Twitch filed a lawsuit late last week against two people on its own platform for running automated hate and harassment campaigns.
The harassment, often targeted at Black and LGBTQ streamers, manifests in a unique Twitch phenomenon as a "hate raid." On Twitch, creators regularly point viewers toward another friendly account after their stream concludes to boost their audiences, a practice known as a "raid." Hate raids invert that formula, sending swarms of bots to harass streamers who have inadequate tools at their disposal to block the influx of abuse.
The hate raids may have leverage Twitch's new tagging system, which many transgender users had requested to make it easier to build community and to discover content that resonates. In May, Twitch added more than 350 new tags to help viewers sort streams by "gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ability, mental health, and more." Accounts spreading abuse now use those tags to target racist, sexist, transphobic and homophobic harassment toward streamers, another unfortunate misuse of a tool explicitly designed to give creators a boost.
Twitch says that it hasn't found "clear evidence' that the attacks are using the tags, but acknowledges that discoverability tools can be abused for "malicious purposes."
We’ve seen a lot of conversation about botting, hate raids, and other forms of harassment targeting marginalized creators. You’re asking us to do better, and we know we need to do more to address these issues. That includes an open and ongoing dialogue about creator safety.
— Twitch (@Twitch) August 11, 2021
In the suit, Twitch described hate raiders as "highly motivated" malicious individuals who improvise new ways to circumvent the platform's terms of service. Twitch named two users, "CruzzControl" and "CreatineOverdose," in the suit but the company was unable to obtain their legal names. The users are based in the Netherlands and Austria, respectively, and their activity began in August of this year. Twitch alleges that CruzzControl alone has been linked to 3,000 bot accounts involved in hate raids.
While it's possible that Twitch won't be able to identify the real identities of individuals behind the recent harassment campaigns, the lawsuit could act as a deterrent for other accounts directing waves of abuse on the streaming platform.
"While we have identified and banned thousands of accounts over the past weeks, these actors continue to work hard on creative ways to circumvent our improvements, and show no intention of stopping," the lawsuit reads. "We hope this Complaint will shed light on the identity of the individuals behind these attacks and the tools that they exploit, dissuade them from taking similar behaviors to other services, and help put an end to these vile attacks against members of our community."
"This Complaint is by no means the only action we’ve taken to address targeted attacks, nor will it be the last," a Twitch spokesperson told TechCrunch. "Our teams have been working around the clock to update our proactive detection systems, address new behaviors as they emerge, and finalize new proactive, channel-level safety tools that we’ve been developing for months."
Prior to Twitch's legal action, some Twitch creators organized #ADayOffTwitch to protest the company's failure to offer solutions for users targeted by hate raids. People participating in the protest demanded that Twitch take decisive actions toward protecting streamers from hate raids, including letting creators deny incoming raids and screen out chat participants with newly made accounts. They also drew attention to Twitch policies that allow unlimited accounts to be linked to a single email address, a loophole that makes it easy to create and deploy armies of bot accounts.
Update: Twitch declined to clarify the upper limit for how many accounts can be associated with a single email address but clarified that the number is not unlimited.