Twitch may not be safe for minors who stream, say researchers

The popular gaming platform Twitch may be a “paradise” for bad actors set on manipulating teen streamers, according to new research that observed how youth users appeared on and engaged the platform.

It can take as little as 12 seconds to find someone who appears to be a minor who is streaming on Twitch, say researchers with the Teen Trends Consortium at Cohen’s Children Medical Center at Northwell Health, a New York healthcare provider.

They tracked what they believed to be 100 minor streamers with more than 1.7 million followers in total and found that they regularly disclosed identifying information about themselves. The trained coders who tracked the streamers could not independently verify their age but relied on a visual assessment of their on-camera appearance and collected their self-identified age when they shared it.

Nearly half of those streamers provided their names and frequently shared their location. More than a third offered detailed schedules of when they would be live, and two-thirds linked to and encouraged viewers to follow their public social media.

The researchers also found that minors had a unique incentive to be personable: Twitch permits viewers to donate to streamers, including to minors. Of the youth followed by the researchers, more than a third were able to receive a donation from viewers.

SEE ALSO:

Twitch will soon let you block banned users from seeing your stream

Twitch’s monetization program requires parental permission for minors but does not have an age minimum beyond the platform’s requirement of being 13 or older. Streamers who are not part of the platform’s affiliate or partnership programs can enable donations through a third party like via PayPal or Venmo. The user agreement for PayPal appears to restrict accounts to 18 and older, but Venmo, a subsidiary of PayPal, allows parents to open an account for 13- to 17-year-old children.

In a handful of cases, users who appeared to be minors changed their clothes or tried on different outfits in front of the camera, per a donation-related comment made during the livestream, the research documents. However, the researchers did not collect data on any observed efforts to entice or exploit minors during their study.

“People can make you feel obligated to do things, and that’s not OK,” Fiona Dubrosa, lead author of the study and a visiting scholar at the Cohen’s Children Medical Center when the research was conducted, told Mashable. 

Dubrosa will present a research abstract entitled “Predator Paradise: Analyzing the Ease of Accessibility to Minors on Twitch” about the findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual conference on Sunday. She and her colleagues intend to submit the full study to the organization’s journal Pediatrics, or another peer-reviewed journal.


“Any predatory behavior that targets kids is abhorrent.”

– Twitch

“Any predatory behavior that targets kids is abhorrent,” Twitch said in a statement to Mashable. “In line with our youth safety policy, attempts to facilitate inappropriate interactions with youth, including grooming and coercion, are strictly prohibited on our service.”

Twitch employs automated technology that uses behavioral cues to identify both potential predators and streamers under the age of 13. Once identified, those accounts are investigated, and their ability to communicate may be blocked.

Twitch’s parent and educator guide says that minors should avoid “online pitfalls” like dares and challenges. Twitch directs minors who’ve received requests for “sexually suggestive or sexually explicit things” to report the incident immediately. If the platform confirms a violation occurred, the offending user will be indefinitely suspended, and the behavior may be reported to law enforcement depending on its severity.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews children’s entertainment content as well as social media platforms, notes that young Twitch users can still have worrisome experiences despite safety measures designed to prevent them.

“The site also makes a concerted effort to keep sexual content from being shared, putting temporary or permanent bans on users who break these rules,” says Common Sense Media’s review of Twitch. “But even with these standards, kids may encounter iffy stuff.”

Last year, Bloomberg found in an investigation that predators appeared to use Twitch to target young streamers.


“People can make you feel obligated to do things, and that’s not OK.”

– Fiona Dubrosa, visiting scholar at the Cohen’s Children Medical Center

Twitch’s terms of service make clear that the platform is not available to users under the age of 13. It also indicates that users between the ages of 13 and the legal majority where they live may only use the platform while supervised by a parent or legal guardian.

Dubrosa noted that they did not see or hear parents or guardians in the livestreams of youth they followed.

The researchers also did not create an account to find or follow minors on the platform, illustrating how easy it is for potential bad actors to search for and identify youth. The longest it took to find a user believed to be a minor streaming was 297 seconds, or roughly five minutes.

In order to locate minors on the platform, the researchers searched for popular video games, scrolled through the list of users streaming with their camera on, viewed streams that appeared to be conducted by minors, and collected several data points, including name, location, streaming schedule, time zone or country, and social media accounts.

Dr. Ruth Milanaik, a developmental pediatrician at Northwell Health and the study’s principal investigator, said the findings should alarm parents, who may not understand how Twitch works.

She noted that if an adult leered at their child in a public place, like a mall, they would take the necessary steps to protect them from contact. But social media can give parents and youth a false or misplaced sense of distance.

“No child under the age of 18 should be participating in these types of online free-for-alls without some type of guidance,” Milanaik said. “It’s literally just opening up a window to your bedroom and allowing strangers in.”

UPDATE: Oct. 20, 2023, 7:27 p.m. EDT This story has been updated with comment from Twitch.

Topics
Social Good
Social Media

rana00

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *