Amid Backlash, U.S. Army Retreats From Twitch

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The U.S. Army has dealt with sustained backlash over the past few weeks against its recruitment-oriented Twitch channel, which has banned viewers for asking about war crimes and hosted supposed giveaways that just dumped people out onto a recruitment page (which the Army has since claimed did enter viewers into a competition through other means, but which Twitch nonetheless forced it to stop running). Now, in response to this, it looks like the Army is putting a halt to all Twitch activity — at least, for the time being.

Today on Twitter, esports consultant and journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau said that “due to recent media coverage of fake giveaways and potentially unconstitutional bans, the U.S. Army esports team has paused social activity, streaming on Twitch, and official activations with Twitch including participating in upcoming Twitch Rivals events,” further noting that the Army might not resume these sorts of marketing efforts until spring 2021.

Breslau specifically cited an email detailing all of this, which comes from a person close to the Army. Kotaku has also seen this email. Among other things, it explicitly points to negative news coverage of the Army’s Twitch efforts as a reason for the decision to go radio silent.

Kotaku reached out to the Army and Twitch for more information. The Army did not reply, and a Twitch representative said in an email that the company doesn’t “have anything to add” at the moment.

As of now, the Army’s Twitch channel hasn’t streamed in almost two weeks. During that time, numerous people, streamers, and organisations have criticised the Army’s efforts. This includes legal organisations like the ACLU and, today, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which demanded in a press release received by Kotaku that the Army and Navy stop banning viewers who ask about war crimes.

“Once the government opens up a space for expressive activity to the public at large, the First Amendment prohibits it from excluding speakers from that space on the basis of viewpoint,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, in the press release. “The Army and Navy can’t constitutionally delete comments or ban people from these Twitch channels simply for asking questions about issues they would rather not address.”

As a result of all this, according to Vice, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now plans to file a measure that would entirely prevent the military from spending money to recruit through services like Twitch. Specifically, it would forbid the military from using funds to “maintain a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, e-sports, or live-streaming platform.” At present, the measure is just a draft amendment filed to the larger House Appropriations bill, so it might not survive reviews by multiple committees in the coming weeks.

While the Army is, for the time being, ceasing its efforts on Twitch, the Navy continues to maintain an active presence on the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform — one which has also received heavy criticism for bans and dodgy tactics like view count inflation. The Navy’s channel most recently streamed yesterday, and there’s currently no indication that it will stop. So long as it continues to employ heavy-handed moderation tactics, it’s unlikely that demands for change will stop, either.

“Because the Army and Navy are using these Twitch channels to recruit young people, this issue is about much more than just esports,” said Meenakshi Krishnan, legal fellow at the Knight Institute. “Participants in these forums have a constitutional right to engage in speech critical of the military. The Army and Navy certainly have no legitimate interest in suppressing speech relating to war crimes.”

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Comments

  • People have a ‘constitutional right’ to criticise them on their Twitch channel… Do they though? I’m legitimately asking.

    Because last I checked the ‘rights’ that Americans especially love to scream about all day long, with free speech this and free speech that, don’t actually apply in a great many cases when it comes to private businesses/companies and their properties.

    It’s precisely why businesses can very much refuse service and throw you the fuck out for not wearing a mask right now if that is their requirement for entry.

    • But its not twitch banning these people, its the people working for the armed forces who run those channels, so this IS one of those cases where the first amendment actually applies.

    • America’s free speech protects them from government censorship, and since the military counts as part of the government they shouldn’t be able to censor people either. This counts even if they’re using a non government platform like Twitch. At least that’s how I understand it. I think it’s similar to when Trump was threatening to ban Twitter, which would also break the First Amendment.

      • Yeah that’s what I’m really curious on, just where the line is drawn when they’re using non-government platforms.

        Say whether them using Twitch counts them as having the same ‘protections’ as any other streamer, who in my experience can ban anyone from their chat for basically whatever reasons they want.

        Whether it’s right to do is another discussion, it’s at least questionable and heavy handed, but I’m just so used to seeing ‘free speech’ and such thrown around constantly by people using it where it simply doesn’t apply. Yet this situation has a unique mix to it with government users operating in a non-government environment.

        • My understanding of the Trump/Twitter ruling from the US Appeals Court was that if the Government (in this case, the military) chooses a private venue as a platform for engagement with the public, then they don’t have the legal right to exclude anyone for political speech. As it’s a private space, the platform-holder does (eg: for people who violate ToS) but not the Government.

          What’s different in this case is that the bans weren’t handed out by Twitch, they were handed out by the military moderators. As the owners of the channel, they were responsible for the channel-bans. The offending chat didn’t breach Twitch ToS, and those banned from the channel weren’t banned from Twitch. So in this case, it’s directly the Government locking people out of a platform that they have designated for community engagement.

          Based on ‘Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump’ as a precedent, if those banned from the military Twitch channels sue the military, they’ll probably win.

          • I’m also guessing that the legal folk at the military know this, and have calculated that it’s easier to just quietly pull out of twitch than face a public loss in court that draws attention to the fact that they’re not allowed to ban people from calling them out on their failure to accept responsibility for war crimes.

            I expect they’re turning their attention to how to best advertise and recruit (which is all their Twitch presence was for, anyway) without having those efforts subverted by citizens taking advantages of pesky rules like the 1st amendment.

    • The armed forces are government run bodies and the government is not allowed to actively silence people. If the government gives anyone the opportunity to communicate, it has to give everybody the opportunity.

      If Twitch banned them, that would be one thing. That would be the owners of the house setting the rules. But that’s not what happened.

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