When popular Taiwan-based American Twitch caster CJayride streamed himself hanging out in a hot tub with friends at a local hotel in Taiwan, he didn’t expect it to result in days of targeted harassment on Facebook, doxing, two Twitch bans and criticism from national Taiwanese media.
IRL, or “in real life,” broadcasts — a newer type of Twitch stream that features people performing ordinary activities or talking to viewers over chat, rather than playing games — have become problematic for Twitch in the past year as streamers push boundaries with their behavior. The company is looking into ways to figure out how to determine what is acceptable for a broadcast and what isn’t. IRL broadcasts exist in a gray area for Twitch as the company tries to smooth out its guidelines, and that factors into CJayride’s case.
On Jan. 7, CJayride, whose real name is Chris James Robb, hosted an IRL stream from the aforementioned hotel hot tub with two male and two female friends. The video can be seen below. Over the course of their time in the hot tub, the chat started filling up with people using the “EZ” BTTV emote. This emote, best described as a version of “Pepe the Frog in a trenchcoat,” can only be seen by people with the BTTV browser extension installed. People without the extension will only see the letters “EZ” in the chat.
This is where Robb’s troubles began. Taiwanese viewers saw the letters and began spreading a message that Robb was calling Taiwanese girls “easy,” according to Robb, who spoke to Polygon via Skype. On Jan. 9, local news stations began running stories about Robb’s stream, alleging that he titled a widely spread clip “Taiwan girl wants to eat foreign sausage,” which Robb refuted on Twitter. (Twitch’s clips feature allows anyone to change the name of a clip when sharing it.)
Robb told Polygon that when he went to go cut the stream into a video he could later publish, he noticed that there were a few people using the phrase “Taiwanese girls are easy” without the associated emote.
“There were some people in the chat who were saying, ‘Taiwanese girls are easy,’ regardless of the frog, even though there might have only been one or two people saying that out of the 10,000 watching,” Robb said. “So I avoided making a video.”
But it was too late. Robb said the harassment started after ckkos44444 (known locally as CK), a popular Taiwanese streamer with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, spoke about Robb’s broadcast on his own Twitch stream and called Robb’s actions offensive.
Robb could say little about the situation on Twitch. He received his first ban from Twitch on Jan. 9, two days after the initial stream. That ban lasted three days, but Robb received a new seven-day ban on Jan. 13 for an undisclosed reason. In the time that Robb was off Twitch, he kept his Discord server up to date with what was happening, including the fact that a CK supporter was leading a Facebook group whose activities involved tracking Robb’s whereabouts. Polygon reached out to CK for comment, but received no response.
The Facebook group, which is private, had formed by Jan. 13; with more than 17,000 members joined. The group’s members doxed Robb as well as his family in the United States. News outlets began to post photos of Robb’s house in Taiwan. Robb told Polygon on Jan. 15 via Twitter direct messages that he was scared for his life, adding that he had “friends protecting me [and] we’re armed with self defense weapons.”
“The blackmail is getting bad,” Robb said. “I have to stop broadcasting for quite some time, maybe leave the country. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
Who is CJayride?
This isn’t the first time that Robb has come under public, nationwide scrutiny in Taiwan for something he’s done on a stream.
In June 2017, Robb made national news after videos of him littering — compilations of clips from his own Twitch streams — were posted online by news organizations and YouTubers. While littering may seem pretty inoffensive by Western standards, it is considered deeply disrespectful in Taiwanese culture. Robb’s streams became inundated with messages calling him out for his behavior, which led Robb to directly address the situation in a follow-up video.
“I apologize for my actions,” Robb said in the video, seen below. “And this will no longer continue.”
In addition to littering, Robb has caught attention from Taiwanese residents for a series of acts considered to be disrespectful. He once flew a drone too close to active military helicopters that were patrolling Seoul; he has ridden his electric skateboard in a manner that borders on illegal in Taiwan; and he has gone on dates in some of his IRL streams, causing some viewers to question if he’s using local Taiwanese people and profiting off their culture.
In Robb’s June apology, he said the people of Taiwan had been “warm and welcoming to me at every turn,” adding that he appreciated their hospitality very much. That hasn’t stopped him from being something of a controversial figure in the country. While his IRL streams and general Twitch presence would be considered tame in North America, critics have called his content insensitive to Taiwanese culture.
Robb told Polygon that he continued to stream despite the negative attention because he hadn’t accomplished what he set out to do: shine a light on Taiwanese culture. Through community service, he’s tried to give back.
“Even though I don’t condone littering, I didn’t feel that setting down one cup at [a Taipei metro] entrance warranted giving up my life abroad,” Robb said. “I’ve since done community projects on stream, like picking up trash, helping elderly people and drunk people cross the street, and giving food and clothes to the homeless.”
Robb, who has been living in Taiwan on and off for four years and has been visiting the country for more than a decade, told Polygon that he didn’t expect the level of backlash he experienced in the days that followed the original livestream. Robb said that he believes the widespread negative response to his stream is an excuse for people to hate on him for what he considers an inoffensive IRL stream.
A much bigger issue
Robb’s current situation sheds light on a much bigger issue affecting Asian countries, one that has come under specific criticism in past weeks after one of YouTube’s most popular vloggers, Logan Paul, uploaded a disturbing video featuring the body of someone who had committed suicide in Japan.
Westerners head to countries like Taiwan, China and Japan to experience a culture much different from their own. For creators like Robb and Paul, that means recording every moment of their trip. Whereas Robb livestreams on Twitch, meaning that he does little editing, Paul cuts his videos to tell a specific story. Even if there are good intentions, like Robb says there often are with his streams, locals may receive those videos differently. There is a big difference between Robb’s videos and Paul’s vlogs from his trip to Japan, which make a mockery out of Japanese people, their culture and their traditions.
Still, while Robb’s videos tend to air on the more cautious side compared to Paul’s, both personalities ignore the importance of courtesy abroad.
Rough Guides’ pointer for visiting Taiwan says, “The best working rule is to avoid behaving in a way that causes someone to be embarrassed in front of others, or in front of you.” In Robb’s case, that means understanding the response that people in Taiwan might have to seeing him invite unmarried young women to hang out in a hot tub while viewers spam the “EZ” emote. Even if Robb and his friends thought of it as a harmless activity, it could be considered insulting to locals..
On Twitter, Taiwanese people accused Robb of being another Westerner who came to Taiwan just to make fun of the country. It’s a viewpoint shared by many people in Southeast Asia, and one that was recently highlighted by Paul’s trip to Japan. When he visited Aokigahara, often referred to as the “suicide forest,” Paul didn’t do so with the respect that the hallowed local landmark deserved. He wanted to stage his own Blair Witch Project scenario.
Paul’s other videos from Japan weren’t much more respectful of the country’s culture, and they’ve left people perplexed and concerned about Western vloggers’ trips to Asia. Writer Emma Kidwell discussed this at The Verge, citing a childhood trip to Chiba, Japan, and recalling memories of being immersed in the country’s culture and the impact that the experience left on her.
“The internet has often repackaged the complexity of Japanese culture as a series of bizarre, cartoonish memes,” Kidwell wrote.
Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution with a special eye on China, remarked upon this type of scenario in 2016 during a lecture on Taiwanese relations with American foreigners. Bush said that because of the rise of global social media over the past 30 years, Taiwanese millennials may be more out of step with the country’s cultural orthodoxy than ever before.
Globalization — and the cultural gray area it creates — is exacerbated by Twitch and YouTube, platforms where cultures collide. While there are obvious transgressions, like Paul’s vlogs, Robb situation is more difficult to paint as black or white.
Robb views what’s happening to him, all led by the popular streamer CK, as a retaliation from Taiwanese nationalists over his IRL stream. He told Polygon that if he offended people, then he’s deeply apologetic. But he also still believes that his actions don’t warrant the death threats he’s receiving, or the distribution of his parents’ U.S. phone number and address.
“I’m not sure how to approach this,” Robb said one night, very late and obviously drained of energy by his new day-to-day life. “But I still love Twitch.”
Robb vs. CK
Robb said that a friend first alerted him to CK — one of Taiwan’s most popular streamers — posting about the hot tub stream on his Facebook and Twitch accounts. At first, Robb didn’t think much of it because “it wasn’t the first streamer to talk about me, to slander me,” adding that he didn’t understand the severity of the situation at the time.
“I didn’t understand who he was, how powerful he was,” Robb said of CK.
It was because of CK’s stream that local media companies started picking up on the story. Robb said that he’s become a household name in Taiwan. During one of his initial streams, CK threatened to leave Twitch because of Robb’s actions and the messages that appeared in the chat (viewable in the clip above) — a threat he later made good on.
“Because [Twitch] allows for someone who’s insulting Taiwanese men, Taiwanese women, residents of Taiwan, that person is insulting us Taiwanese people every day,” CK said in a post in Mandarin, as translated to Polygon. “The public can’t do anything. If today they don’t kick out that person, that’s insulting us Taiwanese people. If today this stuff doesn’t get taken care of, then I’ll leave this platform. I’ll just stop supporting this platform.
“And I will be aware in the future of any other platforms that host such people who look down on and discriminate against Taiwanese people.”
Robb’s stream caught the attention of national newspapers and television news programs, and led to numerous reaction videos on YouTube. Although Robb wasn’t a stranger to controversy in Taiwan, the negative attention didn’t originally warrant extreme measures to ensure Robb and his friends remained safe. But the continued focus on his day-to-day life resulted in serious safety concerns.
“Once they stated pushing the doxing stuff, and people coming up with blatant lies trying to pressure me into quitting, I realized they were closing in on me too much,” Robb said. He pointed to news articles that, according to him, took things out of context, like implying he was having sex with the women at the spa.
“Particularly when they’re taking pictures of my front door,” Robb continued. “When the Facebook group started closing in, that’s when I felt the pressure. I thought, ‘I have to stop streaming in Taiwan or they’re not going to stop coming after me, coming after my friends.’”
The Facebook group in question is titled “CJ Support Group” and, from the outside, looks to be a pretty harmless place. But reports from people inside the group, and from Robb himself, confirm that people are posting photos of Robb without his permission and using them to track his whereabouts.
A message on the front page of the private group asks members to agree to three terms before joining: (1) If members take and post pictures of Robb, they should include the time and location; (2) posters cannot insult any Taiwanese people, or send malicious messages based on gender and race; and (3) group members not resort to violence. Screenshots of photos and memes that are posted on the Facebook page can be seen below.
Whereas CK’s supporters gathered on Facebook, Robb’s fans supported him on Discord. It was in a Discord group that a fan posted a meme of CK: a screenshot of “him in his Twitch broadcast holding money, because he kept saying that it wasn’t about money, so they were kind of laughing over that,” according to Robb. When CK found out about the meme, he announced his departure from Twitch — a move that made the company angry, said Robb — and moved to YouTube Gaming.
During his time streaming on YouTube Gaming, CK allegedly called for more people to join his Facebook group, which could be seen as breaking YouTube’s terms of service. A YouTube representative told Polygon, “YouTube has policies against harassment and bullying as indicated in our Community Guidelines. We review flagged content quickly, and remove inappropriate videos according to our policies.”
Robb said he felt Twitch was upset with CK leaving the platform to stream on a competitor’s site, and told Polygon that he felt like the back-to-back bans he received had more to do with keeping a fragile situation from escalating — and ensuring that CK stayed on Twitch — than it had to do with his own behavior.
Robb and his community of followers have criticized Twitch’s role in the controversy. Following Robb’s first three-day ban, his Twitch community on Reddit organized a massive spamming of CK’s livestreams. CK’s own moderators reportedly began banning anyone who showed up on his channel defending Robb in streams that followed the original incident.
Screenshots obtained by Polygon confirm that Robb’s later seven-day suspension followed his republishing of the meme that mocked CK.
In an effort to appease Twitch and clear his name, Robb released an apology on Jan. 14. Robb remarked that “sometimes my videos are exaggerated to excite viewers, and I know not everyone may understand my broadcast,” adding that he was deeply apologetic for offending anyone in Taiwan.
“I want everyone to know that I don’t have bad intentions,” Robb said. “I’m introducing Taiwan in a pleasant manner. I’m sorry for offending everyone, I love Taiwan. I love living in Taipei. Otherwise, I wouldn’t keep coming back. Even my family has visited Taiwan. When foreign viewers see the broadcast, they become very interested in Taiwan. Many of the viewers have come to visit Taiwan.”
Robb is still facing what he describes as life-threatening circumstances, and Twitch can’t help Robb with off-platform harassment happening on Facebook.
Facebook’s guidelines state that the company will take action for “reports of threatening language to identify serious threats of harm to public and personal safety.” The company also “may consider things like a person’s public visibility or the likelihood of real world violence in determining whether a threat is credible.”
Still, CK’s Facebook group — with thousands of comments that include threats of violence directed at Robb — is still active. Robb told Polygon he feels like Twitch isn’t doing enough to help him, adding that it felt like the company wasn’t properly enforcing its own community guidelines.
Twitch’s rules state that “harassment, defamation, intimidation, raiding with malicious intent, or stalking of other persons or users, including Twitch Staff, Admins, or Global Moderators, is strictly prohibited.” CK’s first streams, in which he called out Robb for engaging in lewd behavior and rallied his viewers, could technically violate Twitch’s code of conduct.
Robb’s most recent ban has been lifted, and he’s returned to Twitch to tell his story and continue making videos. He told Polygon that he still worries about his daily life in light of the ongoing harassment, but doesn’t want to stop streaming. The threats have dwindled, Robb said, but he still gets scary messages that he can’t ignore. The situation has affected him, his friends and Twitch staff in Taiwan, according to Robb, who said no one is quite sure how to handle it.
“Everyone is scared,” Robb said. “And I’m so tired.”
Shannon Liao contributed to this report.