Moderation is something that we expect in our everyday lives, constantly. The things that we do and say get moderated in our homes by our parents, partners or children based on how they expect us to behave. We’re moderated outside in our towns by social standards forced to act in accordance to how everybody else does. We are moderated at work or school by our boss or teachers, and if we were to commit a crime then it is the police or government officials that moderate us, followed by the courts and then metal bars.
One of the most appealing aspects about the Internet is that it is a place where anyone can completely be themselves. We see this regularly on websites like Tumblr, people -behind the anonymity of a username- can ask the questions they shouldn’t ask but really want answered, they can share the content that they shouldn’t be interested but just are. They can find like-minded ‘lost souls’ and help each other. There’s definitely a positive sense of community that can form behind the mask of a username, as sometimes the oppression of social standards chafes slightly too much.
But what about those who use the anonymity of the Internet for a different means. Those who insult and offend; argue and troll? Cyber-bullying has been a well-known and documented issue since I was in school; but I’m talking about your typical troll, who resides in the YouTube comments section, or Twitch chat.
I’ll say this now. The way that some choose to act online is completely disgusting. There’s no getting around that, we are all just human I suppose. But just today I was trying to enjoy the Dreamhack Grand Prix Hearthstone tournament, but this is what I could see in chat.
Of course, this was a tournament that had over 50,000 people watching, so chat was moving VERY quickly, but the amount of racism being typed into the chat was unreal. As you can see by all of the deleted messages, moderators were working hard to contain the abuse, but with only a few mods compared to the 50,000 viewers, they’re never going to be perfect. Paired with the fact that other viewers were criticising the mods for being racist themselves by banning certain emotes in the chat, the whole experience was unpleasant, and it did not take me long to switch to full-screen mode.
So why does this happen, and what are the implications? The simple answer is this: it happens because it can happen, and not too much can be done about it. To elaborate, anyone can make an account on Twitch, only needing to supply an email address (although once upon a time, not even this was required). Users are advised that they are supposed to be above a certain age- but that’s just irrelevant small print and not enforced. As a result, my 13 year old cousin could make an account and make people’s lives miserable with just a few taps on his phone. What are the implications for him? Well, there aren’t any. If he upsets too many people, he could just delete the account, think up a new name and start all over again.
The implication for the community at large however is huge. What could be a chat room full of intelligent conversation about the high level tournament gameplay, turns into racism, homophobia and the latest episode of Game of Thrones being spoiled repeatedly. My personal solution was to host the stream on my own twitch channel, allowing my viewers and I to use my own twitch chat as a more personal way of commentating over the gameplay, but it felt like such a shame. What could be a huge opportunity for thousands of like-minded people to comment on and enjoy gameplay together, just turns out to be a horrible mess of spam and deleted messages.
As an individual broadcaster, I keep my chat very clean and tidy, it’s easy to do with between 50-100 viewers. Trolls get banned pretty fast, and my chatters’ experience is a positive one. But the larger the stream, the more difficult this becomes. While Twitch does allow ‘slow mode’ (preventing viewers from sending more than a message a minute) and also blacklisted words through certain moderator bots, it is impossible to predict and prevent all of the possible ways that one bad apple could ruin the stream for everyone else; or give the broadcaster himself a massive kick in the self-esteem. As a result of this, it’s possible to timeout or ban a user who is causing harm, but often by then the comments have been read and the damage has been done, otherwise the user could just create another account after being banned and continue in his destructive ways. Is there a limit to how many new names he can hide behind, no, only a limit to his own imagination in creating them.
In conclusion, I think that there is a lot to be said for the good in allowing someone to express themselves, free from the shackles of their reputation and social standards, but the way in which they can do so to the detriment of others is a problem. While it would be great if there was some way of attaching a users’ real life name to their username across all websites and actually punishing them in some way for bad behaviour, this doesn’t seem like something that is possible in the near future. While Twitch does an okay job of keeping its users under control, there is a lot that could be done in the future when technology improves. Most vitally, however, the Internet would be a better place if all users took a deep breath before writing a hateful comment and actually thought about what they were doing.
Guest post from Daniel Falcone (@f2k_falconep55) Twitch Hearthstone Streamer for Team Fade2Karma, currently studying Digital Film Production in London.