The streaming platform Twitch has become one of the most popular online mediums on the planet, especially for teens. Bought for nearly a billion dollars by Amazon, Twitch accounted for 76% of streamed gaming content in the first quarter of 2022. Millions of people join each day to watch skilled and professional gamers play video games like Fortnite and Madden, while millions more stream their own content. And, of course, with that comes danger.

According to new research published by Bloomberg, child predators are allegedly targeting minors through the live streaming service, systematically finding and following young people — and then pressuring them into sexual acts or luring them into other avenues of communication.

The study discovered almost 2,000 Twitch users in under two years that showed "unusual patterns of behavior" that indicated many of them might only be on the platform to watch, chat with and manipulate children.

The study was carried out from October 2020 to August 2022, over which time period the research identified that over 279,000 children were targeted by predators. In July 2022, alleged predators found an average of 673 children every day, according to the analysis. Hundreds of apparent predator accounts respectively had an average of 1,000 children on their following lists.

These Twitch predators would chat with children who were live-streaming themselves, asking them through the chat function to show their full bodies, perform suggestive dances or even engage in explicit sex acts.

For example, in mid-August 2022, 650 live viewers watched a young girl on Twitch who said she was 11 years old and alone in her bedroom. Mimicking popular streamers, she displayed a sign with her Twitch username and the number 12 — the age she would turn in a few weeks. Viewers in the chat asked her to do a “fashion show” and show her legs.

In another horrifying account, a girl who said she was 9 years old streamed on Twitch. A viewer entered her chat room and asked if she was a girl. Then the person said, “Show your butt to prove it.”

A few more minutes into the stream, the viewer said, “I want to see your underwear.” Throughout the livestream, the viewer repeatedly threatened to leave if she did not perform to meet his demands.

Other predators will “tip” or give donations to users who take their suggestions — or withhold tips if they don’t.

These accounts are disturbing, but it may be comforting to know that Twitch does recognize they have some problems to solve.

In an emailed statement to Bloomberg, Twitch recognizes the overall problem of online predators not just on Twitch but on every online platform and says they are taking measures to try and stop kids under 13 from using the platform. However, ages 14-17 are still able to use the platform and be targeted.

“Preventing child harm is one of our most fundamental responsibilities as a society. We do not allow children under 13 to use Twitch, and preventing our service from being used for harm is one of our biggest priorities,” a Twitch spokesperson wrote. “We know that online platforms can be used to cause harm to children, and we have made extensive investments over the last two years to better stay ahead of bad actors and prevent any users who may be under 13 from accessing Twitch.”

In the past two years, Twitch has quadrupled the size of its law enforcement response team working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, known as the NCMEC, and the Tech Coalition, an industry-wide alliance combating online child sex abuse.

The spokesperson said Twitch has “numerous additional updates in development” to detect and remove child streamers and predators. Twitch can’t share “much of the work in this area” publicly because bad actors could use that knowledge to evade accountability, the spokesperson said.

Though Twitch claims to be working in the issue, the research shows that not enough is being done to stop these predators from finding and interacting with young people on the streaming platform. And even if they work to stop children under 13 from using Twitch, what about kids from 14-17 years old?

It’s true that online predators are prevalent on every social media and online platform. However, Twitch is especially concerning at the moment due to the growing popularity of gamer streaming as well as how popular it is among kids — and how easy it is for anyone to engage in live-streaming.

On Twitch, the average number of live channels broadcasting at the same time more than doubled between late 2019 and the start of 2022 to 105,000. Average viewership for those channels increased to 2.9 million from 1.2 million over that period.

Completely ending online predatory behavior seems nexts to impossible. So, what can parents do besides completely removing the internet from their kid’s lives?

First and most importantly, it’s vital to have open and honest communication with kids about the internet and online safety. Let your child know that they can come and talk to you with any questions or concerns about behaviors or problems they may have encountered while online.

The United States Department of Justice recommends reminding children to avoid sharing personal information, photos and videos in public forums or with people they do not know in real life. Explain to your children that images and videos posted online will be permanently on the internet.

Internet guru and marketing expert Gary Vaynerchuk would say that the number one way to protect children from online predators is to build their self-esteem. “When a child is not insecure, they don’t succumb to danger,” Vaynerchuk says to a worried mom in a YouTube video. “If you make her confident in who she is ... she will not succumb to other people, and that is how she will navigate.”

Parents can do all they can, but at the end of the day, it’s up to these multi-million dollar companies to lay down the law, monitor their platforms, and create safe environments.

After learning of Bloomberg’s research, Twitch’s Chief Product Officer recognized they may not be doing enough to stop this from happening. “Even one single instance of grooming is abhorrent to us, and if it’s valid, the data you reference demonstrates that we are not offering the level of protection we strive for yet — which is deeply upsetting,” Tom Verrilli, Twitch’s chief product officer, wrote in an email. “This work is vitally important to everyone at Twitch, and we’ll never stop.”

Be sure to the report in its entirety at Bloomberg.

Source: Scary Mommy https://www.scarymommy.com/parenting/streaming-platform-twitch-child-predators-report

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