How much power do users have to influence the ways tech companies govern their platforms? This week, prominent Twitch and Reddit users separately coordinated two platform-shaking actions with the goal of making the digital spaces they work and play in safer. In the latter case, at least, it appears they’ve already seen results.
On Twitch, top streamers went on strike Wednesday under the banner #ADayOffTwitch to push the company to end an ongoing wave of harassment against marginalized streamers. On Reddit, meanwhile, moderators made dozens of subreddits private to protest the company’s policies around Covid misinformation. Speaking with WIRED, organizers are cautiously optimistic that their actions helped spur change.
“Maybe I’m a dreamer,” says Twitch streamer Raven. “I think we need to normalize being able to really make change on our own.”
Raven, who goes by RekItRaven on Twitch, helped lead Wednesday’s #ADayOffTwitch initiative in response to an epidemic of harassment on the platform known as hate raids—a huge, often coordinated bot attack that floods streamers’ text chats with bigoted vitriol. Over the last month, trolls and their bots have regularly entered Raven’s Twitch channel and filled their chat with derogatory language, including messages like “This channel now belongs to the KKK.” Harassers have targeted and published Black streamers’ addresses and personal information, too, leading to reported incidents of doxxing. While hate raids have been a perennial issue on Twitch, the problem has dramatically escalated over the past month.
Last month Raven launched the hashtag #TwitchDoBetter to pressure Twitch to prevent the bot accounts from harassing them. Soon after, Twitch acknowledged the problem, tweeting on August 11 that “we know we need to do more to address these issues.” The company added that they were able to “identify a vulnerability” in its filter system and rolled out an update to more comprehensively identify hate speech. However, the hate raids roiled on.
Raven is exhausted, but feels in their heart it is unfair that they or any other marginalized streamer must choose between doing what they love and their mental health. And for people whose livelihoods depend in part on streaming, hate raids can impact income, too. Tanya DePass, a Twitch streamer who goes by CypherOfTyr, has limited her streaming from two to four days a week to just one or two. She asks “What job can take 50 percent of your earnings and do literally nothing to protect you other than go, Here are these tools that we now see these bot creators and raiders easily can navigate?” (Twitch takes a 50 percent cut of Partnered streamers’ subscription revenue. The breakdown of revenue split for donations on the platform is less clear.)
#ADayOffTwitch asked streamers to step away from the platform to raise awareness of the hate raid epidemic. Over 10,000 fewer streamers were streaming live Wednesday afternoon compared to the same time on recent days, according to data from TwitchTracker. Raven says their goal is partially met: “People are talking about this all over the world. We have created a sense of solidarity. Twitch has responded and met with me.”
In a statement to WIRED, a Twitch spokesperson said that the company supports streamers’ “rights to express themselves and bring attention to important issues across our service. . . We are working hard on improved channel-level ban evasion detection and additional account improvements to help make Twitch a safer place for creators.”
On Reddit, users frustrated with Reddit’s policies are also getting what they asked for. Over the last week, moderators on dozens of subreddits, some of them with millions of subscribers, coordinated a blackout to protest the platform’s admittance of Covid disinformation. They switched their subreddits to private and posted messages accusing Reddit of failing to enforce policies against misinformation. Some demanded that Reddit remove communities dealing in phony information on Covid prevention and vaccination. These communities have also been known to brigade other subreddits, meaning members would hop into other subreddits and spam them with falsehoods about the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin or the effectiveness of vaccines. (Reddit says /r/NoNewNormal, a large subreddit skeptical of scientifically proven Covid treatments, instigated about 80 of these brigades over 30 days.)