This article originally appeared on VICE France.
On a July evening in 2016, Adèle was ready to pull the plug on her streaming career. Although she’d been on Twitch since 2014, the then-20-year-old – known on the platform as Areliann – had reached breaking point. Days earlier, she’d been “raided” by a much more popular streamer.
"Raiding” is when a Twitcher directs their users to another person’s channel, usually to introduce their audience to someone they like. It can be a great way for famous streamers to spotlight lesser-known creators, but it can also be the internet equivalent of sending an angry mob to someone’s house. In this case, over 2,000 viewers barged in on Areliann’s livestream specifically to bully and harass her, at a time when she had never had more than 15 viewers herself.
It took a few weeks before Areliann felt comfortable streaming again. She’s a gamer who plays Apex Legends and GTA on the platform. Five years later, she has over 150,000 followers who protect her from hostile raids. But to get to this point, she’s had to “prove” herself. Sadly, that’s the trajectory of most aspiring professionals on Twitch who happen to be women – gain followers quickly who can help protect them against trolls.
Trolls are particularly fond of Twitch because they can pretty much watch the impact of their insults in real-time. “All they want is attention,” said Areliann, who makes it her business to ignore them. Even now she’s “made it”, she still gets harassed on a regular basis. Areliann leaves it to her moderators, all volunteers, to ban her trolls and intercept the hate before she sees it. But sometimes it gets too distressing even for the moderators – she’s occasionally had to comfort her volunteers, too.
Shakaam is a streamer who specialises in the Just Chatting format, where she talks openly with their community, instead of gaming. In her streams, Shakaam often talks about sex ed, “so that people won’t just learn about sex from porn”. She says she receives insults and abuse in her chats “every single time” she streams.
Although Shakaam says she’s good at coping with the hate, sometimes it gets too much. In January, she had to shut down a livestream because more than 20 trolls were hurling insults at her all at once. “I was already having a bad day, and I couldn’t just laugh it off like I normally do,” she said. “I was on the verge of tears.” Shakaam says you never get used to it, even after years on the platform. “In real life, as a woman, do you ever get used to being harassed on the street? Not really,” she said.
In recent months, many popular women streamers have reported an uptick in nastiness – and they think it might have something to do with the game Among Us, a pandemic favourite. The multiplayer game can be played both with friends and with strangers, prompting Twitch users to play with other members of their communities. But the rise of Among Us on the site has also coincided with “a comeback of the worst of Twitch”, as streamer Nahomay, who has over 46,000 followers, put it.
Ultia – who would normally describe her community of 120,000 as “kind and caring” – has seen a recent and very sudden spike in users from different channels barging in on her chats and criticising her every move during Among Us livestreams. Nat_Ali, who’s been on the platform for five years, said she’s experienced the same. The bullying became so intense, she once had to quit mid-stream while playing Among Us, and ultimately stopped playing the game altogether.
Sadly, another big topic of discussion in female Twitchers’ chats is how much skin they choose to show. In December, male content creators in France stirred up controversy on Twitter, accusing female streamers who wear revealing outfits of exploiting men’s vulnerabilities. Nahomay, who defended her female colleagues in the Twitter debate, ended up receiving an onslaught of abuse because she posted a “nude” on Instagram – a pregnancy photo.
Some women on Twitch choose to wear baggy clothing to divert attention from their bodies and avoid being labelled a “temptress”. Kaatsup, 18, came to Twitch via TikTok and says she hides her figure during livestreams because she doesn’t want that kind of attention. At the same time, other female streamers have come out in support of their colleagues who choose to show off their bodies. “It’s basic marketing,” Drakony, an ex-YouTuber turned Twitcher, said. “If there’s supply, it’s because there’s demand.” At any rate, female streamers get harassed no matter what they wear, Nahomay said.
Many of the women interviewed for this article think viewers’ bad behaviour can be traced back to the streamers they follow. Sometimes, male Twitchers will comment on other channels during a stream and incite their viewers to raid them. It’s not always intentional or explicit, but as the experiences of female streamers show, it happens systematically. And addressing this harassment doesn’t seem to be high up on the priority list of Twitch’s top performers, nor of the platform itself. Many female streamers believe the hate would die down if Twitch called out problematic streamers.
A spokesperson for Twitch France told VICE that the company was “aware there is still work to be done to create safe and inclusive spaces”, and that they have “a number of initiatives underway to prevent harassment faced by streamers, particularly women and other underrepresented groups”. In January of 2021, Twitch introduced a new harassment and hate speech policy that bans, among other things, unwelcome remarks about someone’s appearance and sexuality. Unfortunately, months on, female streamers haven’t noticed any difference.
Twitch claims to address each report of harassment as quickly and as carefully as possible. The spokesperson said they don’t have the power to “put an end to the problems inherent in gaming and online communities”, but that they do “take [their] responsibilities seriously as a service within those communities”. On the 3rd of February, 2021, the platform released its first annual Transparency Report detailing the initiatives taken to ensure users’ safety. The report shows progress, but clearly not enough to make Twitch safe for female creators.
Twitcher Nat_Ali said the platform has no incentive to make a real difference. As long as a streamer brings viewers (and revenue) to the platform, Twitch will promote them – “unless there’s a Twitter scandal”, she said.
Nahomay hopes that, as more and more women join the platform, some of the harassment will stop, especially for women who are just starting out and can’t count on their fans to defend them. But ultimately, all the female streamers told VICE they are now resigned to the idea that sexism and misogyny are just intrinsic to Twitch. No matter how far you make it as a woman on the platform, the insults and threats never stop.