Twitch Is Cracking Down On Small (But Not Big) Streamers Who Made Channels Before They Turned 13

Illustration for article titled Twitch Is Cracking Down On Small (But Not Big) Streamers Who Made Channels Before They Turned 13

Photo: Fluctra

AverageHarry, a 15 year-old aspiring Twitch streamer from the UK, was in spitting distance of his dream. He’d had a breakout 2020, amassing an audience of nearly 90,000 followers, somewhat ironically off the back of a viral clip in which randos in a hotel lobby made fun of him for streaming. Late last year, he decided to apply to become a Twitch partner. It backfired, big time.

Twitch, after reviewing his application, banned him earlier this month. According to Twitch’s rules, you must be 13 or over to sign up for an account. AverageHarry says he started his channel when he was just a couple months shy of his 13th birthday. Nonetheless, Twitch allowed him to stream for over two years, only putting his account under scrutiny once he was ready to enter the hallowed halls of partnership. Given that AverageHarry is now firmly within “or over” territory, Twitch has allowed him to start a new account. But he’s back at square one, sans all his followers and accomplishments, and he’s not alone. Several other streamers have recently faced similar setbacks.

“I have to completely start from square one,” AverageHarry, whose new channel currently has only 5,000 followers, told Kotaku in an email. “I’m currently working my way towards affiliate again, and then hopefully partner. I don’t expect Twitch to offer me any help nor be kind when it comes to the partner applications because this situation clearly hasn’t made Twitch look good in the public eye, and I don’t think they’re too happy about it.”

Twitch, for its part, said in a statement to esports consultant Rod “Slasher” Breslau that “We don’t allow children under 13 to register for Twitch accounts, and we’ll take enforcement action if we’ve found that they’ve done so in violation of our terms of service.” While YouTube allows minors under the age of 13 to stream as long as a supervising parent is visibly present, Twitch does not. Despite these rules, many big-name streamers have rallied around AverageHarry’s cause on account of the fact that he’s only facing consequences now, years later, when he’s technically in the clear.

“Harry is 15 and has raised more money for charity through charity streams than 99% of other streamers, and Twitch bans him when he’s experiencing massive growth to his channel because he made his account 2 months before he turned 13,” Froste, a streamer for prominent esports organization 100 Thieves, wrote on Twitter. “Fix this, Twitch.”

Another streamer who goes by the handle Fluctra, also 15, was among the first to abruptly have several ladder rungs ripped out from beneath her late last year. After she built up a viewership of over 20,000 followers, Twitch granted her partnership status in November, only to turn around and ban her in December. She, too, had made her account before she turned 13.

“When I got banned, at first it was super demotivating, especially since I was one of the first few examples in my community, and I didn’t really know what was going on,” Fluctra told Kotaku in a DM. “I still had the idea that I was getting unbanned, and when I found out that there wasn’t a chance, I didn’t know if I could make a new account. Starting over has been super hard for me; I had just gotten partner and had hit so many milestones on my old channel. I didn’t even know how to market off of my ban, so my new channel kind [of] isn’t doing as well as you’d assume.”

Fluctra’s new channel is now hovering at a hair over 5,000 followers, though hers has been a longer, lonelier climb than AverageHarry’s. MaxTLL, another streamer who’s currently 15, is in a similar boat, having been banned at the start of January after streaming for multiple years. His new channel is currently at just over 4,500 followers, though he seems to be having a better time than AverageHarry and Fluctra. In a DM, he told Kotaku that his new channel is setting personal records due to the attention he’s gotten from this situation, but that he still views what happened to him as unfair. “Being complicit [sic] with a law, I believe, should not have warranted a suspension,” he said. Other streamers, meanwhile, have taken to preemptively deleting channels they made before they turned 13, out of fear that the bureaucratic eye of Sauron will eventually turn its account-incinerating gaze on them.

But all of these streamers—even AverageHarry, who was on the cusp of blowing up—were still only just beginning to become recognizable faces on the hyper-saturated platform. They were not yet bankable stars. In the days following last week’s initial furor around their bans, other streamers unearthed some interesting factoids—namely, that several very big streamers were also under 13 when they created their accounts.

“Age when account created: Bugha (3.8M followers)—12 years old, Benjyfishy (2.8M followers)—10 years old, Mongraal (3.8M followers) —12 years old, Fresh (3.9M followers)—10 years old, TommyInnit (3.3M followers)—11 years old,” UK-based streamer OnScreen wrote on Twitter.

These are some of Twitch’s biggest names. Bugha, now 18, rocketed to stardom after winning the Fortnite World Cup in 2019. Benjyfishy, 16, is also a Fortnite pro, as are Mongraal, now 16, and Fresh, now 18. TommyInnit, now 16, was one of 2020’s breakout stars, taking Twitch by storm as an especially spirited member of the mega-popular Dream SMP Minecraft role-playing server’s cast. Earlier this month, TommyInnit addressed his age on stream, saying he was “not comfortable” with NSFW fan works about him and did not “endorse” them. “I thought it would have been obvious because I’m a child, but I thought I’d just let you all know,” he said at the time.

Unlike AverageHarry, Fluctra, and MaxTLL, the aforementioned constellation of stars has not been banned from Twitch. Many streamers and viewers have taken to accusing Twitch of preferential treatment and selective application of its rules. For streamers whose channels Twitch unceremoniously tossed into the trash compactor, it’s difficult. On one hand, they admire the young pioneers who paved the way for their own successes, but on the other, they want fairness and consistency.

“Both TommyInnit and Bugha are creators I look up to, and I’m not the kind of person to pray [for] another’s downfall,” said AverageHarry. “I would hate to see them lose their platform over something that I helped bring awareness to. However, I do think Twitch should at least be open about the situation going on with big creators.”

“I don’t really like calling people out directly, but I truly believe that Twitch is being bias[ed] and clearly bending the rules for larger streamers,” said Fluctra. “Even if they have the excuse ‘My parents created and managed my account until I was 13,’ so did I, along with many others who got banned, I’m sure. Twitch definitely isn’t applying the rule consistently, and if it’s not gonna be applied to everyone, why is it there?”

Fluctra’s mother, Natalie, backed up her daughter’s recounting of events.

“My husband and I sent emails, and we explained that we knew she was setting up this account when she was younger than she was supposed to be,” Natalie told Kotaku over the phone. “We supervised everything and made every effort to say we would delete any of her content from before she was of age—whatever we had to do. They refused us, where other streamers are getting the opportunity to have their accounts. So I think if you’re gonna make it black and white, it should be across the board.”

Twitch has once again wedged itself in its favorite spot: between a jagged rock and a hard place. If nothing else, it must comply with the law—specifically the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which was first enacted in 1998. The law prohibits websites from collecting personal data from children without verifiable parental permission. Platforms like YouTube and TikTok have run afoul of the law to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and due to the difficulty of enforcing rules built with this law in mind, some platforms, like Twitch, just disallow accounts from users under 13 years of age altogether.

Twitch also has issues of its own. A 2020 report from Wired found that it was not difficult to use the platform’s built-in tools to unearth “dozens” of small channels belonging to underage streamers, and that predators had been taking advantage of those vulnerabilities to engage in inappropriate conversations with children. As of now, this remains true. In the course of reporting this story, Kotaku was able to quickly and easily locate multiple Twitch broadcasts belonging to relative unknowns who appeared very young, despite Twitch’s rules.

Twitch is also a platform designed to transform a hobby into a career. The clearly gamified pathway from regular user to affiliate to partner—which includes an achievements system, metrics goals, and monetization tools users can unlock over time—means that kids are starting their careers young, with some even picking up sponsors and brand deals along the way. This environment incentivizes lengthy streams that verge on overwork in pursuit of bigger audiences and more impressive milestones. It is one that can put kids in the orbit of adults who see them as a business opportunity or an asset to be leveraged, which is not predation in the colloquial sense, but not always a relationship that prioritizes a child’s wellbeing, either.

It makes sense, then, that Twitch is wary of allowing young kids on its platform, even if many streamers are popular with younger audiences. But so far it’s failed to apply its rules early or often, choosing instead to pull the plug on channels only after streamers have spent literal years building up audiences and, in some cases, interacting with adults who don’t have their best interests in mind. Under this system, nobody wins. Young kids who broadcast to a small handful of viewers are still in danger, growing streamers who get noticed by Twitch still lose their accounts, and everybody feels slighted by Twitch’s handling of big stars, who get to keep their channels in defiance of the rules.

Kotaku reached out to Twitch multiple times with questions about how it intends to address these issues and inconsistencies, but it did not reply.

Fluctra and her mother Natalie would, at the very least, like to see Twitch employ a fairer system that facilitates parents being part of the process, rather than punishing everybody of a certain age (assuming they’re not stars yet).

“I think if we are looking at the bigger picture, yes, it’s good Twitch has an age restriction,” said Fluctra. “I just believe they should have a better system for bans, something like Twitter. Twitter deletes all previous content from before you were 13 and has your parent sign a consent form…All in all, my opinion about the rule is that if you have parental consent/monitoring, you should be able to form an account.”

“I do agree with Twitch trying to keep the younger kids from going on this platform, but my biggest issue is if they use hypocrisy,” said Natalie. “These kids work really hard. [Fluctra] streams every day. It’s like her job. She was extremely disappointed and devastated [when her channel got taken away]. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so upset.”

Illustration for article titled Twitch Is Cracking Down On Small (But Not Big) Streamers Who Made Channels Before They Turned 13

Photo: Fluctra

For now, Fluctra plans to keep streaming despite the setback, as do AverageHarry and MaxLL.

“I want to stick to streaming, but it’s been extremely hard on me,” said Fluctra. “Looking at numbers is an extremely bad habit, and seeing how much I’ve dropped since my ban [stings]. Going from one of my biggest peaks, at over 24,000+ followers, just getting partner, and averaging more than I had in months, to averaging barely half what I had before—trying to stay motivated through this has been super hard, but I’m pushing through.”

“Content creation has been my dream ever since I was 9 years old making stupid videos on my iPad,” said AverageHarry. “I simply see this situation as a minor setback that I will later be able to tell as a story when I’m successful.”

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