Scroll through the In Real Life (IRL) section of streaming site Twitch and you could be forgiven for thinking, now and then, that you have landed on a camgirl site.

Scattered among the artists, cooks and professional eaters are a growing band of young women wearing revealing clothing while they game. Some go further and entertain fans by dancing or by doing a series of suggestive exercises, like squats, to tempt people to subscribe to their channel or to hand over Twitch’s micro-currency – bits.

Dubbed “booby streamers” these young women have been a feature of Twitch for years but their numbers have grown significantly over the last few months, prompting a wave of complaints.

On social media many parents have posted messages about what their younger children are seeing when they visit the site, expressing alarm at how much of a screen supposedly showing in-game action is focused on a woman’s body.

In recent weeks, high-profile streamers have complained about Twitch’s tolerance of these women and for doing a “poor job” of policing the growing amount of sexual content on the site.

The complaints have prompted a crackdown on women streamers who sell sexual services via their Twitch bio. Some have been suspended or banned for a few days and been made to purge links to places such as Patreon where explicit pictures and shows could be bought.

Some say this is not enough. The “overtly sexual” behaviour on display breaks rules governing what Twitch has said is acceptable.

“Given the way that the rules are worded, these streamers should not be on the site,” Steven Bonnell aka Destiny told the BBC.

Grey area

Mr Bonnell is one of a small number of streamers with large, dedicated audiences that have quizzed Twitch about why it is not enforcing the letters of its laws – specifically its community guidelines.

These guidelines govern what is permissible on Twitch and they explicitly prohibit “nudity and conduct involving overtly sexual behaviour and/or attire” and the selling of “sexual services”.

“It’s pretty clear that there are some streamers that step over the line,” said Mr Bonnell, “they wear provocative clothing and act provocatively.”

Originally, said Mr Bonnell, the IRL section was for streamers who were recording events, such as attending a convention, that did not involve them playing a video game.

“IRL is taking on a culture of its own,” he said. “It’s become much more sexualised.”

What is Twitch?

Twitch is a live, video-streaming service focussed on broadcasting people playing computer games.

Recent estimates suggest it has 15 million daily active users and more than 2.2 million people use it to stream their gaming sessions. It has now broadened the content it shows and many artists, board gamers, role-players and others use it to show what they are up to.

Twitch grew out of Justin.tv which was set up as a way for people to broadcast video streams of their lives.

Twitch was bought by Amazon in 2014 for $970m (£723m).

Streamer Amouranth said the slew of complaints and comment on social media had led Twitch to step up its enforcement efforts. It has handed out short-term suspensions to streamers reported to be breaking the guidelines.

“With the recent controversy in IRL a lot of things have come under increased scrutiny, hence some streamers finding themselves suddenly afoul of ToS,” she told the BBC.

“Twitch certainly has the right to enforce their rules,” said Amouranth, adding that it was a “notable grey-area” before the complaints and calls for action from streamers.

Now, she said, many would welcome more clarity on what is and is not permitted on Twitch. Without that, she said, the reason someone had been suspended can be hard to understand.

Content crash

Her comments were echoed by streamer Anne Munition who said Twitch needed to be more explicit about what counted as acceptable behaviour in many different categories, not just those involving “sexual streamers”.

“The community has a hard time agreeing on what exactly that means,” she said, adding: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want clarity on what Twitch considers acceptable content.”

The lack of clarity was having an effect on all streamers, said Ms Munition, and could lead to harassment and abuse from fans.

A spokesman for Twitch said it did not comment on individual bans nor on whether it had been more active in enforcing its rules of conduct.

He said: “We give our community freedom to express themselves as long as they adhere to our community guidelines.”

He added: “If inappropriate behaviour is observed, we encourage viewers to report it since our moderation team reviews all cases.”

Mr Bonnell said commercial considerations may eventually determine whether Twitch clarifies what the site is for. Advertisers who see their content running against the controversial streams may soon start to object, he said.

“I do not think we are anywhere near that point yet,” he said, “It’s going to come down to whether the big advertisers are influenced. If that happens, then Twitch will act.”

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