In early August, LGBTQ+ Twitch streamers began sharing clips of a growing and frightening phenomenon: hate raids, in which mass bot accounts would spam offensive speech and threats to active streamers in their chats. Raids were designed to be a positive way for streamers to direct their viewers to another person’s channel and help them grow a following. But after Twitch implemented dozens of identity tags to better connect sub-communities, from Black to Transgender to Anxiety, some users abused the system. And it was queer streamers, creators of color, and disabled people — the most marginalized groups on the platform — who were primarily targeted.
“We’re not the cisgender, heterosexual people that are considered ‘normal.’ We’re often ‘othered’ and there are people who feel like we are not worth the air we breathe,” says Raven (they/she), aka RekItRaven, a partnered Twitch streamer who became one of several targets of hate raids during the summer. “Twitch is a reflection of society ... and our society tells us that we are wrong for being us.”
Despite promising inclusivity and safety for all of its creators, Twitch continues to fail LGBTQ+ streamers like myself because its policies continue to fall short, effectively allowing harassment and hate speech. Its automoderation tools flag words like “lesbian” as “sexual content,” which forces many queer streamers to turn off automod altogether, thereby inviting actual terms in chat that are harmful or derogatory unless creators actively blacklist those terms. The creators I spoke with say Twitch hasn’t communicated enough about its efforts to stop hate raids and protect them. To combat these issues, LGBTQ+ streamers are advocating for Twitch to improve, but they are also taking matters into their own hands, creating incredible content on and off the platform and asking their communities to support them without necessarily giving Twitch more money.
Although top streamers on Twitch — most of whom are cisgender, heterosexual, white men — can negotiate better terms with the platform, the majority of creators on Twitch see half their earnings go to the site’s parent company, Amazon. Twitch takes 50 percent of paid subscriptions and a portion of the up-front cost on bits, which are premium virtual goods that can be purchased in chat and used to show support for streamers.
The pay split has been a point of contention for years, but more pressing is the continuous harassment, particularly against streamers who use LGBTQ+ identity tags on their streams. Although these are meant for Twitch users to more easily connect with, for example, other non-binary or asexual or plus size creators, Raven told The Washington Post in August that bad actors have used them to find and target them for hate raids, and others have shared similar observations on social media.
Despite the seeming connection between tag usage and targeted harassment, a Twitch spokesperson says there’s no direct correlation: “We haven't found clear evidence in our ongoing investigations that tags have been a vector for targeted attacks. That said, it's true increased discoverability could inadvertently help bad actors find streams for malicious purposes, and it is our continuous priority to reduce that risk as much as possible by improving and developing new safety products, policies, and technologies.”
To deal with hate raids, streamers have taken matters into their own hands, creating “panic button” responses using whatever tools were at their disposal to keep their communities safe. These include user-created mass banning tools, like CommanderRoot, to prevent hateful spam. Streamers and their moderators also have created lists of bots for others to pre-ban before they could invade more streamers’ spaces. The efforts helped, but the bots kept coming. But despite the apparent hyper-specific targeting of these hate raids, many streamers refused to give up the platform they fought so hard to build, and continued to proudly use their identity tags.
“My streams are genuinely chaotic in the best way, and my community consists of diverse and inclusive voices. We discuss real world topics surrounding politics, racial inequality, LGBTQ+ issues within society and within the community, mental health and various other difficult topics,” Raven says. “I’m a Black, femme-presenting queerdo. My very existence breeds hate. I have been trolled, hate-raided, harassed for years, but it got really bad over the summer. It consisted of hundreds, if not thousands, of hateful messages, calling for my lynching, telling me that my chat belonged to the KKK, threatening my children, doxxing me, swatting threats, and more. Sometimes it’s hard to see, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna keep going.”
At the height of the hate raids, Raven created two calls-to-action through Twitter, with the hashtags #TwitchDoBetter and #SubOffTwitch, as well as the #ADayOffTwitch boycott to draw attention to how many users were being hate-raided out of their own channels. Hundreds of users have included these hashtags in their posts over the last four months, and coverage in The Washington Post, NME, PinkNews and more have drawn international media attention to Raven’s work. #TwitchDoBetter demands stronger safety tools and creator control from Twitch, and it has already made an impact: in September, Twitch added phone and email verification controls, so streamers can set parameters for who’s allowed to chat in their channels. This is especially helpful for reducing hate raids against queer content creators, as it minimizes the ability to mass-create new accounts for spamming. Then in November, Twitch introduced Suspicious User Detection, which is a tool meant to identify potential ban evaders, or users who create new accounts after they’re banned from a streamer’s chat.
These ongoing efforts reflect comments from Raven, who tweeted about meeting directly with Twitch representatives in August: “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!”
“We’ve taken numerous steps to combat targeted bot attacks specifically, including filing legal Complaints against individuals involved, meeting directly impacted Creators, launching new educational initiatives dedicated to fighting chat-based harassment, and making numerous updates to our sitewide technology for detecting offensive language and malicious botting,” Twitch tells Refinery29. “Botting is an internet-wide problem without an easy fix, but we’re encouraged by the results from these steps and are continuing our work to better anticipate bad actors’ methods and prevent their attempts to cause harm.”
Although Twitch is taking active steps toward better protection, many LGBTQIA+ streamers hope to see stronger tools and better communication from the platform. Bee (they/them), aka QueerlyBee, is a content creator and online educator who cultivates a cozy, soothing space through conversation and relaxed games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, while addressing community values like identity and equity. They were able to protect themself and their community from hate raids through tools learned from their network, but they point out that not all streamers have that ability.
“The unfortunate thing is the weight was put on us to protect our communities,” Bee says. “I worry about the smaller streamers who aren’t as interconnected on other social platforms like TikTok and Twitter, which is where all of us learned how to take care of each other.”
Until Twitch meets creator demands, streamers are seemingly focusing more on the #SubOffTwitch movement, which Raven also started in August. #SubOffTwitch encourages the community members and fans to replace or expand upon their Twitch subscriptions by supporting streamers on different platforms like Patreon and Fanhouse, which offer creators more generous cuts. According to Ace (they/she), aka A_TypicalQueer, a disabled streamer who advocated for and ultimately created the highly sought-after Black tag for Twitch, “#SubOffTwitch has been instrumental [in helping streamers earn money]. It has been a great way for people to see other types of content, whether it’s on Fanhouse, Ko-Fi — people are looking at creators’ commissions now. So it shines a lot of light on what the streamer does outside of OBS, outside of Streamlabs or StreamElements, what have you.”
Unfortunately, #SubOffTwitch may not work for everyone, which Raven acknowledges: “The thought behind it was to make a financial impact to protest the lack of protections in place. I think it works for some and not for others, and no one should feel bad for accepting subscriptions on Twitch. We all have to be kind and understanding of one another especially since for some people, Twitch is the only money they make.”
Some creators don’t have the ability to create content on multiple platforms. For example, Bee describes Twitch as a part-time job. They tell Refinery29 that when they’ve talked about losing Twitch income, they’ve often been told to diversify their content and not to put all their eggs in one basket. However, as Bee explains, it’s not that simple. Creating content on another platform includes promoting that platform and asking supporters to visit their content there, which takes them away from Twitch. Bee says this is an inconvenience if their supporters are already in Twitch chat, and it may also confuse people who just want to watch streams, rather than engage with other content.
“I do hope one day Twitch will see and respond to our concerns, because I want to be able to engage with my community on their platform. … But right now, I have to ask them to do that elsewhere, because I need to be paid a livable wage for the amount of work that I put in,” Bee says.
Following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a breakup, Ace started over with content creation in January, working completely solo. Ace doesn’t stream full-time and has a separate income outside of Twitch, but has still been hit hard by people unsubscribing on the platform. “I’m happy all these movements are gaining momentum that are necessary and creating effective change,” they explain. “However, it messed with my pockets. … When I’m actively creating content, I wish people did support me on Twitch.” Ace admits they haven’t streamed much since the hate raids began, but their passion has been reignited through her work with online racial justice organization Color of Change to create content for the #TwitchDoBetter movement. The org aims to continue highlighting the harassment faced by Black creators on the platform now that the hashtag is no longer trending.
Hate raids are still happening, though they are fewer and farther between. Twitter users shed light on these instances through #TwitchDoBetter, though the hashtag is also being used for other purposes. Users are demanding more consistent payments, a pay split that’s in favor of streamers, more acknowledgment from Twitch of marginalized creators outside of specific events or history months, more emotes for affiliate streamers, and still stronger moderation tools. Streamers including Raven and Bee are also asking for more communication from Twitch about how it plans to support and protect LGBTQ+ streamers.
“I know there are some things that can’t be said in terms of tools and things being worked on, because we don’t want the people seeking us harm to have access to that information because they’d just plan to circumnavigate it. But we need more human responses. Not scripted PR rhetoric,” Raven says.
Bee believes the weight is still on streamers, and that Twitch could do more. “I won’t say the stuff Twitch has done hasn’t done anything. I think it’s definitely helped, but it’s very little, very late in the game.” They add, “People want to feel heard and seen, and Twitch doesn’t communicate in a way that allows that to be possible, and that hurts them and us. I’m definitely not satisfied with what they’ve done, but I just also think it would be great if they would communicate better. I think that would make a big difference.”
Twitch tells Refinery29 that it’s working on initiatives, like transparency reporting and creator camp streams, to better communicate and be transparent about the work it’s doing to protect the community. “We support our streamers’ rights to express themselves and bring attention to important issues across our service. While we often need to limit the details we share about safety in order to avoid tipping off bad actors, we understand the community's feedback and agree that Creators should feel informed and confident in our efforts to improve safety on Twitch.”