When OoeyGooee goes live on Twitch, she boots up a game (lately, Party Animals), sits down to chat with viewers, or pops on a movie. Hundreds of people tune in to watch, chatting alongside her broadcast using the infamous Twitch chat, a place where communities both live and die on the platform.
Twitch chat is an integral part of the platform where people can not only connect with streamers but build communities with other viewers, too. Without structure, Twitch chat can quickly turn to chaos, which is why streamers turn to largely volunteer moderators to set the tone for each community. Moderators keep communities safe by banning troublemakers spreading hateful or harmful content, while also answering questions and interacting with people in the chat.
Being a moderator is a lot more than just kicking people out of chat, said Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology assistant professor Joseph Seering. “People often think about moderation work as just about removal, but it’s often much more about community-building,” he said. “Moderators help shape and curate the space, partly by removing problematic content but also by welcoming new members, setting a positive example for behavior, and keeping the community engaged.”
We call them moderators, but they’re so much more — often the backbone of Twitch.
For Ooey, who has six highly active moderators out of a team of 16, moderators are usually viewers who find themselves falling into the role: “What drives my moderators is their love for the content and the community,” she said. “They step up not just for the power to moderate but because they genuinely value the channel. Their dedication shines brightest during tough times, ensuring our space remains positive and respectful.” Others, like Twitch streamer kedapalooza, ask viewers or anyone else interested to fill out an application.
Sometimes, moderators come from disaster: Ooey pointed to 2021’s hate raids, a horrifying time when Ooey, who is Black, was one of many marginalized people subjected to the bigoted practice of hate raids. A hate raid is a coordinated campaign to flood Twitch chats of marginalized streamers with hateful messages, often powered by bots. “Imagine hundreds, if not thousands, of bots flooding my channel with hateful, racist, and homophobic comments,” she said. “It was overwhelming.”
Her community stepped up, with people volunteering to become moderators, even if temporarily. “Having a reliable moderation team is nothing short of a blessing,” Ooey said. “They allow me to focus on creating content, knowing the chat is in good hands. Without them, managing the chat’s health becomes distracting, pulling me away from the entertaining atmosphere I want to create for my viewers.”
Twitch has since introduced several new features designed to combat hate raids, including optional phone-verified chat, which requires viewers to have a verified phone number attached to their account to contribute. The platform also has tools that moderators can use to make moderation easier, as well as the AutoMod feature, which flags messages for approval by a mod. These tools can’t replace a good moderation team, but they can support one.
The majority of moderators do this sort of work for free — and hardly see it as work, despite the emotional labor of it all. Some moderators get paid, especially those working for streamers with tons of viewers and higher incomes, Twitch streamer and moderator KingArgaroth told Polygon. But those positions are extremely rare. Seering said that it’s more common for moderators to get paid for their work on Twitch channels owned by businesses; it’s not common enough, however. Discord moderation is becoming more commonplace, he added, with servers hosted by businesses.
“For 99% of moderators, we do it for free and simply to help out the creators who have made our lives better,” Seering said. Of course, there are exceptions: Some streamers turn to a tool called Pally.gg to spread tips across their moderation teams; the tool allows streamers to split donations with moderators or others. Kedapalooza uses Pally.gg, offering a way for Twitch chat viewers to show their support for mods: “I’ve been able to set up a mod tipping page where people can go in and tip the mods for a job well done or just as a thank you. When I have some money left over, I usually go into the Pally myself and add onto that month’s tips.”
The reality of Twitch is that it’s not easy to make money livestreaming; only a select percentage of streamers are earning the millions that make headlines, let alone a decent annual salary. For the majority of streamers, Twitch is more hobby than job — making it hard to pay community members that step up to moderate. That doesn’t mean that moderators don’t deserve a spot on the payroll, but it leaves the question of how. Seering’s current research, he said, focuses on different compensation models for moderators on Twitch and elsewhere. Seering said that there are pitfalls to some of the more common suggestions, like that a platform itself should hire and pay moderators — this option would put a lot of moderators out of the positions they hold, leaving the rest beholden to whatever corporation they were working for. Seering said moderators he’s interviewed aren’t interested in losing the autonomy they have in managing communities, which is at risk when an outside entity makes moderation decisions, not a streamer directly.
“It’s important to remember that a lot of these moderators are really doing it because of the joy they get from shaping a social space for people like them, and that’s not the type of joy that would be likely to survive corporate control,” Seering said. Seering brought back the idea of companies that host Twitch channels or other communities paying for moderation, however. Because at the end of the day, moderation is labor, and sometimes emotionally draining.
“It’s incredibly important to have a good moderator team because I believe they’re also an extension of you and your values,” kedapalooza said. “There’s that phrase ‘you are the company you keep,’ and that reflects when you’re interacting with them during [the] stream and of course the way they interact with the audience. I want my community to feel safe with the people that are meant to keep their experience as safe as possible, including voicing concerns offline.”