Popular gaming platform Twitch could be a “paradise” for criminals looking to manipulate teen streamers. This is according to a new study that monitored how teen users appeared and engaged on the platform.
It can take as little as 12 seconds to find someone who appears to be underage streaming on Twitch, say researchers from the Teen Trends Consortium at Cohen’s Children Medical Center at Northwell Health, a New York health care provider.
They said they tracked 100 underage streamers with a total of more than 1.7 million followers and found that they regularly disclosed identifying information about themselves. The trained coders who tracked the streamers could not independently verify their age, instead relying on a visual assessment of their on-camera appearance and recording their self-identified age as they shared it.
Almost half of these streamers provided their names and often shared their location. More than a third offered detailed schedules of when they would be live, and two-thirds linked viewers and encouraged them to follow their public social media.
The researchers also found that minors have a unique incentive to be likeable: Twitch allows viewers to donate to streamers, including minors. Of the teens tracked by the researchers, more than a third were able to receive donations from viewers.
Twitch allows you to block soon-to-be-banned users from watching your stream
Twitch’s monetization program There appears to be no minimum age requirement beyond the platform’s required age limit of 13. Streamers who do not participate in the platform’s affiliate or partnership programs can enable donations through third parties such as PayPal or Venmo. The PayPal User Agreement appears to limit accounts to those 18 and older, but Venmo, a subsidiary of PayPal, allows parents to open an account These are 13 to 17 year old children.
In a handful of cases, seemingly underage users changed their clothes or tried on different outfits on camera, as evidenced by a donation-related comment during the livestream, the research documents said. However, as part of their study, the researchers did not collect data on observed attempts to lure or exploit minors.
“People can make you feel like you have to do something, and that’s not OK,” Fiona Dubrosa, lead author of the study and a visiting scientist at Cohen’s Children Medical Center when the research was conducted, told Mashable.
Dubrosa will present a research summary on the findings, “Predator Paradise: Analyzing the Ease of Accessibility to Minors on Twitch,” on Sunday at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She and her colleagues plan to submit the full study to the organization’s journal Pediatricsor another peer-reviewed journal.
Mashable has reached out to Twitch for comment on the findings. The company offers a Guide for parents and educatorsand notes that the safety of “all users, especially those under 18, is taken very seriously.”
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that reviews children’s entertainment content and social media platforms, notes that young Twitch users can still have troubling experiences despite safety measures designed to prevent them.
“The site also makes concerted efforts to prevent the sharing of sexual content by temporarily or permanently blocking users who violate these rules,” it said Common Sense Media’s review of Twitch. “But even with these standards, kids can come across questionable things.”
Twitch’s parent and educator guide states that minors should avoid “online pitfalls” such as dares and challenges. Twitch instructs minors who have received requests for “sexually suggestive or sexually explicit things” to report the incident immediately. If the platform confirms that a violation has occurred, the user in question will be banned indefinitely and the behavior may be reported to law enforcement authorities depending on the severity.
“People can make you feel like you’re obligating them to do things, and that’s not okay.”
Twitch’s Terms of Service make it clear that the platform is not available to users under the age of 13. It should also be noted that users between the ages of 13 and the legal age of majority in their place of residence may only use the platform under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian.
Dubrosa noted that they did not see or hear parents or guardians in the livestreams of the teens they followed.
The researchers also did not create an account to find or track minors on the platform, showing how easy it is for potential criminals to search for and identify teenagers. The longest time it took to find a user believed to be an underage streamer was 297 seconds, or about five minutes.
To find minors on the platform, researchers searched for popular video games, scrolled through the list of users streaming with the camera on, looked at streams that appeared to be made by minors, and collected multiple data points including name, location , streaming schedule, time zone or country and social media accounts.
Dr. Ruth Milanaik, a developmental pediatrician at Northwell Health and principal investigator of the study, said the findings should alarm parents who may not understand how Twitch works.
She noted that if an adult stares suggestively at their child in a public place, such as a mall, they would take the necessary measures to protect them from contact. But social media can give parents and teens a false or misguided sense of distance.
“No child under the age of 18 should participate in such free online competitions without some form of guidance,” Milanaik said. “It’s literally about opening a window to your bedroom and letting strangers in.”
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