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Twitch and Live Streaming: What parents need to know

Long gone are the days when playing video games was simple. I remember when my brother and I would spend hours playing Super Mario Brothers, Zelda and shoot ’em up games on his Nintendo SNES. The characters were little blips on a screen and the challenges were simplistic but it kept us entertained for hours on end. It was just himself, me and a console that brought us many nostalgic memories which we treasure to this day.

Fast forward twenty years and you will no longer find the same scene. Gaming has advanced so much it can be hard to distinguish reality from the fantasy. Characters and storylines are so realistic and sometimes violent that they require an age rating and most of them are now played online. So when you think it’s just your child and their console in a room together, think again. Streaming sites, where people publicly live stream their game playing, have become extremely popular over the last 8 years, giving people an avenue to stream and record their gameplay to thousands of people across the world. Gaming enthusiasts use it as a platform to share their gameplay with friends and other like-minded people while others go professional and make money via sponsors, donations and subscriptions. This is the world of the Streamer.

One of the most popular of these sites is Twitch. Twitch originally started out as justin.tv, a big-brother style website. With the increased demand to upload live streaming gaming content the platform morphed into Twitch. Amazon saw the demand for gaming sites and acquired Twitch for a whopping $970 million in 2014. If you are a non-gamer, you might be thinking that's a bit risky. It’s a site where you watch people play games (a bit like the gaming version of gogglebox), what's the big deal? Let me put this into perspective for you, in 2017, Twitch had over 15 million daily visitors with approximately 2 million unique monthly broadcasters. Broadcasters (Streamers) on the sites can earn huge money through subscriptions. Presently, Twitch’s top earner under the alias of Ninja reportedly earns $560,000 a month!

Twitch offers platform members “unique, live, unpredictable, never-to-be repeated experiences created by the magical interactions of the many. With chat built into every stream, you don’t just watch on Twitch, you’re a part of the show.” This is what attracts people. Twitch offers kids an avenue to learn more about their favourite game, and to share their gaming experiences and gaming tips with others. It’s live and entertaining and the most popular live steam gaming site out there.

But is it suitable for kids and what are the potential risks with such sites?

  • Inappropriate Content: Because Twitch is live it means anything can happen, the content is uncensored and there are no filters. The platform itself is also full of ads and promoted content which may not be suitable or appropriate for younger kids.
  • Behavioral Issues: As per Twitch’s tagline it’s unpredictable and it’s this unpredictability that poses a risk to kids. Bad language is a common theme within the live broadcasts and bursts of anger are to be expected as the streamer becomes more involved in the game.
  • Grooming: Twitch has chat functionality allowing people to chat with the streamers or chat amongst themselves. With all online chat functionality, it could leave children vulnerable to online grooming by adults with a sexual interest in children
  • Uncertified Advice: In some cases, the streamers themselves are seen as therapists where subscribers pay money for uncertified advice.
  • Gaming Addiction: Games can be addictive, with an online community full of people with the same interests it’s easy for kids to spend more time online and become entrenched in the games, using their spare time to learn about their favourite game.

There are always risks as well as opportunities when it comes to children being online. It’s important to be aware of these dangers and help your child navigate the online gaming world safely.

 

TIPS FOR PARENTS

  • Have an open conversation with your child about Twitch. Find out what interests them most and why they go on such sites. Do they have a certain streamer they like to follow; do they want to find out more about their favourite game or is it because they like to chat to like-minded people? By having an open conversation you will be able to pick up on anything that could be a potential concern and address it with them early.
  • Discuss privacy, and what is okay to share online, particularly in the context of a live stream which anyone could be viewing or recording.
  • Check out the privacy and safety settingsTwitch allows you to block messages, chats (known as whispers on the site) and invites from strangers via Privacy > Security & Privacy. By default any twitch user can export your child’s VOD (Video On Demand) to YouTube if they broadcast on the site. This can be prevented by selecting “prevent YouTube exporting” under Privacy > Security & Privacy.
  • Finally check out the sites terms of service to understand if the content is suitable for your child. Twitch states “The Twitch Services are not available to persons under the age of 13. If you are between the ages of 13 and 18 (or between 13 and the age of legal majority in your jurisdiction of residence), you may only use the Twitch Services under the supervision of a parent or legal guardian who agrees to be bound by these Terms of Service”.

 

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About the author

Caroline O'Neill (Cyber Ninja)

Caroline O'Neill (Cyber Ninja)

Caroline is one of the longest serving members of our cyber ninja research team and has over 10 years experience working within the technology sector in Ireland. She has always had an interest in cyber security and had an IADIS paper published on primary school children’s internet usage and associated safety implications.