Live streaming has opened up a whole world of creativity, unique personalities and, most of all, 24/7 video games - meaning that we can now plug ourselves into games at any time, even if we can’t play them ourselves.
That’s a romanticised version, anyway. In reality, give humans nice things and watch them do horrible stuff with it. Recently Twitch introduced the IRL category, which collates ‘In Real Life’ streamers — people filming themselves playing board games, or making something, or whatever else. A new strain of streaming culture has emerged around this, aimed solely at targeting and harassing women in front of their live audience.
Last week, following a full-on day at work, and a torturous journey home through central London, I was frazzled and stressed so decided to skip my regular Breath of the Wild stream. Instead, I set up an incredibly shoddy stream in my kitchen featuring me trying to complete a 1000-piece cat puzzle with metal music in the background. It was dumb, but it was also awesome, and my regular crowd seemed to enjoy the change in pace of relaxing in the IRL category, and leaving the Bokoblins for another day.
Although I’ve streamed a lot, this was the first time I had ever streamed in the IRL category. I thought there might be new viewers and oddballs popping by, but what happened next left me shocked. My channel was raided by a self-proclaimed “troll militia” with the purpose of bullying my stream, all of which was being livestreamed on their Twitch channel, with accompanying commentary.
Here’s how it went down
As I was puzzling away, a new person popped up in my chat asking me to “give a shout out to the #JazzBoys.” I like to say hello to all new viewers and ask how they are anyway so, as this viewer had asked so nicely, I said “Hi” to the Jazz Boys and thought nothing of it.
Within seconds more people descended on the chat shouting about the #JazzBoys, and boasting that they were live streaming my stream on their own channels “in the pursuit of spreading the love to lower tier IRL streamers.” I was like 3 pieces away from finishing a cat I’d been working on for an hour, and I’d had a hard day, so figured the best thing to do was shrug this off for the moment and finish the puzzle.
Here’s the thing: I knew at once that I was being raided by a troll group, because I’ve had previous experience with this behaviour. As has probably any woman who’s streamed. But knowing that the camera was pointing at my face and being broadcast to numerous channels I couldn’t watch, engage with or prepare for, I knew I had to be incredibly careful with every single movement to ensure they didn’t ‘win’, they didn’t get the reaction they were looking for. It was paralysing.
The #JazzBoys, these modern heirs of Oscar Wilde, began their campaign by typing about my general appearance and asking why the heck I was solving a puzzle on Twitch.
Fairly swiftly, this descended into someone asking me to shove puzzle pieces up my ass. Then they started asking things like why I felt it was appropriate to be a “slut" on Twitch to get viewers and donations. I have an incredibly small viewership compared to the majority of people on Twitch, which the #JazzBoys had literally doubled in just five minutes, and because of this I like to remind my real viewers that they should never feel pressured to donate.
Do I really need to type out the other things they called me? Every woman in this industry has seen it all before. Every opportunity they saw to sexually harass, insult or belittle me and my small community of regular viewers, they took. I tried to shoot everything back with a smirk and some sarcasm, which helped control my anger and confusion. It was exhausting, but I knew that a confident and cool persona is something these idiots can’t handle.
Sure enough, the harassment went on for about 30-45 minutes before one of them typed “this chick is boring, let’s find someone else”, and they were gone. We had a few more of their members appear throughout the rest of the stream, but we all caught on pretty quickly to what they were trying to do.
It wasn’t until after my stream had finished, and I took the time to thank my Discord group for supporting me throughout the whole ordeal, that I went to find the channel that the ring leader of the #JazzBoys had apparently been broadcasting me on. Not only had they streamed my broadcast without permission, but I wanted to see what exactly they were saying about me.
Most of it was mindless ‘banter’ and crappy suggestions about what they should say to make me angry or ashamed. I was genuinely shocked to see I got a few laughs from the host, and even some compliments that seemed non-sexually revolting, because it was a reminder of just how mundane these people, who can act so terribly, are in every other respect. The real shock came at the end: once they grew bored of trying to embarrass me for entertainment, they went back into the IRL Category and found their next target.
I watched this next portion of their stream and was stunned in the most awful way. As you may have gathered, I can handle myself pretty well in these situations — because I’ve done streams, YouTube, Live and pre-recorded TV and generally tried to be a forward-facing personality. This was far from my first time facing attempted sexual harassment and bullying in the games industry. I don’t say this with any particular pride, because the world should be better than this, but I’ve developed a tough skin.
For their next target, the #JazzBoys had chosen to bully a disabled streamer. They did it with such fury that I was shocked to the core. This streamer (who I have left anonymous for obvious reasons) was visibly and audibly distressed by the random assault on her channel. The death threats, vulgar suggestions and downright repulsive things being thrown into her calm and friendly community were seen plain as day across her face — and she didn’t know what to do.
I feel like I can look after myself, but being exposed to the public humiliation of women on the internet in front of a live audience… I was speechless. The IRL Category of Twitch was being used like its own game by this “militia", as a means to attack and discriminate against women simply existing in the same space as them. It is unforgivable. It is ghastly. It is 2017 and it is something Twitch should be absolutely ashamed to enable.
TL;DR - Women in games are being attacked in front of a live audience because they're women in games. pic.twitter.com/3fovr9geQQ
— Charleyy Hodson (@CharleyyRachael) August 2, 2017
In this situation, the ring leader who was broadcasting was banned overnight, even though I hadn’t hit that “Report” button myself. Luckily I was able to watch back his footage before it was removed, but reporting and taking down that one channel is not going to stop this behaviour. I’m almost glad this happened, in a way, because now I’m aware of this culture.
Seeing women hunted like sport because they have an interest in video games and the culture around them is not something that spawned on Twitch, but a long-time industry curse that reflects wider social problems. Nevertheless, the practical question is simple: how can we stop this?
Sure, Twitch banned the bully, but he’ll be back with a different channel*. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was attacking some other innocent streamer as you read this. I appreciate Twitch can’t police every single stream happening simultaneously, they can’t be expected to be in the right place and the right time to stop every instance of harassment. But then, this company’s business is in being of the moment. They sell to advertisers on live streaming’s strengths, of which there are many, and the audience’s clear passion — but when it comes to the bad stuff, Twitch wants to automate its processes as much as possible.
Show me the algorithm that can look at this kind of behaviour and, within seconds and with decent accuracy, IP-ban the ring leader and all their followers. Because if you haven’t got that then, as so often in our high technology age, you need human moderators to be on-call and available to review this stuff as it’s happening. A ban hours after the event is, in Twitch’s case, no solution at all for what’s going on.
It may also be an idea to stop channels from broadcasting other channels, which is against Twitch’s Terms of Service anyway. Whether you’re commentating or bullying, streaming someone else's hard work is bullshit and shouldn’t exist.
While we wait for Twitch to act, all that decent-minded people can do is support women. I can guarantee that if you know a woman who has talked out loud about games, streamed them, wrote about them for a living, created content about them, played them as a hobby, then you know someone that’s probably been the subject of sexual harassment and bullying.
The hate women get online for being involved in games is vile, and anyone you know may be drowning in an ocean of abuse or dwelling on that one time someone said something so offensive about their gender they can’t forget it. We cannot allow scum like the #JazzBoys to dictate the way women interact with video games or sites like Twitch.
Support women as they join an industry that welcomes them with open arms, but does nothing to shield them from what’s through the door. Defend women when they share something they’ve created, and the haters bring the focus back to their gender. Protect and help women when they cower away from the things they love the most, because some fucked-in-the-head boys think it’s fine to livestream sexual harassment for laughs. Support women in this industry, and kick against the pricks.
I’m not the first victim of these attacks, and I won’t be the last, but you can be damn sure I won’t be silent about it. It’s all very well for Twitch to talk about behaviour it won’t tolerate, but the simple problem is that those words are meaningless when your product is enabling it. Get on the right side of history, and shut these wankers down.
*UPDATE: His channel has now been reinstated, with my bullying broadcast sitting proudly on his profile page. I have contacted Twitch Support for advice, but this message has been left unanswered for a week now.