Quebec women denounce cyberbullying on Twitch

Threats, sexualizing comments and unsolicited sexual clichés: Quebec instavideasts (also called “streamers”), more and more numerous on Twitch, denounce the cyberbullying of which they are victims. Without obvious recourse, they hope that the platform improves its moderation and that more awareness is made about misconduct online.

“Quebec is small. I will find you and then fight you. The “streamer” MaryPou (who prefers to keep her real name secret for security reasons) received this threat simply after having expelled an Internet user from her chat space on the live video streaming platform Twitch.

In four years of presence on the site, the one who draws on the platform has also received “penis photos”, or even emails to “warn” her that her address was easily accessible on the Internet. “Even if this toxic behavior only concerns a minority of Internet users, she said, some “streamers” preferred to stop exposing themselves. »

“Death threats when, for example, we refuse advances of viewers [utilisateurs], it’s not uncommon”, abounds the “streamer” and designer QweenBoo (who prefers to keep her real name silent). “We get used to it, we say to ourselves: ‘oh well, another one'”, testifies the one who is also a volunteer at the Virtual Guardians Foundation, an organization that helps Internet users in distress and promotes responsible use of digital technology.

And if what instavideasts receive is not sexist insults, which have become commonplace, they can also face unsolicited sexual content. “While we’re in liveit is not uncommon for a viewer sends us a video of him masturbating while telling us that he is watching us,” QweenBoo maintains.

The Twitch platform, a subsidiary of Amazon, is the largest live video streaming platform in the world, with 31 million visitors per day. Mainly frequented by people aged 35 and under, it broadcasts content ranging from video games to simple discussions, including artistic creations.

A persistent phenomenon

The “streamer” Valérie Vézina, alias Madame Zoum, observes more and more women on Twitch – they now represent a third of users – and campaigns for them to take up more space on the platform. However, she claims that the hostile and sexist attitude of some users persists. “It’s kind of like a boy club “, she believes.

An observation shared by deans present on Twitch such as QweenBoo, an “active gamer” for 16 years, and Stéphanie Harvey, also known as missharvey, five-time world champion in shooting video games. counter strike.

“I’m still in hoodie, but that doesn’t prevent me from receiving comments about my body or people asking me to do sexual movements, says Valérie Vézina, who has been on the platform for seven years, where she films herself playing video games. If I know I’m going to get up, I’m not going to wear shorts. As soon as you see a little bit of skin, it makes you react. »

The vigilance of many instavideasts does not stop at their appearance, but also extends to their environment. Valérie Vézina, for example, moved and installed security cameras after an Internet user told her to “be careful”, telling her that she had managed to find her address with “clues” left in her videos.

According to a survey conducted at the end of 2017 by the Conseil du statut de la femme, Quebec women experience more hostilities on the Internet related to their physical appearance (26% compared to 15% for men) and receive more threats of a sexual nature (19% against 13%). They are also more victims of sexual harassment and stalkingalso known as cyberstalking, which involves collecting information about a person to intimidate them.

In more serious cases of online stalking, more than three in four victims are women, according to Department of Public Safety data reported in a recent study by the Council on the Status of Women.

“Cyberbullying has always been a big problem, and I think it’s getting worse. The means are developing,” remarks QweenBoo. According to her, online discussions on the Discord application or on the Reddit site are devoted to making fun of the weight of “streamers”, ridiculing them or even “montaging our faces with bodies of porn actresses… In Quebec, it’s on a smaller scale, but it happens frequently,” insists QweenBoo.

The video blogger on Twitch ptitetannante (who prefers to conceal her real name) highlights another phenomenon that has increased with the arrival of social networks: parasocial relationships. In this case, an Internet user develops a one-way relationship with a public figure or content creators.

Sometimes it goes wrong. Some Internet users “who are not invited to an event where I am will become insistent and aggressive. We are not known [comme des célébrités], but we live this kind of behavior ”. She reports that one of her subscribers, who imagined himself in a relationship with her, found her address to give her a gift. Alerted by other instavideasts, the young woman contacted the police and did not return home.

“I live in constant fear of leaving information that could be used against me. I’m super careful about that,” she says.

Few recourse

QweenBoo, MaryPou and ptitetannante have all tried to file police complaints for threats or harassment. They deplore the lack of understanding and solutions offered by the authorities.

“I felt semi-supported by the police, I was given to understand that I should expect this [qu’un internaute vienne cogner à ma porte] if I expose myself on the Internet”, drops ptitetannante.

“I am threatened with burning down my house and killing my animals. Are we really going to wait for that to happen to do something? QweenBoo is indignant.

Even if the latter agrees that intervening for each threat formulated on the Internet could represent a colossal workload for the police, she nevertheless finds “aberrant that, having arrived almost in 2023, we do not have more recourse”.

All the “streamers” interviewed by The duty point to another crucial player that could help reduce cyberbullying: the platform itself.

I’m still in a hoodie, but that doesn’t stop me from getting comments about my body or people asking me to do sex moves.

Twitch has often been criticized for its lack of moderation. “There is an effort, but it is almost the minimum, supports Stéphanie Harvey. It’s very reactive and not proactive: you write a bad word and you’re banned, but the person doing the broadcasting has already seen this message, the damage is done. »

Education and consequences

Stéphanie Harvey, who teaches a course on ethical issues, health and well-being in electronic sports at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, compares the phenomenon of sexism and cyberbullying present on Twitch – and accentuated by the live feature of the platform — to what can be found elsewhere on the Internet.

“The problem is not Twitch or the world of video games, which can be fulfilling, but a problem of society and the use of the Internet. No one educates us to be good cybercitizens. According to her, this education in the responsible use of the Internet is nevertheless crucial, since the victims of toxic behavior on the web see their mental health affected.

“The proportion of these people who make these comments [hostiles et sexistes] is surely a small percentage, but a minority that also hurts a lot, ”abounds Stéphane Villeneuve, professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal and specialist in cyberbullying. He believes that the lack of consequences and “being hidden behind your screen” lead to the perpetuation of hate online.

The specialist believes that digital identities that make it possible to find the author of reprehensible messages, or warnings when hateful remarks are about to be published can be part of the solution. “The platforms have a big social role to play, otherwise it’s the wild west,” said Mr. Villeneuve.

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