Twitch's non-video-game IRL section is a Wild West where people are figuring out what works and what doesn't. On a platform where people already felt pressured to stream and interact with audiences as much as possible, even mundane activities like driving pose a problem.
Image credit: Twitch.
Driving, even under the best of conditions, can be very dangerous. Cars typically weigh multiple tonnes, and one brief moment of distraction is all it takes to seriously harm or fatally wound another person, or yourself. Streaming can be extremely distracting, especially if you're trying to interact with a chat. Despite this, there's a history of people streaming while driving on platforms such as Periscope and Facebook, as well as early iterations of what eventually became Twitch. Thanks to IRL, it's now a thing on modern-day Twitch, as well.
Recently, driving while streaming has become controversial, largely because some Twitch streamers seem to have gotten banned for it. I say "seem" because Twitch categorises suspensions and bans in fairly broad categories. Most driving-related bans break Twitch's rule against broadcasting while performing "self-harm", a category that is broad enough to encompass anything from excessive drinking to suicide threats. Within the past few weeks, AAronmillicant, Connor Lipke and Asian Andy have all received ongoing bans in close proximity to driving, the first two specifically for "self harm".
While the latter two definitely interacted with their chats directly, a clip of the former shows him driving with his phone seemingly in the seat next to him. He never touches it, but he flashes quick glances down at it, and near the end, starts talking to someone, presumably his viewers. Longtime streamer CinCinBear was also caught driving while clearly holding her phone in one hand and glancing at chat, but she did not get banned. In another clip, a Russian streamer named Repzion appears to be driving and glancing down at his phone repeatedly, but he hasn't been banned either.
Why do some streamers get bans while others don't seem affected? And why are people streaming while driving at all if it's so dangerous? These questions have Twitch communities buzzing. While people's theories about the first question have taken on a distinctly conspiratorial bent, the answer might lie in the way Twitch handles bans. Unless an infraction is particularly egregious, a streamer's first ban usually lasts just 24 hours. If they break the rules again, however, they might get banned for weeks or even months, if not permanently.
All three of the aforementioned streamers who received bans recently had been previously banned for other reasons, two of them multiple times. Also, Asian Andy is a guy who regularly drives while streaming and basically never wears a shirt (which is super against the rules), so he had it coming. They were all on thin ice, in other words. CinCinBear, meanwhile, received a ban about a month ago, and it only lasted 24 hours. The driving incident happened more recently, and while one could argue that she should have faced some kind of penalty for it, it seems Twitch didn't see it as a severe enough infraction.
The thing is, this would all be pretty open and shut if streaming while driving was outright forbidden on Twitch. But it isn't. Instead, Twitch's rules state that you must "safely broadcast" from moving vehicles. Specifically, they say that you can't directly operate your broadcasting equipment (a phone, camera or what have you) while driving. They suggest getting a mount so that you're not tempted to take your hands off the wheel. Also, you must "comply with all applicable laws and regulations about operating moving vehicles" in your area, meaning that anything resembling texting while driving — say, scrolling through and reading chat — is a no-go.
But there's still a lot of grey area there, not to mention an inherent contradiction in Twitch's rules. While Twitch more or less forbids directly interacting with chat while driving, one of the top IRL-specific rules states that "you must be actively interacting with your audience when streaming in the IRL category". Inevitably, all of this makes it tempting to fudge the rules ever so slightly while driving. For instance, I noticed that some streamers got around this by mounting their phone more or less directly in front of them. At that point, their eyes were still technically on the road, or at least drifting in its general direction. Or consider it this way: Yes, texting and driving is illegal in most places, but that doesn't stop people from doing it every once in a while. It's the jaywalking of piloting a screaming metal death trap that weighs thousands of kilograms. Everything will probably be fine, people think. Until it isn't.
One streamer who got banned from Twitch immediately after driving — who wished to remain anonymous due to a pending appeal process — told me they don't even think it's as bad as texting and driving. "I held my phone with one hand while occasionally reading chat, while driving with the other," they said via DM, adding that they weren't aware of Twitch's rules about streaming and driving before they did it. "I equate this to reading my GPS. It wasn't as if I was texting or using my phone's keyboard in any way."
A stop sign from Grand Theft Auto V (source).
Many Twitch viewers, however, still argue that it's exceedingly dangerous and not worth the risk. Why endanger your own life (as well as the lives of others, potentially), they ask, when you can simply shut off your stream until you reach your destination? And again, in light of the grey areas that inevitably cloud the horizon even when people are following the rules, why does Twitch allow streaming while driving in any capacity?
I reached out to Twitch about these potential dangers and asked if the company is reconsidering its policies. A rep, however, only pointed me toward the pre-existing rules and reiterated that things such as composing and sending text messages and making use of the web while operating a motor vehicle are illegal, and Twitch streamers are required to follow those laws.
It seems, then, that Twitch is sticking to its guns for now. In the meantime, IRL remains Twitch's Wild West, for better or worse.