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Streamers raise concerns over alleged fraudulent Twitch bans

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‘There was no warning’

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Twitch streamers are pushing the company to provide clarity over indefinite bans they’ve received for fraudulent account activity they claim to know little about.

Polygon spoke with two streamers, and viewed group messages containing stories from 10 different people, who spoke about recent bans they’ve received over the past few weeks pertaining to Twitch Bits. Twitch Bits are little virtual icons that people can purchase to show support for their favorite streamers through cheering. Users can spend anywhere from $10 to more than $300 on Bits packages that range anywhere from 1,000 to 25,000 Bits.

Bits are a big deal for Twitch, and the fraudulent use of fake Bits or circumventing rules to acquire more Bits without paying for them is something the company says it takes seriously. Though all the streamers involved in the recent ban cycle are aware of Bits, they were unaware that people were finding ways to circumvent the restrictions Twitch was placing on a specific aspect of Bits.

Twitch bits.
Twitch bits.
Twitch

“Watch Ads for Bits” (WATEB) is a campaign Twitch often runs that does exactly what it suggests: “watch an advertisement in exchange for Bits,” a blurb on Twitch’s legal page for Bits states, adding that “you should not use WATEB as a means to obtain Bits to Cheer on your own channel, such as creating accounts for the purpose of WATEB.”

The post also states that people can’t “use robots, or other automated means, to obtain Bits using the WATEB feature; such activity is prohibited.” Anyone who breaks these rules may receive a permanent ban.

“I didn’t know about this error in Twitch’s automated system until I was suspended,” TucaWillow, a full-time streamer, told Polygon. “There was no warning, nothing to indicate that this viewer donating bits could result in something negative. There is nothing in the terms of service that says ‘hey, if someone donates to you from more than one account you are the one that’s going to get banned,’ probably because that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Tuca’s story isn’t an isolated one. Amanda Cox, better known as MandiStar to her more than 13,000 followers, went through something similar. Cox was banned by Twitch on Feb. 7 without explanation, she told Polygon. Cox said her account was in good standing until the ban, adding she never received a warning for her content. She immediately appealed the ban after receiving an email stating her account was being suspended for fraudulent activity, Cox said.

“This made no sense to me, so I requested more information,” Cox said. “Throughout this ordeal, I had been posting updates on Twitter and Discord and a viewer finally came forward and admitted that he had made multiple accounts in order to farm bits and ‘cheered’ me. I contacted Twitch yet again passing along this information and pleaded with them to compare my IP with the accounts in question and they refused to reconsider. I’ve since emailed them twice and appealed once again, and that has all been ignored. What it comes down to is I was banned because of the actions of a viewer.

“Something which was beyond my control, nor did I have any way to know it was even happening and no way to prevent it.”

Both Cox and Tuca are full-time streamers who have found a home on Twitch over the years. Screenshots of group messages between the two streamers and more than eight others affected reiterate just how difficult it’s been to get more information from Twitch about their bans. Other casters, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear it would worsen their relationship with the company, spoke about wanting to give up and move on entirely from streaming.

Despite multiple emails seen by Polygon that were sent by Tuca and Cox to Twitch asking for more information or phone calls to plead their case, there’s been little response. It’s a transparency issue — something that Twitch has been dealing with for months.

Many streamers who are banned said they receive little or no feedback about what they did and why their suspension lasts a certain number of days. Subreddits, Twitter and Discord servers are full of people mocking Twitch’s vague rules that determine how or why a streamer may receive a ban. It’s an issue the company says it’s aware of and attempting to fix. Twitch announced on Feb. 19 that new rules and community guidelines were being delayed until March 5 to address concerns from the community.

“Thanks for all your insightful feedback on our new Community Guidelines,” the company said on Twitter. “It’s important they’re clear to everyone and we need to better explain some sections, so we’re pushing back enforcement to start March 5. We’ll release an updated FAQ before then.”

Navigating a maze of legalese and arguing a case can be difficult over Twitter and email, which is why Tuca said she’s “literally begged” for someone to help her understand what’s happening.

“I have quite literally begged for someone there to be human enough to at least explain what I could’ve done wrong, but the reply is ‘you can appeal with our legal team’ instead of a real answer,” she said. “Their PR director replied to a tweet of mine telling me it wasn’t his department. I mean ... I get [that] I’m a small streamer but in my opinion, this could, and in a way is, a PR issue if people find out trolls can get you banned simply by farming Bits in your channel.”

Farming for Bits isn’t something that’s completely unheard of in the Twitch community. There are Medium essays instructing Twitch viewers on how to earn Bits without spending a dime, and YouTube videos showing how it’s done. Mark Ramsey, a Twitch affiliate, detailed how to farm Bits for viewers, suggesting when Twitch makes new Bits available for people watching ads.

“By watching ads you will receive bits, either 5, 10, 25, 50, 75 or 100 bits,” Ramsey wrote. “Most commonly you will receive 5 or 10 bits. Twitch resets their bits at midnight PST ‘Twitch Time’ that is the best time to start farming, you seem to have a better chance at getting the most bits for the day. I would also recommend using a separate PC than what you are watching the streamer on.”

Tuca and Cox, who take pride in the community they’ve built up and stream full-time, said not having access to a channel because of the actions of their followers is unfair.

“I’ve been a full-time streamer since May of 2016 and had about 13,000 followers at the time of my ban,” Cox said. “I am a single mother and my stream has been a means to support myself and my daughter. I take it very seriously and would never do anything to jeopardize it. I’m not allowed to make another account on Twitch, so I’ve joined Mixer in attempts to maintain my community.”

How responsible are streamers for their communities?

This is quickly becoming one of the biggest conversations in the Twitch community: How much responsibility do streamers need to bear for their audience’s actions? Twitch’s new guidelines state that streamers will be held responsible for on- and off-platform activity of their viewers, but streamers big and small take major issue with that concept. Forsen, one of Twitch’s most notorious creators with an equally famous audience known for their antics, spoke about that section of the new guidelines when they were first announced.

“Creators should consider the consequences of their statements and the actions of their audiences,” he said in the video below. “No, no, no, no. You can not have both. I can watch what I say ... I cannot watch what my community does. Are you fucking serious?”

Like Forsen, Tuca and Cox are demanding answers from Twitch. They’ve been without their channels for months after working to build up communities for years. Tuca said it would be one thing if Twitch outlined why she received an indefinite ban — a consequence bigger than many other streamers receive for saying something hateful or performing sexually explicit acts on stream — but she never got that. No one did.

“These are people man, people who put a lot of work and passion into their channel,” Tuca said. “Another streamer mentioned she had sub streaks of over 3 years ... like how do you think someone would jeopardize that over pennies, man?”

Update: A Twitch spokesperson told Polygon certain cases have been reviewed, and suspensions were lifted in cases where the appeal was given. Polygon confirmed that at least two streamers’ accounts, including TucaWillow’s, have been restored. Twitch’s statement can be read below:

We review appeals in cases of fraud and consider additional evidence submitted in support of the appeal. We reviewed specific cases this past week based on communications from broadcasters, and have already lifted suspensions where warranted.

Update 2: Amanda Cox’s account was also unsuspended.