Being the Change You Want to See in the Streaming Culture

Streaming is an influential and popular way to reach people. Twitch rivals cable news networks in viewership statistics, and YouTube Gaming, Mixer, and other platforms also pull in large number of viewers each month. This means that streaming shapes the broader culture and can have a powerful impact on people who use each platform as streamers or viewers.

Unfortunately, this impact isn’t always positive. A Twitch channel can become a forum for trolls determined to derail chats, make derogatory comments, and harass the streamer and other viewers. In general, online platforms are vulnerable to a variety of abuses and to behaviors displaying harmful biases.

As you continue to develop a loyal following on your channel and on social media, you also acquire a greater measure of responsibility for how you conduct yourself online. As a streaming influencer, you can improve the atmosphere on your channel and help change the culture of a platform.

What can you do to make streaming culture more healthy and welcoming?

Let’s Talk Twitch Culture: Identifying Specific Problems

Before you can do your part in improving the culture on Twitch and other platforms, you need to know more about the problems. It’s likely that you’ve already witnessed mistreatment, harassment, and prejudice online. Let’s look at some of the issues more closely.

One major problem is the attitude and treatment women tend to face when using online spaces. Whether they’re creating their own videos, playing games on another stream as a guest, or participating in a chat, women often confront the following major issues:

Harassment just for being women. Harassment ranges from a barrage of insulting comments to outright sexual aggression, including threats of rape and sexual assault and a flood of images portraying sexual violence. Women may also be doxxed, their private information dug up and made public to amplify the threat of stalking or a violent attack. Often, women receive less abuse when using male screen names or avatars, but this tactic is considerably harder to pull off while creating a live stream. Plus, they shouldn’t have to disguise themselves to avoid a storm of nasty remarks or other behaviors that sometimes carry over to other sites or offline spaces.

Pervasive sexist assumptions. Not only are women judged predominantly on looks, they often need to overcome automatic negative assumptions about their intelligence, abilities, and motives. As such, their content is more likely to be overlooked regardless of its merits, and their comments may be quickly dismissed for no good reason. People may also see a woman sharing a live stream with a man as an opportunity to spread rumors or slander about the dual streamers’ supposed relationship, because apparently the presence of a woman means there’s something sexual going on.

These problems negatively affect women’s experience with streaming and reinforce lazy and harmful narratives about women and men. To cope, women sometimes avoid certain spaces. Other times, they keep a low profile, which results in the impression that there aren’t any women on a particular channel or playing a certain kind of game. A toxic atmosphere online diminishes their potential to share their enthusiasms and interact with other people in a community.

Harassment also crops up along other dimensions, including race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Teenagers also frequently report online bullying, including being subjected to false rumors, threats, and explicit images.

The prevalence of harmful behaviors can vary by platform, community, and the type of game played. Sometimes, harassment results from a simple difference of opinions in game preference, favorite movies, or other seemingly innocuous topics. It also doesn’t take much for someone to perpetrate swatting, where a fake call is placed to police to prompt them to descend on a victim’s house. The results can prove fatal.

To find out more about these problems, some of the sources of information you can consult include: 

  • Comments expressed on your own streaming channel and other channels.
  • Posts and comments on social media, online forums, and blogs.
  • Articles about harassment, biased treatment, and other problems on gaming platforms, social media, and online spaces more generally.

You may be tempted to disregard what you hear, especially if it’s unpleasant to think about. If these issues don’t appear to affect you, they may seem more abstract and easy to dismiss.

However, as an influencer, you have a responsibility to contribute to a healthier online culture. By making streaming less toxic and more welcoming, you’ll spread the benefits of Twitch and other platforms to a greater number of people, and you’ll enjoy the benefits that come from having a happier, broader, and more engaged audience for your videos.

How Can You Make Your Channel a Foundation for Change?

It’s important to have realistic goals. You aren’t going to change everyone’s mind. Some people will remain apathetic about the status quo, and others may react in a hostile way. Unless you come up with realistic, concrete strategies, it will be easy to get discouraged.

Let’s say you want to improve the atmosphere for women on Twitch. What are some of the strategies you can use?

Setting expectations

Establish some guidelines for your channel, and make sure you’re enforcing them. For example, set up chat rules that people will see before they can comment on your channel. You don’t need a long list of rules. In several lines, you can lay out your expectations.

Along with using a list of rules, you can respond verbally to at least some of the derogatory language or harassing behavior that crops up during your stream. Given the interactive nature of live streaming, it’s possible to immediately point out a comment you find unacceptable, including a grossly lewd or sexist remark. If you remain calm and firm, you can more easily make yourself heard and disappoint any trolls who are aiming to provoke an outburst of temper.

Depending on the severity of their behaviors, people in violation of your guidelines can receive a warning or get immediately booted off and banned. Another possibility is for them to lose a specific privilege, such as access to a private Discord server.

Using moderation tools

Twitch offers a variety of tips for dealing with harassment. Along with relying on a team of moderators, you can use a high-quality chatbot that has moderation functions.

A few of the well-known examples are MoobotNightbot, and the chatbot from Streamlabs. Another one, Wizebot, comes with a function that can issue warnings instead of immediate bans. All of these can help you curb harassment and other demeaning behavior.

Creating live streams with women

While searching for people to stream with, check to see that you aren’t overlooking women.

You don’t need to make a big deal out of working with a woman. Inviting women as a guest on a video, a member of your stream team, or a partner in dual streaming should just be a normal part of streaming. It doesn’t need any fanfare.

As for the women you work with, consider the qualities you’d look for in anyone: 

  • They create entertaining, informative videos.
  • Their videos show visual artistry or other types of creativity.
  • They’re excellent gamers.
  • They’re ethical and thoughtful in how they approach various issues.
  • Their interests in streaming overlap with yours.
  • They have charisma, intelligence, a sense of humor, or other traits you look for when tuning in as a viewer.

You can find potential streaming partners through Twitch communities, among your viewers, on social media, and through blogs and gaming forums. When you choose to work with women, the decision continues to normalize a culture that’s more welcoming and that draws on a broader set of talents, skills, and ideas. Your streaming partner can also potentially help you gain new followers, including women who discover that your channel is a place where they won’t be harassed.

Mentioning women in your broadcasts

Don’t overlook opportunities to mention women favorably during a broadcast. For example, if you’re highlighting the work of other streamers you admire, discussing a historic topic, or recommending books and movies, you may be able to find ways to introduce women into the conversation.

There’s no need to do this in a heavy-handed or forced way, as if you’re meeting a quota or observing a rigid rule. Mention people you sincerely admire and can talk about naturally. If you’re actively engaging with videos, books, art, research, and other works produced by women, you won’t have to struggle as much to think of specific names when the relevant topic comes up.

By casually mentioning accomplishments from both women and men, you’ll contribute to a culture where women are spoken of admiringly for their work and not only for their looks.

A Healthier Culture Helps Everyone

Live streamers in general will sometimes feel frustrated and angry at how they’re treated impolitely, merely as entertainment and not as people.

It’s part of a bigger problem online. Whether you’re on Twitch or Twitter, the rudest voices are often the loudest ones, and unpleasant or dangerous people seem to have endless time to perpetrate harassment. For a variety of reasons, anyone can become a target.

As a live streamer, you have the potential to use your channel to create positive changes in the culture. This doesn’t mean you need to be preachy or to talk about this topic frequently. All you need to do is set an example through your behavior and through the expectations you set for viewers and commenters.

When you serve as a positive example: 

  • Other people will follow your example.
  • Your streams and chats will focus on substance and good humor instead of being derailed by unpleasant sniping, insults, and harassment.
  • You’ll inspire respect for your conduct. Whether you’re putting a stop to nasty remarks on your channel or refusing to engage in harassment campaigns, unfounded rumors, or slander, your behavior will demonstrate a character worthy of respect.
  • You’ll help show people the possibilities in any individual regardless of sex, race, or other attributes.
  • You’ll build new relationships and gain followers from other demographics.
  • People will be more likely to trust you and want to work with you.
  • Sponsors and brands won’t be afraid of damaging their reputation by associating with you.

By exemplifying the kind of change you want to see in the broader culture, you’ll begin to create that change. It will ripple out from your channel, influencing your community and other online spaces.