We all know that the Internet can be a dark and scary place. From a young age, we’re told not to share personal information online, and to be careful what we post, because once it’s out there, it’s there for good. But in recent years, building dedicated audiences online has come by way of sharing personal information (to an extent), fostering trust and community.
As a result, Twitch streamers have found themselves increasingly on the receiving end of extreme forms of online harassment and invasion of privacy – doxxing and swatting.
What are doxxing and swatting?
According to Business Insider, doxxing is “a form of online harassment where a user targets a specific person or group, finds personal information, and publishes it”.
An intimidating and disturbing trend, Twitch streamers’ home addresses are being leaked for the purpose of trolls to call the police to their homes with fake emergencies – known as swatting, and for all of this to be recorded while the streamer is live.
Aside from leaving its victims shaken, doxxing and swatting can affect streamers’ lives in more ways than one.
Threats to personal safety
Recorded livestreams of police swattings show how traumatic and dangerous the experience can be. Squads of armed police officers are recorded bursting into rooms, pointing their weapons at streamers, while the streamer is obviously caught off guard. The stream is usually stopped, followed by a tweet from the streamer telling their fans that everything is okay, and that the police had responded to a prank call.
However, not every swatting prank has ended harmlessly, as was the case when an innocent man was tragically shot by police responding to a prank call after an argument between gamers playing Call of Duty World War II in 2018. Being harassed in such an extreme way, swatting presents a real danger to streamers’ personal safety, not to mention the psychological impacts.
As it is after you have been robbed, many streamers have said that they no longer feel safe in their own homes, knowing that their address has been leaked. This has forced many streamers to relocate themselves and their families, no doubt creating a financial burden, with some streamers forced to find work outside of full-time streaming all together.
In June last year, top streamer xQc revealed he had been forced to move back to his native Canada, after his address had been leaked and he was being swatted by police almost daily.
“Almost every day the police came to our house with the full squad […] And I was genuinely scared that I was going to die,” he shared on a livestream.
For former streamer Jupiter Velvet, she left full-time streaming after being swatted in September 2021, and told NBC she was left with no choice but to find other work to subsidise her lost income.
A heavier burden on minorities
Recently, minority groups have become a bigger target of doxxing and swatting, particularly members of the LGBTQ+ community. Drag queens in particular have borne the brunt of these cyber attacks, with six members of the drag queen streaming collective Stream Queens becoming victims of swatting in the past year.
Elix, a member of Stream Queens, told NBC that in addition to being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, her fears over swatting and interactions with the police are heightened by the fact that she is a person of colour.
Attempts to curb doxxing and swatting
Over time, doxxing and swatting have been normalised as part and parcel of life as a streamer. Online gaming communities and Reddit threads are filled with tips on how to prevent doxxing, which is a sad testament to how common this form of online harassment is.
In recent years, streamers have banded together to demand better safety and privacy regulations from Twitch by refusing to stream on certain days.
In response, a spokesperson for Twitch said that “hate and harassment are unacceptable,” and that they are constantly working to improve safety on the platform.
As for swatting, police forces across the US have tried to develop better ways to assess and respond to prank calls. The Seattle Police Department led the way in 2019, by implementing a system whereby people who suspected themselves as targets of swatting, such as streamers, could register their address with the police.
However, as with most online activities, regulation has been difficult, and doxxing and swatting unfortunately remains a common experience for many streamers.