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‘Twitch blackout’ spotlights claims of harassment, discrimination among streamers

By Benjamin Bullard
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Some of the most popular names on Twitch, the world’s biggest live game streamer, went silent Wednesday, staging what social media has dubbed a #TwitchBlackout to bring attention to a recent surge of sexual harassment and discrimination claims that accusers say the Amazon-owned platform has yet to sufficiently address.

The hashtag-driven campaign trended Wednesday as high-profile Twitch streamers lent their support to the emerging movement, which The New York Times reports took shape as “[m]ore than 70 people in the gaming industry, most of them women,” came forward beginning June 19 with accusations of “gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault.” The movement got a boost from high-profile streamers who elected to mute their typically-active broadcasts for the 24-hour “Twitch blackout” period Wednesday, to show their solidarity with the users who made the allegations.

Momentum for the campaign grew as dozens of Twitch users began to relate personal anecdotes of alleged online harassment, and to connect with others via social media who shared similar stories. On June 21, Twitch addressed the matter directly, saying it takes “accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct seriously” and is “actively looking into the accounts concerning streamers affiliated with Twitch and will work with law enforcement where applicable.”

Free to use as a basic viewing platform, Twitch earns revenue from integrated advertising and tiered subscription fees, including a $4.99 per-month “Twitch Prime” membership and an $8.99 per-month “Twitch Turbo” service. Members can also reward individual streamers with “Bits,” Twitch’s in-house currency for microtransaction shout-outs, with revenue split between the company and the streamers on the receiving end of fans’ favor. In an interview with Polygon, Twitch streamer Brian Gray said the consensus surrounding the blackout movement isn’t aimed at canceling Twitch as a platform; rather, it’s to get the company’s attention, through a small dent in one day’s revenue, to address its users’ claims.

“In this case it’s content creators who are essentially independent contractors denying revenue to Twitch via an economic boycott,” he explained, adding that the goal isn’t to “bring down” the service, but to persuade Twitch “to take a real look at safety on their platform instead of simply issuing statements saying ‘We’re listening.’”

Twitch isn’t the only place where sexual harassment and misconduct allegations have surfaced in the gaming world recently. Ubisoft placed the creative director of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on a leave of absence this week over claims of sexual impropriety, and Insomniac Games, makers of Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Ratchet & Clank series, responded this week that it’s “taken numerous steps to address” claims of sexual harassment in the workplace made by a former employee.

Gaming isn’t the only medium that’s seeing accusers come forward in recent days. The comic book world also is facing a wave of allegations of sexual misconduct directed at several major industry figures, accompanied by pledges from some key creators this week to self-evaluate, make changes, and do better.

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