Johannesburg - Cyber experts in South Africa have warned parents to monitor their kids when they use the popular US live-streaming platform Twitch.
This comes after a scathing report on the platform, which indicated that the platform posed a huge risk to minors.
The report showed how minors were able to easily interact with adult strangers and donate money to streamers on the platform without the supervision of a parent or guardian.
The research was presented during the 2023 AAP National Conference & Exhibition at the Walter E Washington Convention Centre in the US.
“Predator Paradise: Analysing the Ease of Accessibility to Minors on Twitch” found that young users feel a false sense of safety on the platform, and a significant proportion were willing to reveal personal information despite having no knowledge of who might be listening.
The nature of the platform makes it particularly risky because there is no way to take back information that minor streamers reveal while on Twitch.
“Twitch is an exciting platform; however, it may present hidden dangers for minor users,” said Ruth Milanaik, principal investigator of the study.
“Parents need to supervise all interactions on this platform to best protect their child.”
To conduct the research, trained coders entered Twitch.tv, searched popular video games, and scrolled to view current live streams that appeared to be conducted by minors and who had their cameras on and showed their faces.
No accounts were created for this study. The participants analysed data collected on 100 minor Twitch streamers with 1 755 452 followers.
Youth streamers provided their names (47%) and stated their location 50% of the time. About 38% provided detailed schedules of when they would be live, and 64% linked and encouraged viewers to follow their other public social media. Viewers were able to donate money to 37% of streamers.
“The donation system is quite scary to me,” said Fiona Dubrosa, visiting scholar at Cohen’s Children Medical Centre, Northwell Health in Rego Park, New York.
“The idea that anyone can donate money to streamers of any age seems very manipulative, and I do not think that it is widely known of the disturbing ways this could be utilised. Twitch must create a safer platform.”
The researchers added that popular websites like Twitch can serve as a breeding ground for voyeuristic consumption of underage streamers, and encouraged pediatricians and caregivers to be aware of the potential dangers to children.
Local cyber expert Anna Collard said that online platforms like Twitch always posed a risk to minors.
“Platforms like Twitch, just like any other online space, can present entertainment and benefits but also pose risks and dangers for minors,” said Collard.
“Remember that risks don’t necessarily have to result in harm, but parents need to be aware of these and have an open dialogue with their kids about these to protect them.Critical thinking, mindfulness and a trusting relationship that allows open communication channels are key,” she said.
Collard said there were various potential dangers that come with using online platforms such as Twitch.
“There is plenty of inappropriate content. Twitch allows users to stream a wide range of content, including gaming, music, and live Q&A sessions. There is a risk of minors being exposed to inappropriate or explicit content while browsing or watching streams.”
There is also the danger of online predators: “Twitch has been a target for predators who enter live chats and engage with children, asking them to perform explicit acts or share personal information.
“There is also a lack of parental controls on Twitch. Currently, Twitch does not offer enough parental controls or blocks for streams, making it challenging for parents to monitor and restrict their child’s access to certain content.”
Collard added that there was also several hidden dangers to consider when using platforms such as Twitch.
“Grooming and exploitation is a massive problem. The lack of strict age verification measures on Twitch can make it easier for predators to target and groom minors.”
“Cyberbullying and harassment have been a long-standing issue. Like any online platform, Twitch is not immune to cyberbullying and harassment.”
“There are also privacy concerns: minors may unknowingly share personal information while interacting with others on Twitch, which can put them at risk of identity theft or other privacy breaches.”