Twitch Has a Transparency Problem

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Earlier this week, prominent YouTuber and Twitch streamer Jose Antonio Vargas, better known as “Angry Joe” took to Twitch to vent his frustrations about the platform and their copyright policies.

According to Vargas. his channel was the subject of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown in February of this year for a video of his uploaded in November 2020. However, Twitch would not tell him which part of the video was the problem. Therefore, he can’t see if the notice is valid or not and can’t file a counternotice or otherwise appeal the decision.

He goes on to add that the feature to see what clip is at issue is not planned to be a part of the Twitch dashboard until December 2021.

To make matters worse, copyright strikes like that don’t roll off your account as they do on YouTube, meaning that this strike could contribute to him losing his channel, despite being months old and with no other issues since.

Yesterday, prominent “hot tub” streamer Kaitlyn Siragusa, better known as Amouranth, had her ability to make money from ads taken away from her abruptly. Though it may not be a surprise that Twitch decided sexualized content like Siragusa’s wasn’t appropriate for advertisers, she took offense with how it happened, namely no warning or communication and no “clarifications of what their guidelines are.”

These two stories might seem to be very different, however, they point to a common problem. Twitch has a serious transparency issue and one that may even be worse than YouTube’s in many ways.

A Failure to Communicate

Twitch, despite being a streaming giant for many years and being purchased by Amazon in 2014, hasn’t received the same scrutiny as YouTube when it’s come to copyright, abuse and advertising-friendly content issues.

However, that began to change in a major way starting in the summer of 2018. That was when Twitch began to try and aggressively expand its content portfolio beyond gaming and bring in a variety of other content including podcasts, sports and much more. Though it had allowed non-gaming content since 2014, this was a significant push to compete with YouTube in this space.

And that made a great deal of sense as YouTube was undergoing as YouTube was undergoing its own shakeup, including demonetizing smaller channels and dealing with facing questions from users that were confused about the community standards.

But it was in June 2020 when things came to a head. It was then that Twitch was hit with a “tidal wave” of DMCA notices as music rightsholders began filing notices regarding unlicensed music in older stream recordings. This caused near-instant panic among many long-time Twitch streamers who feared for their accounts but also bemoaned the lack of effective tools for removing older clips.

Up to this point, Twitch said it had received a handful of DMCA notices per year and that was likely the case. In fact, it’s most likely true about the entire Twitch abuse system as those cases were outliers. They were rare enough that they could handle them in an opaque way.

But between the rapid expansion of content and the recent attention from rightsholders, those abuse cases are literally growing exponentially, and they are impacting streamers of all sizes and kinds. This has put a spotlight on their copyright and other content policies, and many are finding those policies lacking in transparency.

This has left Twitch streamers frustrated, wondering if they’ll be able to count on Twitch’s support in the future. This is especially frustrating to those that depend on Twitch for a large part of their income, as they struggle to follow opaque guidelines and wonder when the hammer might fall.

Behind the Times in Every Way

To be clear, Twitch has every right to set whatever guidelines it wants. It’s allowed to pick and choose the content it wants to host and it both can and should set rules for what is appropriate for monetization.

The problem is that, even as its content has broadened and its issues grown, it’s not communicated the details of its policies or the issues it has with its streamers. This includes fundamental things such as telling streamers what part of a clip was subject to the notice of infringement and what specific issue made the content non-advertising friendly.

Twitch is not alone in these struggles. Facebook, YouTube and others face similar complaints, but YouTube has put in active effort to try and approve communication. In July 2019 they updated their policies to require timestamps on all copyright claims and used this to highlight the exact areas alleged to be infringing in videos. They then followed that up in December with a new copyright claims dashboard that aimed to streamline the process even further.

YouTube still has significant issues, especially when an appeal requires a human being, but at least YouTubers are clear on what policies they violated, when and in what way. That makes it possible for YouTubers to change their behavior to avoid future problems.

Twitch streamers, on the other hand, often don’t have that luxury. Neither Vargas nor Siragusa know the specific rules that they broke. They can’t change their behavior.

This is worse for everyone involved. Streamers can unwittingly rack up multiple infractions for the same mistake, Twitch has to deal with additional content issues and rightsholders must deal with additional infringements that should have been easily preventable.

Clarity and certainty about the policy and suspected infractions of it help everyone. However, it’s clear Twitch isn’t prioritizing that, with its system for showing what was infringing in a clip not due to be release for another seven months.

If Twitch wants to have a good relationship with its streamers, this must be a much higher priority. Scared streamers won’t just curtail their content, they’ll actively seek out competing platforms and look for a new home.

In short, this is an issue that Twitch has to resolve and fast if it wants to continue to grow and thrive.

Bottom Line

Twitch made much of its hay being the anti-YouTube. At a time in which YouTube was especially frustrating for creators, it jumped in and provided a safe haven.

However, now Twitch is facing many of the same problems that YouTube has been facing for over a decade and its finding itself behind on implementing systems and policies to deal with it.

This is an area that Twitch needs to make rapid improvements in if it hopes to continue to compete with other streaming platforms. These improvements need to take place both in the communication of its policies and in the tools it offers streamers to manage their works.

Helping streamers avoid issues is simply good for everyone. It reduces infringements and infractions; it limits how frequently Twitch itself must get involved and streamers have greater certainty about their work. It’s a true win-win-win scenario.

That, in turn, is what makes Twitch’s foot-dragging so confusing. These issues were easily predicted years ago but it feels as if Twitch was caught flatfooted by them and isn’t putting much of a priority in fixing them now. That may well cost them, especially in terms of the goodwill of streamers that make the content they rely on.