Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican Congressman and alleged sex criminal, is now on Twitch. Gaetz (or at least whoever runs his social media accounts) announced his arrival on the streaming platform in a tweet. “I’m joining @Twitch to bring my America First message to a new generation of viewers,” he wrote.
Unfortunately for Gaetz’s PR team, the announcement came at an inopportune time. Just yesterday, Bloomberg published a disturbing report documenting how child predators use Twitch to track and engage with kids and teens.
The embattled representative is currently under investigation by both the Department of Justice and the House Ethics Committee over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year old girl, after paying for her to cross state lines—an accusation that would amount to sex trafficking of a minor, if true. Gaetz has also been implicated in the broader sex-trafficking activities of his close friend and associate, Joel Greenberg. Gaetz has denied wrongdoing.
But all of that probably has nothing to do with the Bloomberg report, which identified nearly 2,000 Twitch accounts belonging to adults, but almost exclusively following young streamers.
The news outlet’s data comes from an internet extremism researcher who was granted anonymity “due to concerns over potential career repercussions from being associated with such a disturbing topic.” However, Bloomberg also indicated that they independently reviewed and confirmed aspects of the analysis.
The anonymous researcher manually trawled through Twitch accounts and videos between October 2020 and August 2022 to identify predatory accounts on the platform. One of the criteria for an adult account to be considered predatory was if it followed at least 70% children or young teenagers. They found that 279,016 children were targeted by apparent predators on Twitch, and that hundreds of the predatory accounts followed more than 1,000 kids each.
The unusual patterns of behavior seen in these accounts indicate that many exist primarily to catalog, watch and manipulate children, including enticing them to perform everything from suggestive dances to explicit sexual acts, according to the findings.
Some of the features that make Twitch a great way to closely follow your favorite gamers, also seem to be contributing to how vulnerable kids are on the platform. “Alleged predators that have discovered and followed children can receive notifications when they’re online,” pointed out Bloomberg. “Some kids can receive hundreds of live viewers within a few minutes of going live — far more than what’s expected for an account that isn’t a featured streamer.”
The live chat aspect of Twitch has also led to some pretty unsettling interactions, and seemingly enables grooming. The news outlet cited multiple examples of this, including one where an 11 year-old girl received 650 live viewers at once. She was asked to show her legs on camera and to put on a “fashion show.”
In a statement emailed to Bloomberg, a Twitch spokesperson responded that “Preventing child harm is one of our most fundamental responsibilities as a society. We do not allow children under 13 to use Twitch, and preventing our service from being used for harm is one of our biggest priorities.” The spokesperson further said, “We know that online platforms can be used to cause harm to children, and we have made extensive investments over the last two years to better stay ahead of bad actors and prevent any users who may be under 13 from accessing Twitch.”
The company also reportedly told Bloomberg that it has increased the size of its law enforcement response team focused on child exploitation, and that it has “numerous updates in development” to bar underage streamers and would-be-predators from the platform. Yet still, the details of the Bloomberg report suggest that whatever Twitch is doing, it isn’t enough.