Columbia University lawyers and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have taken aim at the U.S. Military’s Twitch channels, resulting in reports that said channels are pausing all Twitch activity.
Following controversy surrounding the US Army and Navy Twitch channels’ usage of Twitch as a recruitment tool and banning of accounts who are “asking questions about issues they would rather not address,”
Columbia’s Knight First Amendment Institute and AOC have formalized what became general complaints among the gaming community, leading to reports from Rod ‘Slasher’ Breslau that the US Army has paused their esports efforts.
new: sources tell me due to recent media coverage of fake giveaways and potentially unconstitutional bans, the US Army esports team has paused social activity, streaming on Twitch, and official activations with Twitch including participating in upcoming Twitch Rivals events
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) July 22, 2020
The US Military has been entrenched in gaming for years, through games like America’s Army and marketing partnerships with teams like the Chicago Huntsmen and organizations like Evil Geniuses. Most recently, that dynamic has been highlighted by the Army and Navy’s Twitch channels — which have come under fire over the past month for banning users for “harassment” in their chat.
After being banned from US Military Twitch channels for similar comments earlier in the month, Jordan Uhl showed in a “ban speedrun” just how quickly users could get timed out from said channels for asking about politicized subjects such as “w4r cr1mes” (with numbers used to bypass the automod) on July 17.
us navy esports team twitch chat ban speedrun pic.twitter.com/LmYtWL2A0q
— jordan (@JordanUhl) July 18, 2020
In light of these bans, the Knight Institute has cited the constitution and similar cases to demand the US Military’s Twitch channels unban everyone who was banned for “core political speech,” and establishes policies protecting said speech by August 5.
Similarly, it has been reported by Vice that AOC, a New York US Representative, will be proposing a draft amendment to the House Appropriations Bill that prevents the military from using the bill’s funds to “maintain a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, esports, or live-streaming platform.”
Although the history of the military and gaming working in partnership together is relatively deep, the capacity to engage with people, especially those who are underage, was unparalleled before the advent of Twitch.
This has understandably spurred increased scrutiny, with AOC not wanting the military using the federal budget on gaming marketing activations and the Knight Institute wanting free speech protected.
"what's your favorite w4r cr1me" is gonna be in history books pic.twitter.com/cYj54IhBFM
— manny (@mannyfidel) July 22, 2020
“The Army and Navy esports teams’ banning of users based on their speech about war crimes is unconstitutional,” the Knight Institute wrote in their July 22 letter.
“When the government intentionally opens a space to the public at large for expressive activity, it has created a ‘public forum’ under the First Amendment, and it cannot constitutionally bar speakers from that forum based on viewpoint. These principles apply with full force in the digital sphere, including on social media platforms, as courts have emphasized in recent cases.”
While the bans, in particular, were defended as justified by Twitch’s “harassment” terms of service, the Knight Institute’s lawyers counteract that claim using the website’s own TOS definition and reassert that the website’s public forums preclude the censorship of political speech.
As of yet, no branch of the military has made a formal response to these formalized complaints and all channels have gone mute.