First, our kids decided it was exciting to watch other kids “unbox” new toys or other items. Now, watching other people play video games — or do, basically, whatever — live online is the height of entertainment. That’s why the live-streaming platform Twitch has grown in popularity; it is primarily used for live gaming streams, but more recently, non-gaming channels have grown in popularity. Twitch TV, as reported by Common Sense Media earlier this year, now has more than 15 million daily visitors and 2 million live broadcasts happening at any given time. If your kids are among them, there is a lot you should know.
It’s easy to access
Twitch’s Terms of Service state that users must be at least 13 years old. However, if you’re younger than 13, have an email address, and can do enough maths to figure out how to lie about your age, it’s pretty easy to create an account in just a few moments.
From there, you can learn the basics about streaming and download streaming software. “Anyone can stream, but if you’re under the age of eighteen, make sure you have the supervision of a parent or guardian before you go live,” it states in the Twitch 101 Creator Camp — but of course there is no way for them to enforce that. And it’s important to know that anyone can also simply go to Twitch.tv and watch whatever they want without ever logging in, no account required.
Here’s what a Twitch spokesperson recently told Wired about underage users:
Twitch pointed to its reporting system as a way to fight inappropriate behaviour toward children, adding that people reporting streamers who appear too young comprises “an extremely small proportion of the reports we receive.” Twitch did not directly answer whether it has dedicated resources to combat these incidents. “We take action on content that is reported to us when it violates our rules, including issuing warnings, removing the content, and suspending accounts for various lengths of time, including and up to indefinitely,” the spokesperson said.
It’s full of mature content
That Wired investigation turned up dozens of Twitch accounts that appeared to be run by children under age 13, including one girl who, after saying she’s 10 years old during the live stream, started getting comments about how beautiful and cute she was, as well as one commenter asking her if she uses WhatsApp.
In the spirit of researching this piece, I went down a real Twitch rabbit hole, particularly in the “Just Chatting” channel. I watched one woman in a very tight, very low-cut top talk about the pros and cons of various Star Trek movies while commenters told her what “nice jugs” she had. There was the young Italian woman making a pizza in, again, a low-cut tank top who inexplicably liked to jump up and down in front of the camera.
And then there was the young woman who was cutting shapes of feathers out of some type of strange foam material; but mostly, she was grabbing her own breasts at random intervals and busting out mature celebratory dance moves whenever she had some tiny success with her crafting project. She was receiving some interesting comments throughout, as one might imagine, and when one user announced that he was a 10-year-old using his older brother’s account, she responded by saying, “Are you 10? Get the fuck off Twitch, brah.”
To be fair, there was also some pretty innocuous stuff happening in Just Chatting — someone was chatting with commenters about dreams, another was eating what looked to be chicken tenders. And then there was the live stream of several kittens hanging out in a room together; that one was honestly the most enjoyable stream I watched all day.
But there is plenty of mature content sprinkled throughout, with streamers playing violent video games, cursing, and referencing drugs, alcohol, and sex. Streamers are supposed to indicate whether they’ll be using mature language during a stream, but that doesn’t mean they always do.
There are no parental controls
In addition to it being fairly easy for a child under 13 to view the live streams and/or create an account and start streaming themselves, there are also essentially no other parental controls that parents can put into place.
You can block users, which prevents them from sending you private direct messages, known on the site as “whispers,” as well as from adding you as a friend. And you can block whispers from strangers (unless you whisper at them first). Beyond that, there are few, if any, ways to block or curate the content they may come into contact with, control who views the live streams, or control what users may say in the comments.
But thanks to that Wired investigation, which discovered two search functions in the “Just Chatting” section where apparent children were streaming, a spokesperson told them:
In the immediate term, we are taking steps to make it more difficult to target streams with low viewership in categories where abuse has been reported to us. We are working to determine the scope of the problem and the appropriate long term solutions to best protect our community.
So perhaps more controls or stronger moderation is coming in the future.
If your kids are under age 13, they should not be on Twitch. And even if they are over age 13, you may want them to hold off. This Common Sense Media review recommends the app for kids ages 15 and older; and even then, it can’t hurt to disable private messages from strangers under account settings > security and privacy > “block whispers from strangers.”