this third-party program that some person made that, you know, isn't made by Amazon. That shouldn't be the case. But right now that is the case until things change.
LIMBONG: Twitch didn't make anyone available for an interview, but the company did say in a statement, quote, "we are working hard on improved channel-level ban evasion detection and additional account improvements to help make Twitch a safer space for creators." But beyond the technological fixes, streamers like Raven say the company isn't doing a great job communicating with its smaller streamers.
REKITRAVEN: Twitch should be directly involved with the communities that are impacted by this. I think there needs to be more tangible, proactive tools given to us so that way, we don't just have to react.
LIMBONG: Twitch says it's in the process of developing tools like this but can't always share the details publicly. It's hard to tell how widespread the boycott is so far. The Catch-22 of it is the people most likely to boycott today are the types of smaller streamers who say Twitch isn't paying attention to them. But Morgan Romine says even if some of the bigger celebrities on the platform aren't participating, they are talking about it.
MORGAN ROMINE: There is enough buzz built around this right now on a global level that a statement has been made. And hopefully, this conversation will continue.
LIMBONG: Romine is a co-director at AnyKey, a nonprofit that supports diversity around video gaming. She says Twitch has long ignored issues raised by Black streamers and other communities. And if these issues aren't addressed, those people will just find somewhere else to stream.
ROMINE: You narrow your focus, and you narrow your market. And that's never a great thing for a company.
LIMBONG: As for Raven, they plan on sticking around for a bit.
REKITRAVEN: I know I also tend to be a little bit of a pain in the butt, if I'm honest, 'cause I don't let things go. Like, if something needs to change, I'm the one who's going to speak on it. And I will continue to speak on it, no matter how exhausted I am.
LIMBONG: Andrew Limbong, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.