If you are not a young gamer, you may have never heard of the streaming platform, Twitch, which hosts 140 million active users each month. Twitch might be familiar to you if you are a parent. Should you be concerned? A new investigation finds that many users under the age of 13 have access to the platform and could potentially fall prey to online predators.
Wired, a tech industry and news outlet, did a deep dive into Twitch and its potential failures to protect young people. They found that many users under the age of 13 receive inappropriate messages from anonymous users. It raises the question: Is Twitch safe for young people?
According to Twitch’s Terms of Service Users Must 13-Years-Old to Stream on the Service, But Many Are Much Younger.
According to Twitch’s Terms of Service, you have to be 13 to stream on the platform. But a Wired investigation turned up multiple Twitch accounts seemingly operated by children under that age.
The outlet looked at Twitch’s “Just Chatting” forum which hosts users who live stream via video and found that kids are using the section of the platform, posting TikTok dances, playing games like Fortnite, or just talking to other users.
Reportedly, these same, young users have received messages “containing inappropriate comments, questions, or demands, and identified some accounts that follow multiple apparent children.”
“Both our desktop and mobile apps prevent users from creating accounts if they enter a date of birth that indicates they are under 13,” a Twitch spokesperson told the outlet. The spokesperson pointed to Twitch’s user-powered reporting system as a safeguard to protect children, however, they did admit that users reporting children is “an extremely small proportion of the reports we receive.”
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When asked if the platform has dedicated resources in place to address the issue of young users, the spokesperson declined to answer but did tell Wired, “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.”
Today, over half of US children own a smartphone at age 11. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) prevents apps from collecting data from children under 13 without parental consent. But, big tech companies like Google/YouTube have had to settle with the FTC after YouTube videos were found to be targeted toward children and subsequently collected their data.
Wired notes that Twitch has few barriers in place to prevent children from signing up for their platform. “They can create an account and stream within minutes after a quick email verification,” the outlet reports. They found, after monitoring the Just Chatting forum for days, that channels have been created and at least one child was found within the top five or ten entries. Most of the young people they found on Twitch are connecting via mobile devices.
Twitch and YouTube are not the only platforms that struggle to protect young users. The New York Times reported earlier this year that instances of media related to online child sexual abuse increased 50 percent in 2019, including 60 million photos and videos flagged by Facebook.
Wired monitored dozens of accounts they identified as belonging to children and found other users engaged in unsavory behavior with them:
“In some instances, the strangers ‘dare’ young streamers for their entertainment, including asking young girls to flip their hair or kiss their friend on camera. Other times, strangers ask for young streamers’ contact information on other apps such as Facebook-owned Instagram or WhatsApp. (Twitch also has an integrated private chat feature.) They also pretend to donate money, making a chat message appear like a verified donation, or post inappropriate ASCII art in chat. The streamers themselves are by and large unsupervised.”
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This should be very concerning to parents who may not even know their child is on Twitch. While we understand the difficulties involved in monitoring and protecting young people on such a massive streaming service, it does seem like many of these streaming platforms are not keeping up with the increasingly tech-savvy youth who manage to access them.
According to analytics firm Arsenal, hours watched of Twitch’s “Just Chatting” section increased from 86 million in January to 167 million in June. It would be wise to find out if your child might have contributed to that growth.
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
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