How Twitch Polices It's Community, Moderates Streamers and More

Twitch
The purple of Twitch is unmistakable. Twitch

Watching other people play video games might sound like a strange kind of entertainment, but that hasn't stopped Twitch.tv. In 2017, users clocked more than 355 billion minutes of streaming, spread out over the social media platforms' two million monthly broadcasters. Fans of games like League of Legends, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite can't get enough of their favorite streamers dominating the competition or failing spectacularly.

Newsweek spoke with Emmett Shear, CEO and co-founder of Twitch, about the platform's humble beginnings and running a social media empire.

How did Twitch get started?

Back in 2006, co-founder Justin Kan and I were trying to figure out what to do next. We had this idea for a reality television show based around his life. Of the two of us, only Justin was crazy enough to want to make a reality show out of his life. To me, that was too much on-camera attention.

We raised some money, brought on other co-founders and created a show called Justin.tv. It got a lot of media attention, as some sort of cool performance art stunt, but it wasn't a very successful show because we didn't know anything about making television. The valuable thing we'd done was create a technology platform.

We opened the live video and chat service up to everyone that was much more successful. But at a certain point we reached a cap in growth and we were trying to figure out what to do next ... Twitch came from taking the seed of Justin.tv and reapplying it in a really focused way to video games and streamers. At Justin.tv, we focused on the viewer first; on Twitch we changed the focus to streamers.

Having this many streamers on your platform, how do you manage being responsible for the livelihood of so many performers?

It's a huge responsibility. Our core mission is to provide them with a platform that allows them to earn a living and it's what we go home thinking about every day. How do you create a platform that enables people to run a business and earn a livelihood on Twitch?

What does a streamer want out of a career on Twitch?

They of course need to make money, but most streamers want fame, to get an audience. Maybe it's a small audience of people they care about, or they want to be a superstar. The third thing streamers want is love, which is the feeling of community you get when you interact with a stream or get together with other streamers at conventions like TwitchCon. People want meaning in their work and love is about finding that meaning in the community.

Since Twitch has ballooned into the titan of the industry that it is today, we've seen a rise in games that are just as much fun to watch as they are to play. Do you think games like Fortnite would be as successful as they are today without streamers like Ninja?

It's very kind of you to call us a titan of industry. We do what we do pretty well, but we still feel like the little guy a lot of the time when we look around at our competition.

Amazon doesn't buy the little guy for $970 million.

(Laughs) The internet in general has more to do with this. Back in the day, people used to find out about video games through professional reviewers or advertising. With the rise of social media—and Twitch, in particular, is a great case study on social media, you start learning about the games from people you respect who play them and show you what they are playing … I do think games like Fortnite and PUBG benefit from that boost. They are a great way to build a community of players who don't just want to play by themselves, but are playing in the context of a greater community of people on Twitch. It's a new way to reach an audience.

How are you balancing keeping the Community Guidelines up to date while also not inhibiting streamers, keeping fans and advertisers happy?

Community Guidelines are one of the most difficult pieces of work you do as a social media platform. I don't know of anyone who thinks they've got it right and will never change them again. You're always walking this balance between being very restrictive of what you can have on the platform and being rigid, finding loopholes saying 'technically I'm not breaking any rules.' You can also be really vague and people not really understanding what the rules really are, without any consistent enforcement.

How do you keep yourselves from going too far and over-policing your content creators?

At the end of the day, when you're creating Community Guidelines, you're acting like the government of your community. Twitch has to act like the justice system might to determine what's allowed and not allowed. There's a reason that our legal team looks at intent very deeply for people's actions; it's all about what people were intending. It's the difference between someone commiting a crime intentionally and creating one unintentionally and sometimes that could be the determining factor between deciding if it's a crime or not.

How do you decide between what's legal and what's morally fair on your own platform?

Morally fair moderation on a social media platform is about treating people equally. You shouldn't be treated differently because of nepotism, who you are or what your background is. We should treat people based on their actions and intent, not who they are or who they know. The other thing is that you shouldn't let your platform be used for things that are bad for the world. People who want to do things that are bad, like spread toxic ideas and messages, should be free to do so, I'm a huge believer in free speech. We're just not obligated to give them a platform. If I'm going to be honest, there might be a perception that we tweak the Community Guidelines primarily in response to advertiser pressure but that's not actually true. Obviously, advertisers care that Twitch is a safe place but we have an idea of the kind of community we want Twitch to be.

Isn't it possible just to ban problematic streamers?

We're pretty clear to say what streamers we don't want on Twitch. Ones that have sexually suggestive or hateful content aren't welcome in the kind of community we want to create. We're not claiming we're universally successful in enforcing all the rules, but that is what we're aiming for. We don't make those decisions because of outside pressure, but rather a good deal of internal pressure. Our in-house debates are quiet spirited.

What do you say to the fans who believe Twitch is banning people unjustly?

We make mistakes, we're human. Our intent is to always make the Twitch community stronger and to make Twitch a better place for streamers to earn a living. I hope people can trust our decisions, even if if they disagree with them vociferously, and I encourage them to keep telling us where they think we got it wrong. It's really valuable to hear from the community since it's important to build shared trust and understanding. But know that the intent was good, even if it was something you didn't like.

What do you think the community at large doesn't understand about Twitch?

The major mistake people make about Twitch decision making is this idea that we are not ourselves members of the community. Most Twitch staff members are frustrated by the same thing fans are frustrated by, but we realize there's only so much that can be done and there's trade-offs to those things.

Where do you hope to see Twitch five years from now?

Our goal is to help people earn a living, so I hope that we've built the tools needed to grow an audience, for producing great video shows, for earning a living that maintains an authentic connection with that audience. Everyone who's ever had an ambition can come to Twitch and can enable even millions of people to become successful.

How Twitch Polices It's Community, Moderates Streamers and More | Gaming