So, You Want To Start Streaming Online — Here’s How To Stay Safe

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Chances are that if you’re like a number of people during the pandemic, at one point or another, you’ve played Animal Crossing. Maybe you loved it. Maybe you hated it. Or maybe it made you want to get further into the world of gaming and streaming. If that’s you, you might be confused as to how you make the big leap from running errands and planting crops in the world of Animal Crossing to doing that and chatting with people on the internet while they watch you play. Here’s everything you need to know about how to start streaming and how to keep yourself safe from harassment once you’re live. 

What kind of equipment do I need to start streaming?

Be prepared, because streaming does require a bit of equipment to get started — a lot of which come with a big price tag. But the good thing is that once you get over the initial setup (and slight hit to your bank account), you’re pretty set for the foreseeable future. When it comes to setting up your streaming equipment, there are some essentials. First things first, you’ll want a high-quality web camera. While the built-in laptop or desktop camera can do the trick for beginners (and initially save you some cash), some great options include the Logitech C922 Pro
In addition to a great camera, you’ll need audio and lighting. While your computer and several other external cameras will already have audio built in (like the Logitech, although it should be noted not all cameras have external audio), a dedicated mic system is pretty essential for anyone who wants to make a full-throttle go of streaming. In the realm of sound, a good gaming headset is a must (we’d recommend HyperX). A lot of headsets do have built-in mics (even though they’re not always the greatest quality), so for anyone starting out, they’re a great option. For the best lighting, you’ll probably want a ring light.
If you’re able to splurge, Elgato’s Stream Deck can be nice to have. This desktop controller allows you to set and manage multiple streaming apps, including Twitch, YouTube, and XSplit, essentially letting you swap between platforms easily while streaming.
And finally, the last piece of equipment you need to start streaming is arguably the most overlooked and sometimes most difficult to obtain: A strong internet connection!  

How do I set up streaming?

To get started, you’ll need a streaming software (this essentially converts your video content into a digital format to re-watch). Thankfully, there are plenty of free options out there. Twitch Studio is a streaming app built specifically for gamers and streamers who are just starting out (ie: it leans into a simple setup!). The app will walk you through setup step-by-step. Another popular go-to when it comes to streaming softwares is Streamlabs OBS
The next step? Choosing the platform you want to stream on and creating an account. The best platform for you is really up to you. Twitch is the biggest and most well-known, suited to gamers who want to play and chat with their followers, while YouTube is a great platform for creators who want to stream other content like live music, cooking classes, and instructional videos. There are also smaller specialized platforms like Paidia, which is an inclusive platform geared towards women and non-binary people
Regardless of which platform you jump on, It’s important to enable extra safety measures like two-factor authentication to protect your account. (It may seem annoying to set up initially, but will pay off in the long run.) Then comes the fun part — customizing your channel! Just how you customize may differ between apps, from more bare bones aesthetically speaking (like on YouTube), to completely decked out. On platforms like Twitch, this step can include modifying your profile pic and bio as well as personally customizing your page aesthetic from your overlay, alerts, and bio.
Hot tip: Regardless of what platform you’re on, make sure you’re reading all the privacy updates as they come (and they will, inevitably, come).

How can I organically grow my streaming channel and audience? 

Once you’ve set up your stream, the next big step becomes growing it. And not only growing it, but increasing your followers and subscriber numbers in an authentic way that’ll help you foster a safe, fun, and welcoming community. For Chicago-based streamer Makeda (aka Kedapalooza), as cliché as it may sound, her main tip for fostering relationships and building an online community is pretty simple. “My first tip is to be yourself,” she tells Refinery29. “Especially in a content creation space, there's a lot of manufacturing happening to be what the coolest thing is or play with the most recent, most popular game. And there is merit to following trends, of course, but people stay because they want that authenticity from the creator that they're following, from the creator that they're looking for.” For her this means talking honestly about her struggles being a plus-size person or dealing with mental illness. “You never know what you bring to the table. You never know what people might gravitate towards that nobody else can bring to the table but you.” 
For those getting started, Makeda also recommends reaching out to anyone you may know in the space, be it online or IRL, so they can introduce you to their community. And it’s not just beneficial for your views and subscription numbers. For Jill Kenney, the co-founder and CEO of Paidia, having a strong community behind you also helps when it comes to tackling issues of harassment when streaming. “The community really gets behind the individual that's streaming and the community protects themselves,” she tells Refinery29. If streamers lay out clear guidelines from the start of their channel about what behaviour they will and will not tolerate, they’ll build communities around those very guidelines who’ll then self-regulate. And, Kenney advises, “Don't be afraid to take an action or to block someone or delete them.”

How do I connect with other women and non-binary streamers?

The internet can be a tough place for women and non-binary people (or anyone who isn’t a cis-white man), and the gaming industry has historically and notoriously been similarly unwelcoming. But thankfully that’s changing. Over the past several years, inclusive platforms have launched that are geared specifically towards certain communities, and are a safe and inclusive option for streaming and connecting with community members. These include platforms like Paidia, Noir Network (created for Black femmes), and Black Girl Gamers.

How can I protect myself from harassment when streaming?

While community building is an important part of ensuring your chat is supportive and has your back, there are some other things gamers and streamers can do to help protect themselves while online, both behind and in front of the camera. First things first, Makeda advises not sharing your first and last name online with followers to protect yourself from being doxxed or stalked — and this includes when you’re trying to set up a link for donations. Makeda also doesn’t share personal info like her hometown, where she went to college, or anything about her full-time job, which can be identifying factors. It’s pretty common for viewers to send streamers money (and that’s totally okay!). But if you’re setting up donations on a platform like Twitch, it’s important that you don’t link your personal Paypal account. Instead, it’s best to create an entirely new business account with your handle.
You’ll also want to establish strong moderation and safety settings, which allow you to hide certain words, sentences, and comments from your chat. Twitch can set these limits for you through AutoMod, but you can also personally specify what words and phrases you want to block. It’s also helpful to have stream moderators — people you trust who will be present in chat and can both engage with people while you game and ensure everyone is being safe and respectful. 
“If you're just starting out, I would say at least your first one or two mods would be people that know you really well,” Makeda says. “People that you trust.” Her IRL best friend was one of her first mods and knew what she would find funny and see as a joke, and what she would find out of pocket. “I just trust her inherently to ban people or take care of things that may seem a little weird,” she says. “So having people that you trust on your mod team is paramount to starting out, because it’ll also give you a space of comfort… having that kind of person, like a security blanket, is a great thing to have in general.” 
Ultimately, it’s important that both you — and your followers — feel safe. As an extra step to ensure this, Makeda has a safe word in her chats. “If a conversation becomes too much for somebody, they can just do ‘!lemon’ in the chat, and we just automatically change the subject, no questions asked,” she says. If followers don’t feel comfortable voicing the word themselves, they can whisper to a moderator on the side, who’ll end the conversation on the individual’s behalf. 
“I want a positive, fun-loving community and when I say that it doesn't just mean everything has to be happy, joy all the time,” Makeda says. “It means that my community feels safe enough to have hard conversations, and you need to.” 
Because you should always feel safe — both IRL and online.

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