Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Study: Twitch Allows Users To Enable Emote-Only Chats (2016)

from the can't-be-a-troll-when-you-can-only-emote dept

Summary: Dealing with content moderation during real-time chats always presents an interesting challenge. Whether it’s being able to police language in real time, or dealing with trolling and harassment, chat has always been one of the most difficult content moderation challenges going back to its earliest days.

In 2016, Twitch decided to enable a new feature for its users: an “emote-only” mode for the chat. Emotes, on Twitch, are basically a custom set of what are more traditionally called emoji on most other websites/platforms. With Twitch, though, they are almost entirely custom, and users at certain levels are able to add their own.

Emote-only is one of a bunch of different modes and features that Twitch streamers can use to try to tame their chat. Twitch itself suggests using this as a way to stop harassment in the chats.

Turning on and off the feature is a choice for the streamer themselves, rather than Twitch. It’s just one of a few tools that Twitch users can enable to deal with potentially harassing behavior in the chat alongside their streams.

Decisions for Twitch:

  • What tools should you provide to users to deal with abusive or harassing chat participants?
  • Do features like this give more power to Twitch users, or are they offloading moderation demands from the company itself?
  • Should there be any exceptions to emote-only mode?
  • Are there times where a custom emote would be considered a policy violation because it takes on a harassing meaning in a certain context? 
  • What sort of emote review processes should be put in place?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Rather than offering entirely binary options (allow/disallow) are there more creative alternatives for dealing with harassing behavior?
  • Are there ways in which even emote-only mode might be abused for harassment?
Resolution: Emote-only mode was launched quietly with little fanfare from Twitch in 2016. While it may not be widely used, many streamers do find it useful. It is not just used for stopping harassment, but sometimes to stop people in a chat from revealing spoilers or other information that may impact what they’re streaming (such as information about the video game they are playing).

Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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Filed Under: content moderation, emotes, harassment
Companies: twitch


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2021 @ 12:11pm

    It is not just used for stopping harassment, but sometimes to stop people in a chat from revealing spoilers or other information that may impact what they’re streaming (such as information about the video game they are playing).

    Essentially, there is an inverse relationship between a streamer's audience size, and the amount of effort they'll put into channel interactions. When they only have a few folks, or if their stream is only to hang out with close friends, there's more direct interaction with their audience. However, when a streamer reaches a certain size, it becomes impossible to meaningfully interact with that many people at once, so the chat is really only interacting with itself, if even that. Chat can be flooded and updating so rapidly interaction is difficult and meaningless, so it turns into cheerleading at that point. If you need to resort to the emote-only chat feature, that's essentially what you've turned your chat into, and you're sending the message you only want cheerleading.


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