Twitch Still Hasn't Fixed Its Racist Emote Problem

The “Cmonbruh” emote (Image: Twitch)

During a recent stream hosted by prominent leftist streamer Hasan Piker, a familiar scene unfolded. He was talking about a 1985 trip Bernie Sanders took to Nicaragua when his Twitch chat started spamming the “Cmonbruh” emote, an image of a sceptical-looking man.

The reason they did it? Because the man in the emote is black, and because the word “Nicaragua” shares some syllables with a racist slur.

This infuriated Piker, who, after a plethora of similar experiences, had finally had enough. He announced that he was banning the emote from his chat, along with “Trihard,” an emote of streamer Trihex that people similarly spam when there’s a black person on screen, somebody says the word “black,” somebody sees a watermelon, or in any number of other offensive contexts.

“I’m banning them,” Piker said as people in his chat continued to spam. “You fucked up. Trihard and Cmonbruh is gone. Fucking idiots. You absolute fucking morons. Goddamnit, I hate you so much when you do this shit, chat... You’re like 12 years old.”

On Reddit, people applauded the decision. While some streamers have banned emotes like Cmonbruh before, many have let this behaviour fly under the auspices of it being Just Memes. “Those morons will spam those emotes in a very specific context and when they hear a very specific word,” said one poster.

“Then they’ll pretend: ‘What did I do?? Is this emote banned?’ No it’s not, racism is, and you know damn well it is, you fucking idiot.”

World of Warcraft streamer Asmongold recently found himself in a similar situation while fighting ape enemies in the beta for WoW Classic.

“I’m not supposed to have any racism in my channel,” he said. “Whenever I say ‘gorilla’ and people put Trihard, they’re obviously saying that black people are gorillas. Everybody knows that. It’s obvious. Obviously, we can’t let that happen. Sorry to say, but there it is. Let’s not beat around the bush here.”

Twitch users have been spamming emotes of black people in thinly-veiled efforts to make racist jokes for years. In particularly high-profile cases, this has even happened during esports events while competitors’ families were watching, or during TwitchCon panels. Black streamers deal with the problem on a near-daily basis.

Over time, Twitch has given streamers more tools to help moderate chat and control spam, but the central issue remains. It’s far too common on Twitch to find users looking for ways to turn innocent emotes into racist commentary, and it’s too easy for them to do it.

This stems, in part, from the fact that Twitch doesn’t offer many emotes of people of colour. Of the full selection of “global” Twitch emotes—that is, ones everybody can access no matter whose channel they’re watching—only a small handful depict black people.

This backs streamers into a corner: either they ban these emotes to prevent them from being misused, thus bringing the already-small number of prominent black faces on Twitch down to nearly zero, or they lock down their chats exclusively to subscribers and ban as many bad actors as they possibly can. The only other option—and, unfortunately, by far the easiest one—is to let the dog-whistlers dog-whistle.

Punishing people, after all, flies in the face of the dominant online culture underlying everything that happens in Twitch chat, which is to say you were just meme-ing and you’d never actually do anything racist. It’s an uphill battle that it’s tough for streamers and their moderators to win.

But that’s exactly what Twitch seems to expect streamers to do, putting the responsibility for this kind of thing on streamers’ shoulders last year with an update to its terms of service that explicitly holds streamers responsible for the actions of their communities.

Doubtless, some streamers need to keep their communities on a tighter leash, but in the case of racist emote spam, that’s more labour for streamers and their moderators over a problem it seems like Twitch should be taking a more active role in solving. This is doubly traumatic for people of colour, who already had to deal with low- and high-key harassment for years and are now expected to clean it up as well.

Over the years, many people have suggested that Twitch should add more global emotes depicting black people. A lot more. Preferably all at once. Then at least it wouldn’t be so easy for toxic viewers to weaponise individual emotes and take control of their connotations. However, the company has not done this, and in the meantime, nearly every global emote of a black person—and many others of various people of colour besides—has taken on a double meaning that stands to taint it for people who might otherwise use it legitimately.

This is doubly bitter in the case of Cmonbruh, which people have tried to use to call out racism at various points. With this environment serving as a backdrop, it was practically inevitable that, when Twitch temporarily added a global emote of a KFC bucket last year, people immediately used that to make racist jokes, as well.

This has a long-term corrosive effect: No matter where you go on Twitch, it never feels fully hospitable to people of colour. You never know when somebody might start spamming Trihard or Cmonbruh or another emote, at which point it’s far from taboo for others to join in. Twitch has done the bare minimum to address this throughout the years, and it shows.

Over time, more and more streamers and viewers have gotten fed up. But while it might be tempting to watch the reactions of people like Piker and Asmongold (neither of whom is black) and hope that a sea change is occurring and the problem is finally solving itself, these moments continue to be the exception rather than the rule. Twitch needs to do more, and at this point, it’s bewildering that it hasn’t.


Comments

    What exactly are you expecting Twitch to do because the only way to stop people using "racist" emotes is to stop people using emotes at all. The emotes are not the racist part, the people and their interpretations of symbols are. If you take away the current emotes, people will just use others to mean the same thing.

    Adding more black emotes isn't going to solve this issue. That'll just add more meme potential.
    One solution would be to have an emote ban mode on your chatbot. You see people starting to spam an emote in a racist context, switch your bot to ban mode for that emote and have it auto ban, or timeout, people that use that emote. Lets the streamer allow the emote in non-racist contexts but control it when it is being spammed by racists.
    Should be achievable with a little bit of scripting with current chat bots out there.

      Twitch streamers can ban the use of certain emotes in channels

      They can also set up word banlists so if you type certain words you get an automatic ban.

      These tools already exist.

        Yeah, Twitch AutoMod but toggle-able for certain emotes is what I'm thinking. It'd suck to just outright ban all emotes of black people. Just gotta temporarily ban them when the racism starts. Doesn't seem to be an option for granular control in Nightbot or Streamlabs Chatbot. Just whole blacklist on-off commands.

    Twitch emotes are not racist.

    People are racist.

    You will not be able to stop "racism" on twitch chat unless you remove twitch chat. Which thankfully will never happen. People will always find creative ways to be edgelords. Its ignorant to think removing an emote will stop this.

    Twitch streamers have the tools to moderate their chat if they choose to do so. Twitch does not need to do anything.

      I dunno, Twitch could... ban the racist shitbirds, maybe?

      Just putting that out there I guess.

      Last edited 07/06/19 2:56 pm

        And they just make new accounts. Rendering any bans useless.

        Your cannot completely stop any percieved racism. You can only moderate it using existing tools.

        Imo, giving these actions all this attention is what makes people so it more. They don't do it to be racist, they do it because they know it triggers people into reactions.

        Banning them could also result in a mocking of the bans by making an innocent symbol racist as a troll ( take the okay symbol for example, 4chan more than succeeded in trolling the media)

    Looking forward to the "white knights" pressuring the countries of Niger and Nigeria I to changing their names because they "share some syllables with a racial slurs" ????

      The amount of reaching they're doing with that is ludicrous. Ban country names because they sound something kinda vaguely-ish if you tilt your head sideways and cough. We really are in the dumbest timeline.

        I see your dog whistles you two

        Whenever someone bitches too much about an anti racism article it is pretty obvious where you fall

        Stop being racist edgelords is the solution to the problem not bitching about people being rightfully mad at racism

          A lot of presumptions there. Expect nothing less virtue signallers

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