When action leads to inaction: the Twitch hate raids

Starting from as early as May, 2021, Twitch streamers began reporting being “hate raided”, with many people supporting their claims with screenshots and clips. 

As more streamers reported the raids, it became evident that while anyone could be hit, the main targets were black and LGBTQ+ streamers.

What is a hate raid?

But, what are hate raids? “Raiding” is an age-old Twitch tradition, in which streamers direct their viewers to another stream, usually to “pay forward” (and sometimes to curry favor). Nowadays raiding is a Twitch feature: a streamer can raid with a mouse click and most do, when they’re done for the day.

Raids become “hate” raids if the purpose is to troll the recipient. One way to do this is to write hate speech and offensive ASCII art in the victim’s chat; another is to follow the streamer with an offensive name.

Screenshot of a hate raid in Twitch

(Image credit: @Toxicidi)

This last method (which is the main method used in the recent attacks) can be a problem, particularly because streamers will have their overlay set up to announce new followers. If an attacker mass-follows a streamer using bots, this might get them in trouble with Twitch. At best it’s a nuisance, forcing streamers or their mods to remove the follows.

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Bots, you say?

Follow-botting, hate raids and the like are not new. Streamers have pleaded with Twitch to do something and help them combat hate raids for years. However, the reason the current situation has attracted so much interest is due to their sheer number.

The people believed to be responsible for the latest wave are (real names unknown) CruzzCrontol, and CreatineOverdose. They have created software that let them create accounts and flood channels with all types of offensive language. Their code also enables them to grab IP addresses, and “follow-bot” – i.e., follow a channel with loads and loads of bots. Even if an account gets banned, the software can create more automatically.

CruzzControl alone was responsible for 3,000 of the bot accounts involved in the recent hate raids. CreatineOverdose spammed Twitch channels with “racial slurs, graphic descriptions of violence against minorities, and claims that the hate raiders are the KKK.”

The attackers also impersonated people. Many of the bots had names that were variations on “Hoss”: there is in fact a flesh and blood “hoss”, HOSS00312, who, as you might imagine, has had quite the ordeal.

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The story isn’t over. More recently, variations on Twitch streamer and moderator GunzO’s name is being used in follow-botting attacks. It’s believed some of the perpetrators (it’s more than likely there’s more than the two mentioned) may have a vendetta against some of the people impersonated, but only time will tell.

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#TwitchDoBetter and Change.org

People have criticized Twitch’s handling of the matter. On 9 Aug, streamer RekitRaven started the hashtag #TwitchDoBetter to raise awareness of what was happening and push Twitch to act.

Later a Change.org petition with the same name (which is currently sitting at 18,100 signatories) was created by Lu Morrow, a mod for Twitch streamer KandidlyKayla. She wanted Twitch to do right by its black content creators.

"On August 13, 2021 I had the unfortunate experience of being part of not one but two hate raids that included racist messages and a follow bot of approximately 400 users during @KandidlyKayla's charity stream," Morrow explains in her Change.org petition.

"A Twitch Partner, that had the front page slot from 12-2 pm EST, was hate raided twice during a CHARITY STREAM for Stand Up to Cancer."

The petition goes on to propose a number of features that Twitch could implement to better protect its creators.

User scripts and bot lists

With Twitch seemingly slow to react, some people took time to create scripts and web apps to help streamers.

Some examples of scripts include:

  • Swastika_detection by GitHub user ImStillJohnny, a neural net trained to detect swastikas
  • Ban-twitch-bots, which does what it says on the tin
  • Serys_Bot by streamer Serycodes which can detect hate raids in real time and issue channel bans to the accounts involved

Users have compiled and are sharing lists of bots, too, for manual banning, like this one by user brofar on GitHub, which is up to date at the time of writing.

promo of #ADayOffTwitch

(Image credit: #ADayOffTwitch)

#ADayOffTwitch

On 20 Aug, RekItRaven announced on Twitter that they, LuciaEverblack, and ShineyPen were organizing #ADayOffTwitch, a one-day boycott of the platform, to take place on Wednesday 1st September. 

“We are continuing the fight,” she wrote. “Shout out to @LuciaEverblack and @ShineyPen for helping me with this! #ADayOffTwitch September 1st, don't go live.”

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Many felt #ADayOffTwitch was not worth it and would make little change. In a Just Chatting Twitch Stream on 22 August 2021, popular Twitch streamer Asmongold said "Nobody gives a f*ck if you take the day off. Nobody knows who you are, that’s the truth. If every other big streamer got together and they said we’re all gonna collectively do it, I would do it in a heartbeat … I do believe in power in numbers."

Many streamers were disappointed with his response, like chonki (@chonkikage).

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Others, like Dean Ashford (@Play_Ruff), echoed his sentiment.

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In the end, though, how successful was the boycott? It seems quite successful.

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Journalist Zach Bussey, who based his findings on stats collected by Sullygnome, said, “Based on the data, #ADayOffTwitch impacted both the number of streamers and the viewership on the platform. Depending on how you qualify that data, the impact might have been as low as ~5% or potentially as high as 15%.”

“Qualifying that data” would mean trying to take into account the other things that could have affected the numbers, like GamesCon, school starting again and big streamers TimTheTatman and DrLupo’s announcements that they were leaving Twitch to stream on YouTube (their normal streaming day was Wednesday).

So, what has Twitch been doing?

Twitch was a bit slow to get going. Its first communication on the matter was on its official Twitter account on 11 Aug 2021:

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However, many people felt that this response from Twitch was disappointing, and merely an empty PR statement.

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But, on September 9 2021, Twitch filed a lawsuit against CruzzControl and CreatineOverdose, the creators (and users) of the bots, for breach of contract, fraud, and unfair competition. 

Alas, Twitch didn't know the perpetrators' real names, but, given that they already know where they’re based (the Netherlands and Austria), it seems only a matter of time before they do.

On the technical side, Twitch says in the suit that it has implemented “stricter identity controls with accounts”, that it is making use of “machine learning algorithms to detect bot accounts” and has augmented the “banned word list”. 

It has also made a fix that will keep users and bots from using non-Latin characters to circumvent chat filters.

Twitch has also reached out to creators and gaming community leaders to find ways to properly support marginalized creators. 

RekitRaven has spoken highly of this, going so far as to tweet, "I am confident in this. @Twitch is listening and working actively on providing proactive tools to help combat these hate raids and are doing so with as much speed as possible Change will happen. Thank y'all for keeping the fight. The fight is not done but we are getting closer!"

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Harm to Twitch

So, Twitch was clearly doing things behind the scenes, but its lack of clarity and transparency with creators caused a lot of added frustration in an already stressful situation. It has even fed into a larger discussion amongst streamers about leaving the platform altogether.

More big profile streamers are moving to other platforms like Glimesh, Facebook Gaming, and YouTube (which has already snapped up some of Twitch’s biggest streamers).

If Twitch continues to fail to protect its creators, it might lose everything it built to others who have the advantage of learning from its mistakes.

Where’s the comradery?

The mixed #ADayOffTwitch reaction has highlighted again the discord amongst gamers. If gamers, particularly content creators with large followings, were more willing to stick up for each other rather than the same voices doing most of the intense and draining work, perhaps, the companies whose services they use might operate at a higher standard.

Gamers have a shared interest: the better gaming’s environment, the better it is for all gamers. If more gamers saw issues like the ones discussed as opportunities to work together and force change, that change will more than likely happen faster.

Twitch has in many ways failed, not only its marginalized streamers, but the average one too. The need for unity – at least in the content creation space – should be something that Twitch aspires to, yet toxicity is what it has been known to nurture, and this recent spate of hate raids is testament to that.

Certainly, the harm the public outcry has done to Twitch’s reputation has led to improvements in Twitch’s service. Every streamer can benefit from increased protections against bot-based trolling. Not to mention Twitch gets 50% of its streamers’ revenue, so they’re definitely paying enough to feel secure when using the platform.

Asmongold’s stance on the Twitch boycott stoked tension in an already heightened situation, although he ironically ended up raising awareness of the protest.

The streamer famous for WoW said he agreed with the #ADayOffTwitch protestors, but felt like they were doomed to fail because the creators involved were “unknown”. A potentially literally accurate statement, but one that makes us uncomfortable. It could have been construed as if being “unknown” renders you less deserving of protection.

The point here isn’t to criticize Asmongold. But we just wonder how much bigger the boycott’s impact could have been if even he had supported it.

Twitch certainly needs to do better, and with it actively working with gaming community leaders, and creators to improve its platform, it may have a chance of rebuilding trust amongst them. 

There are still many issues to resolve, like the ever-present toxicity within its community, and the lack of support for smaller streamers, whilst prioritizing larger streamers, but let’s just hope Twitch is really listening this time.

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