What is Twitch and is it safe for kids?

If you’ve got friends or family members who are gamers, then it is likely you’ll have heard of Twitch. Indeed, the platform seems to have taken the world by storm since being founded in 2011 and with over 100 million active monthly users, it is now the world’s most popular place to watch and broadcast video games. However, understanding what the platform is and why it has become so popular is key to ensuring it is used appropriately in your home.

Put most simply, Twitch offers users the ability to watch other people stream live video of themselves playing a video game while providing commentary. Twitch plays host to just about any type of gaming broadcast you can imagine, from gamers discussing the latest releases to huge gaming tournaments for games such as League of Legends. For amateur gamers it can also be used as a way to help them overcome a particularly challenging level, by witnessing how a professional would approach the game. Twitch also allows fans to tune into major gaming conventions, such as E3, Comic-Con and PAX.

Twitch streams can be viewed in a number of ways, including via the official website, game consoles, as well as on your smartphone using iOS and Android apps. Watching broadcasts and videos on Twitch is completely free and doesn’t require viewers to have log in details. However, users are given the option to create an account, which then enables them to follow their favorite channels (similar to subscribing to a channel on YouTube), set up their own channel, and participate in each stream’s unique chatroom.

Although Twitch originally started out as a platform that only streamed video games, it has recently ventured into non-gaming content, including cooking, and animation. It has also developed aspects of a social network, allowing users to DM (Direct Message) each other, and creating the ‘Pulse feature’, which functions like a Facebook or Twitter timeline and allows for everyone on the network to post status updates, as well as like, share, and comment on what others have written.

Safety Concerns

The safety concerns surrounding Twitch center around two key issues. Firstly, the fact that content on the platform is live and therefore is much harder to moderate than pre-filmed content. As such, it is possible that younger viewers may hear curse words or witness impulsive acts that occur in the heat of the moment and be encouraged to copy them. And secondly, it is possible for children to be contacted by strangers, as is the case with every messaging platform. Twitch uses the term ‘Whispers’ to refer to direct, private, one-to-one messages users can receive but there are also group-chats that users can invite each other to.

Fortunately, Twitch makes it very easy to filter out potentially unwanted messages. Simply go to Settings > Security & Privacy, and there you will have options to block messages, Whispers and group chat invites from people you don’t follow. If you find someone in the chat room particularly offensive, you are also able to mute them by simply hovering over his or her name and clicking the Ignore button.

The platform also tries to police written content happening in its chat rooms and over Pulse. For example, many official streaming channels use a system that filters the chat stream for bad language and other offensive words and there are often live moderators in each chat room who check the conversation in order to keep the environment safe and friendly. You also have the option to block certain phrases and words from a chat.

To see who’s in a chat room, you can click the three-bar Viewer List icon at the bottom of the chat area. Here you will also be able to see the channel’s moderators and can easily contact them if you feel someone is being inappropriate. In addition, you can also hide the chat room entirely by simply clicking the gear icon and selecting “hide chat.”

In line with Twitch’s Terms of Service, we recommend that the platform should not be used by anyone under 13 and those between 13 and 18 should only use Twitch under adult supervision – especially because, as of 2020, Twitch has no built-in parental controls.

Keeping Children Safe

Just like in real life, children need guidance in order to help them stay safe online. To make sure they are using Twitch in a way you are comfortable with, it is a good idea to have the login details to any Twitch account your children use, in particular to check any conversations that may be occurring in the ‘Whispers’.

In addition, it is useful to spend some time watching the streams or channels youngsters in your family are regularly exposed to. It won’t take long to get a sense of the games those streamers play, the tone and language of the broadcaster, and the content of the chat streams. Take an interest in the games they like to play and continue to supervise some instances when they are gaming in order to make sure there is not excessive violence or other objectionable material.

It is also important to encourage your child to come and speak to you if they see anything upsetting, or experience anything that they don’t understand.

If you would like an additional resource to help you protect your children’s online safety, we recommend the Wired Safety guide for some more expert tips.

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