In the midst of the rise In harassment campaigns run by automated bots, companies like Twitch are adopting more targeted methods – less like “forbidden hammers” and much more like small forbidden daggers.
Twitch is introducing a new tool that the company believes will reduce the damage caused by bot attacks in chatrooms on video game streaming sites. Starting today, worldwide streamers will be able to verify their phone numbers via SMS before other users join the chat. This extra step can help reduce harassment from accounts that are not even human, thought-provoking. The news was first Report Twitch Watchdog by Jack Busy.
This feature comes on the heels of bot attacks, called “hate campaigns”, where harassers send hundreds or thousands of bots to streamers’ chatrooms. There, bot account spam is hateful, orthodox language, sometimes using Unicode which avoids hate speech filters.
Streamers affected by the hate campaign have talked about the damage they have done to their channels. Sometimes, they were forced to stop streaming Twitch completely. The misleading attack has so far led to two large-scale social media protests and a lawsuit in response. In early September, thousands of streamers and their supporters staged a one-day boycott, #ADayOffTwitch, to protest the attack and raise awareness. The hashtag #TwitchDoBetter has also become popular on Twitter. Shortly after the boycott, Twitch sued two users who allegedly ran the campaign. The lawsuit alleges that the individuals, who have not yet been identified, “violated its terms of service by targeting black and LGBTQIA + streamers with racist, gay, sexist and other harassing content.”
The problem with bot attacks is that Twitch can’t ban one or a hundred accounts associated with these campaigns, and it can be done with it. “The challenge at the moment is that bad actors can create additional accounts to avoid bans,” said Angela Hesson, vice president of Twitch Trust and Safety. Twitch alleges that the two users being sued, for example, operate multiple Twitch accounts under different titles. And there are countless bots associated with each account. Allegedly, both users claimed that they could “create thousands of bots in a matter of minutes” to operate the streamer.
Twitch has been battling bot makers for a decade. (In 2016, it sued botmakers who increased the number of viewers and followers of the streamer.) But the company needs to strike a balance between making its platform secure and accessible. Chatrooms are an important feature for streamers to build their audience. If Twitch makes it very difficult for new viewers to post, the service loses a lot of its power.
Streamers have been offered more control over who can and can’t chat so far. Streamers already have the option to simply subscribe to their chats, or to slow down their chats so that moderators can approve messages. Twitch also has the option to force all chats to verify their emails. Although that was not enough.
The company believes that verifying phone numbers in this toolbox will help. Users can verify up to five accounts with one phone number, as there are some good reasons why streamers may have multiple accounts – such as creating chatbots to share useful information. If one account associated with a number is banned, so will all other accounts. Unlike two-factor authentication, viewers only need to verify once, not every time they log in or chat. And phone verification will apply to all the channels they watch.
A spokesman for Twitch says the company’s product team began working on the tool five months ago, before the August hate campaign epidemic.