A new report points to some disturbing findings on the massively popular online streaming platform, Twitch. An analysis of the gargantuan platform — which has an estimated 33.2 million users — uncovered alarming trends of child predators seemingly targeting children in large numbers. Here's what parents need to know.
According to research reviewed by Bloomberg, child predators allegedly target minors by systematically finding and following young Twitch users. The analysis indicated that nearly 2,000 users on the platform exist solely to target children.
"Even one single instance of grooming is abhorrent to us," Twitch's chief product officer, Tom Verrilli, said in response to the report. "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. This work is vitally important to everyone at Twitch, and we'll never stop."
What is going on with Twitch, according to the report?
According to Bloomberg, the report found that between October 2020 and August 2022, 1,976 Twitch users showed "unusual patterns of behavior" while "systematically" following the accounts of young streamers.
"The unusual patterns of behavior seen in these accounts indicate that many exist primarily to catalog, watch and manipulate children, including enticing them to perform everything from suggestive dances to explicit sexual acts," Bloomberg wrote.
The report also suggests that Twitch's moderation tools have been "insufficient at preventing children from broadcasting," adding that the tools they utilize also don't stop "adults from finding and grooming" those children.
How have children been impacted, according to the report?
Over the two-year duration of data collection, the researcher who wrote the report noted that alleged predators on the streaming platform targeted 279,016 children, that hundreds of “apparent” predator accounts followed more than 1,000 kids, and that in July 2022 alone, more than 650 kids per day were found by predators on Twitch. The report suggests that targeted children were enticed to perform suggestive dances or explicit acts while hundreds of Twitch users watched.
Additional predatory accounts and live videos not previously found by the researchers were uncovered during reporting, "suggesting the problem could be even more widespread than the data portrays," Bloomberg writes.
What is Twitch doing to keep children safe?
"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 told Bloomberg.
"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."
The spokesperson said the platform has "numerous additional updates in development" to detect potential predators and child accounts. However, the spokesperson said "much of the work in this area" isn't yet being made public.
Although Twitch isn't the only social platform battling these types of issues — Roblox’s issues with “online strip clubs” come to mind — a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests that Twitch isn't doing enough to keep young users safe on its platform, cites Bloomberg, with reports of “apparent child sexual abuse” skyrocketing 1,125% over the last few years.
A spokesperson for Twitch says the influx of reports is due to the company's improved detection methods.
What can parents do to keep their kids safe online?
When it comes to the internet, there is no way to keep kids 100% safe, though there is plenty that can be done to keep kids safer. This requires the use of parental controls, supervision, and honest, frequent conversations with our kids.
“Parents should stay involved in their children's digital world, know the apps they use, use parental controls where possible, and block and report people who make them feel uncomfortable,” the U.S. Department of Justice writes.
“One of the most important things you can do to help your kids be safer online is to teach them how to be responsible in their digital lives,” explains Fatherly’s Parent’s Guide on Internet Safety. Start with talking about the internet “long before your child has their own social media empire... as soon as you and your child start using the internet together.”
Parents should also communicate about behavior and conversations on the internet that kids should find abnormal, and when they should come to you — or another adult — when they are concerned.