Bloomberg has a deeply disturbing exposé this week on Twitch that demonstrates how the streaming platform intended for video games is being used by child predators to “find and exploit kids in real-time.”
It should go without saying that the article is deeply upsetting, so don’t go clicking on it unprepared. Author Cecilia D’Anastasio shows how kids are essentially going on Twitch and streaming themselves for fun in violation of the TOS, and then predators are using Twitch’s sorting features to find them and use the chat system to encourage the kids to dance around – and much worse.
These aren’t isolated incidents; the article’s accusations and conclusions are based on a multi-year research project and analysis of Twitch that found over a quarter of a million children targeted between 2020 and 2022 by accounts that appeared to track and follow young kids on the platform. In fact, Bloomberg says that in the course of its own investigation, it found even more videos and predatory accounts not in the analysis, “suggesting the problem could be even more widespread” than the data show.
“The unusual patterns of behavior seen in these accounts indicate that many exist primarily to catalog, watch and manipulate children, including enticing them to perform everything from suggestive dances to explicit sexual acts, according to the findings,” Bloomberg says. Apparently, the pandemic made it much worse, with both more potential victims and more predators seeking out the platform; the research suggests the number of kids broadcasting every month has doubled in the last year.
In its statement, Twitch says this is exactly why children under 13 are barred from using Twitch, though the difficulty is in enforcing the rules, not setting them; the Amazon-owned company says it has quadrupled its internal team working to verify and report predation. “This work is vitally important to everyone at Twitch, and we’ll never stop,” a Twitch rep wrote. Updated reporting tools this past spring also apparently led to the deletion of 41% of the accounts reported by this specific researcher (though we’re left to assume the other 59% weren’t).
However, as Bloomberg shows, it’s still trivially easy to flip through Twitch even now to see thumbnails of little kids streaming, and D’Anastasio points to critics who blame Twitch’s over-dependency on user reports. “In one search, [kid streams] made up five of the first 15 results,” the article notes. “Children on Twitch often mimic their favorite gaming streamers, responding to comments and prompts by their viewers in order to keep their audience engaged. This makes young streamers susceptible to predation because viewers can communicate through text anonymously with broadcasters who are on live video.” Moreover, predators fake donation text strings to encourage “spicy dares” or try to coerce the streamers into channels off Twitch where their crimes are less visible.
Predators on the internet aren’t new; this is the stuff our parents warned us about in the ’90s. Unfortunately, the platforms that connect us in good ways still make it far too easy for bad actors to connect and exploit too.