Experts in digital safety
Amazon-owned Twitch has exploded in popularity over the past few years and now averages 26.5 million daily viewers thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic forcing many to seek out online entertainment including live-streaming. Formerly a hub for gamers to watch other gamers play games and give live commentary, today everyone is streaming anything on Twitch from the New York Times Crossword to conversations with the French Government. But is Twitch safe for kids? Anything live is difficult to filter, and despite Twitch’s increased efforts into monitoring, hate speech, fake news and cyberbullying can still go unchecked. Below we walk you through everything you need to know about Twitch.
Twitch App ratings
Qustodio: 13+ with co-watching, 15+ with an understanding of online risks
Apple: 17+ (offers in-app purchases)
Android: ! (Parental Guidance)
Common Sense: 15+
Qustodio’s App Safety Guide to Twitch
Twitch started out in 2011 as a live-streaming site popular with gamers – a place where they could share live gameplay for others to watch and comment on it in real time. Today, people watch all kinds of things on the Twitch app or online at Twitch.tv, everything from people playing live music to watching classic episodes of Dr. Who. “Lifestyle casters” build communities around shared interests (sports, travel, food, etc.) and stream or broadcast their activity by sharing their screen (split-screen) live with fans and subscribers.
There are free and paid versions of Twitch. The paid versions removes ads and gives users access to more features such as storage and badges. Viewers can support their favorite streamers by subscribing to their channel, making a donation, or sending them “cheers”, which can be bought with Bits. Bits in turn can be purchased via Amazon, Paypal or Apple. In other words, with real money.
What do kids like about Twitch?
- Twitch is live. It can be hard for some parents to understand what is so entertaining about watching someone else play a video game online, but the live experience is exciting because anything can happen. It’s authentic.
- Twitch is interactive and a community. The chat function gives kids the chance to talk not only with other people interested in the same things they are but also with famous streamers that they admire. And they experience something unique together.
- Twitch broadcasts e-sports competitions. From Fortnite to Brawl Stars, kids love the competition and Twitch is often the only platform streaming some of them.
- Twitch is educational. Whether its a game or another hobby, kids like the chance to learn from watching, just like they do learning anything else.
- Twitch content creators can make money doing what they love. It takes time to build up a following, but there are several ways to earn money on Twitch. Ninja, Twitter streamer Richard Blevins, has the most followers and income, earning $500,000 per month from his 50,000 subscribers.
Is Twitch safe for kids?
- Easy access to adult content
Like all live-streaming platforms, Twitch’s spontaneous nature makes it difficult to filter. Adult language is common, and inappropriate content can occur at any time. Most famously, 2,200 people watched the German synagogue shooting in a 35 minute Twitch video in 2019. Twitch has also had harsh scrutiny for allowing hate speech and cyberbullying. The Amazon-owned company has recently unveiled new guidelines aimed at cracking down on hateful conduct and sexual harassment on its site. Spam, scams, violent, obscene, and sexual content are all prohibited by Twitch but this doesn’t mean they don’t happen. It’s simply impossible to catch everything with millions of people streaming live simultaneously from around the world.
- Easy access to predators
Also, Twitch viewers can type messages into a chat window which are visible to streamers and other viewers. They can also send direct messages or “whispers” (direct messages between two people in a larger chat that others can’t see). This means online predators can send your child unsolicited messages, and your child might also say things that they will regret later.
- Tempting scenario to spend money
Twitch can be a tempting way for your child to spend money in inappropriate ways. As mentioned earlier, there are several ways to spend money on Twitch. A 14-year-old spent $20,000 of his mother’s money on donations and subscriptions without her knowing it until it was too late.
How can I make Twitch safer for my child or teen?
1. Co-watch. According to Twitch’s terms of service, only gamers 13 and older are allowed, and those under 18 must have parental supervision. We agree that co-watching is the best way to ensure you know what channels and streamers your child is subscribing to.
2. Click “not interested” on mature content. Twitch monitors your user activities to create recommendations for other channels to watch, so while you are co-watching it is a great time to let the AI know what’s not okay. It’s also a great time to talk to them about which streams they should and shouldn’t be watching and why.
3. Create a Twitch account with an age that is under 18. We don’t recommend using real names or birth dates on online accounts to help protect your child’s data privacy, but choosing an age under 18 will help you filter out sexual and other flagged content. Twitch sends a content warning to users under 18 for channels that have content that is “inappropriate for younger audiences”.
4. Block Whispers (private DMs). Under “Settings,” click Security and Privacy, and then block “whispers” from strangers. Talk to your kids about the dangers of online predators.
5. Block strangers who ask for personal information. Click on their name and you can block or report that person. Teach your children to keep their private information private.
6. Use parental controls like Qustodio to set screen time limits. Twitch streams happen all day long, and night. The temptation to keep watching can be very tempting. We recommend setting downtimes at bedtime, mealtimes and when your kids are at school, and to set an overall time limit on electronic device use.
7. Don’t give your child access to your bank account. Period.
Qustodio’s final advice on Twitch
Twitch can be a lot of fun for kids, but the live element, the easy access to adult content, the chat feature which can be an in-door to predators, and the lack of a set of native parental control options make it too risky for younger users. For teens, take the time to watch some streams with them. Check out the channels they are participating in and help them set the right settings, reject the wrong content and know how to react if they feel they are being bullied or approached by a predator.