We all face a threat when we go online. It is where we keep both money and secrets. Today, our lives are integrated fully with the Internet and for some, our livelihood depends on it.
Females online face countless abuses of verbal sexual assault, especially when it is the way they make a living. Many face unwanted and unwarranted attention.
A new profession has developed over the last few years of a video game streamer. This person broadcasts themselves playing a video game and viewers support them by tuning in, making donations or subscribing to their channel for a monthly fee. Akin to being a YouTube star, these online personalities thrive by putting themselves out there and making connections with their fans. To be successful, one must be exposed.
Websites like Twitch.tv are gigantic platforms for gamers to gather and watch each other play their favorite games. Gamers, men and women alike, utilize its services. But being female while gaming has become a crime due to this intrinsic connection.
The streamer's channel is set up so that while they are playing, viewers can comment on the gameplay. The conversation between chat members and the host is constant, many are regulars. It is part of what makes the experience so appealing and critical to both the personal business of that host and the website's success.
However, this system of immediate response from anonymous users has its flaws. Women are targeted by verbal assaults in the chat that emphasize their bodies and criticize their gameplay. Women, although making up a huge portion of the gaming community, are still seen as different, objectified and ridiculed.
At the first convention for the website, which prides itself on the community that exists within it, I spoke with many gamers, who happen to be female, and they shared some of the threats and abuses that they have received or seen personally.
“I think being a female on Twitch holds you to standards and rules that are created by the community and the culture, rather than Twitch itself as a website,” says Raihnbowkidz, a streamer who averages anywhere from 500 - 1500 viewers consistently when she plays. She explained how she has received many discouraging remarks on the website. Streaming is her primary job.
“I think that you have expectations and… if you don't meet those expectations than you aren't appreciated on Twitch. So it forces women to either become completely negative personalities on Twitch or completely covered and quiet and kind of benign,” she says.
One of the convention's many panels was focused on the way that women are treated on the website. It was called simply, Women in Gaming. It was made up by a few of the most prominent gamer women on the website. The host cited a new poll that showed that women are now the most common group of gamers. It's a misconception that they aren't represented within video game culture.
One streamer from the panel, DizzyKitten, talked about the unwanted attention she received in games like Counter-Strike. She said that anytime she was heard or recognized, the tone of the in-game chat would change and then be about her being a woman. She said that experience took up half a year before slowing down. She used guy names in game in order to dispel the attention.
They also spoke about how their credibility is always being called into attention. “Is she really a gamer?” they joked. They said that it's a lose-lose situation. If you performed poorly it was solely because you were a woman. If you won, you got “carried” and did not contribute.
Despite the trials she faces, DizzyKitten, says that the amount of positive comments that she receives from fans is overwhelming and gave a shout out to the moderators who manage her stream chat. She shared that she appreciates that even the audience weeds out comments before she even sees them.
This medium is a burgeoning entertainment field. And although you can do this from anywhere in the world, many streamers head to Los Angeles for access to resources and the analog community that lives here. Many video games developers are already based in L.A., including that of one of the most popular games on Twitch, League of Legends. For the pros, many head here for the tournaments and faster game loading times.
I called the LAPD and asked how threats online are dealt with. Peace Officer Vargas told me that it's the same process as verbal threat: the victim files a police report and provides any documentation that they have.
If the threat is issued anonymously, a commonality today, detectives from a unit that deals with Internet crimes becomes involved. They can track things like IP addresses in order to locate where the message originated. This can lead to arrest depending on the severity of the threat and record. She told me those same things determine the severity of the sentencing as well.
It is important to note that action can only be taken if an actual threat has been made. Receiving comments that don't directly endanger you cannot call for authority intervention.
For Alexis Moore, author of Cyber Self Defense, this effort is not enough. Moore runs Survivors in Action, a nonprofit that provides support, assistance and advocacy for victims of cyber abuse. Moore founded this group after she was stalked online by an ex-boyfriend. She had to learn herself of the best ways to combat cyber abuse on her own. Still, even when she presented evidence, she was derided by the police.
“The key to solving cyber abuse is documentation,” Moore says. She outlined the keys to fighting back, which are provide evidence, report it to whatever website the threat was received and involve law enforcement.
One area that could be improved, says Moore, is from within the companies themselves. “If you develop a product and put it out there for people to use, you should be accountable for any harm it may bring.”
Twitch has a system to report users for violations of the terms of service. In it they say they have a zero tolerance policy for things like: “Attempting or threatening to harm or kill another person” or “Posting someone else's personal information, such as a real name or location, without consent.” “Hate speech” is also prohibited, but commonplace.
I reached out to Twitch to see how they respond to reports of harassment. Chase, the company's director of PR, told me that they do take harassment very seriously. "Ultimately, our goal is to provide broadcasters with the tools and flexibility to manage their channel how they see fit and to protect themselves against harassment," he said. He mentioned a large moderation team, as well as technology, that responds to issues brought forth by the users.
Raihnbowkidz is worried about the Twitch community. She says she thinks that this kind of hate speech has ingrained itself into the fabric of the community. She laments with, “The partners and Twitch itself have let the community crystalize, gather and crystalize, into a solidification which is sexism, predominant sexism, on Twitch. It's becoming its culture unfortunately.”
She says that men and women both profit from this type of behavior. "Can you really be mad at them? Because they are making money off of it," she says. "It's a business."
For Raihnbowkidz it is about the way in which she handles the comments she receives. "You don't get the support that you want from Twitch, you don't get the support that you want from viewers, from other streamers, it's a very dog-eat-dog world." Because of the prevalence of sexist language here, gamers are forced to find their own way to deal with the constant harassment. If they do report the behavior, they must continue to field critical commentary while they wait. Twitch and the internet are still very young and our society has yet to figure out how we deal with the threats we receive there.Raihnbowkidz has found a method that she uses to do this. She told me that she does the opposite of what a lot of streamers do, by confronting the behavior head on. She calls people out on it and says that it is "to show them that's not a power that they have."