Richard Lewis: Why Twitch needs to be held accountable for its inconsistency with bans

Richard Lewis

Twitch, February 2018: “Please watch us closely and hold us accountable. This first update clarifies our guidelines, but we know we’ll be judged on how we enforce them. Look for more communication about our enforcement policies in the coming months.”

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.

They actually said “hold us accountable.” It is one of the most laughable statements of all time when you consider it is coming from an offshoot of one of the wealthiest corporations in the world… A corporation so powerful it can reportedly pay less in federal taxes than you and I while laughing in the face of the government that houses it… But we will get right on that accountability thing, man.

Maybe you can fool us like all the other megacorporations practicing woke capitalism while using third-world labor and doing business with dictatorships that imprison gay people.

Just appease the next Twitter mob that comes along with a hashtag to show us how virtuous you are. Have an insipid spokesperson lisp away about how everyone else must do better.

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Did anyone actually believe that Twitch would keep its identity once it was bought by Amazon? Did you think it would remain an enclave of people who understood gaming, streaming and the creative process?

Did you think the people you grew up with in this space would still be bleeding purple once the beancounters started looking at the spreadsheets?

I don’t think many of us did, but I am sure all of us hoped it would be different this time… Alas, Twitch has become what we hoped it wouldn’t be. Another monolithic component of the big tech landscape, all algorithms and obfuscated processes, vague rules and nonsense.

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While there are many reasons to criticize the modern Twitch there is one thing that sticks in my craw worst of all… And it’s not one that affects me you understand. Twitch have left me alone, zero support but zero condemnation also, which I will take. I turn on my stream, I do my shows, I say my thing and then I turn it off.

I have never been warned despite putting out what I consider adult content. I am sure that now will change. For all their bullshit about wanting to be held accountable big tech companies hate it when you actually do that, especially if you have a platform they do not control.

The bans, the insane bans… The web of conduct and terms of service inconsistencies that everyone is tangled up in… None of it makes sense. And yet I am supposed to be appeased by a man in a purple bowtie going on stage and spouting further gibberish about how Twitch actually has it all under control, about how they really don’t need to be held accountable at all, certainly not by you.

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“If someone walks up to you on the street and shoves you, that’s one thing. If someone walks down the street and they trip and push you, it might look it’s the same, but it’s not. Your intent matters and we’re going to stand by that. I think that’s critical.”

Oh, thank you Emmett Shear for clarifying this. Where would we be without you fabled geniuses of tech to tell us what is critical and what isn’t, what we need and what we don’t, what values matter, and which ones we must eschew.

I just have a few questions… Questions I know you won’t answer because you have been publicly silent for most of your tenure, only talking when there are cameras and puffball interview questions but let’s try anyway.

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Question one will come shortly, but first some background. A streamer is playing a competitive game. As the game is over he calls his teammates “idiots”. Within an hour or two he is hit with a 30 day ban for use of racial slurs. To almost everyone that heard the clip, the word “idiots” was very clear but unfortunately Twitch now employs the kinds of people who are so fixated on the myth that there are Nazis everywhere all they can hear is a racial epithet.

You then reduce his ban to seven days, still insisting the streamer said a slur they never did. You send out the following ridiculous email:

“Even after asking to listen for idiots, hey couldn’t hear it. Because of that, they were originally leaning toward leaving the full 30-day suspension. That being said, I relayed your response, and highlighted your history, specifically your lack of previous infractions, and after further review, the appeals team has agreed to reduce your suspension from 30 days down to 7 days.”

For the rest of that streamer’s life one of the worst things that will come up is they were banned for being racist, something that objectively didn’t happen. But hey, f**k them, your supposed partnered streamer who also happens to represent one of the biggest esports organizations in the world. They may never be sponsored by the biggest brands because you’re on record as insisting they said something racist.

So, the question my very important and intelligent friend: What the f**k does intent have to do with that? Another. What can a streamer do about your staff mishearing things? Another. Why won’t you apologize and retract the now publicly available intimation that this streamer is some kind of vile racist?

Let’s do some more.

A streamer with a long history of short-term bans for nudity and other decency and age-based violations decides to roughly handle their cat while broadcasting. Other clips emerge of them making the cat “taste” vodka to amuse their stream.

In the past you have set a precedent by banning another streamer indefinitely for a less flagrant transgression involving a cat. This came after an employee of a games developer – your business partners and big spenders on your platform – made sure that the clip was seen by “people who make those decisions.” Probably because she played their game. PETA tweet about it, it makes mainstream news. The outcome? Zero ban or statement from your company.

Questions: How does the intent argument factor into this? What message does it send when you ban one streamer for the same thing and let another get away with it? What does it say when that streamer has multiple strikes against them, even accusing other partnered streamers of committing crimes with no evidence?

Another one.

A streamer who has been on your platform for as long as it has existed, known for both edgy humor streams and political content, is playing a game with a friend and long-term collaborator. During that stream he jokes that he will kill his friend’s mother and then, when his family arrives at the funeral, he will detonate a bomb that injures them all, then kill his friend when he arrives at the hospital. Big laughs from everyone. Except the Twitch staff member that heard it who issued a seven-day ban.

Questions: Since as context matters, why was this ban-worthy at all? How is a seven-day ban for a mean joke in line with zero days issued for potential animal abuse that made international news?

Another one.

There’s this streamer, one who has been banned from your platform before for streaming in a business without permission and lying to you about it. One who has been banned for promoting their Patreon to sell nude pictures of themselves on two occasions before laughing about the bans, saying it is because those pictures are “too good”. This streamer decides to lie on the floor and play with their dog. They roll around wearing ill-fitting shorts, the kind of shorts that I wear as a 240 pound man, but they are a 120 pound woman. The shorts slip revealing their vagina. They are given a 48-hour ban.

Questions: Even with the benefit of the doubt given to this streamer – which would be ridiculous given them literally using your platform to sell nude pictures in the past – how do you wriggle out of a longer ban with this ‘intent’ bullshit you are peddling? If I sat down to stream wearing a mankini and a steaming erection, and my audience saw my penis would I walk away with just a two-day ban? Would I be invited as a guest of honor to your convention?

Another one.

A streamer who has been banned repeatedly for supposedly showing too much of their chest area with their bras and tops is banned once more for “sexually suggestive content” while being dressed like one of the Partridge family. Less than two weeks later she is hit with a permanent ban for “racism and hateful conduct.” She breaks down on stream, crying, thinking her life is over. Within an hour, the ban is overturned as it was an error.

Questions: What intent did this person show? Why has she received a longer ban for having large breasts than for flashing her vagina on purpose? Why did you not apologize for falsely labeling her as a racist? Why did the ban happen at all? Why did no one from your wonderful progressive company, a true ally to women, reach out to her while she was breaking down on stream?

I really don’t give a f**k about the answers you won’t provide. Let’s be real. You’re like every other tech company now. Above criticisms from the people that BUILT your platform, smarter and better than all of us, enforcing vague rules where you can play favorites as and when you please. When called out, you just have to say you’re doing it all to fight sexism, racism, whatever ism is vogue and commercially viable.

You see Emmett, the only way your performance at TwitchCon could have been genuine would have been if that bowtie span round, squirting water on the interviewer asking those pre-agreed questions, while people dumped a bucket of confetti over your head. Why? Because you are running a circus. 

Here’s the thing that might shock you. One of the main reasons I think you need to get a handle on this is because of the misinformation and subsequent abuse it leads to. Have you seen the endless talk about how it’s women entirely that benefit from double standards (a demonstrably false argument when you factor in the number of women you have incorrectly banned) and the hate flung their way as a result of it?

Have you seen the rumors circulating about your own staff members abusing their position, collecting nude images of your streamers in exchange for fewer penalties when they break the rules? Can you not grasp how life destroying that is for the employees that see that spread about them on the internet? Do you not understand how demeaning that is for the women involved?

You did that by the way. Yes, you, Twitch. Not the internet and social media. You. And you have created these issues by not giving due consideration to the optics of these ridiculous and inconsistent bans. It goes beyond you harming people’s revenue streams, something you give little-to-no consideration towards.

This is people’s lives, their reputations, their ability to enjoy what they do. You’re letting it be stripped away because, like every tech company before you that has reached monolithic status, you have ceased to care about the little people. I imagine that soon you will be moving towards complete algorithmic moderation, laying off the staff that are no longer required to cut corners and then paying yourself a fat million dollar bonus for being so clever.

Let me also tell you something that you must know because you are smarter than me. You must know that having a userbase that actively can’t stand your double standards and hypocrisy, that dreads doing what they do that makes YOU money too, that wants to leave for the first platform that can rival what you offer financially… Well, you know this isn’t good, right?

I’m invested in Twitch because I was here when was a thing. Many of my dear friends stream on this platform. It has changed my life for the better, giving me a way to earn enough to pay the rent without ever having to be under the petty tyranny of an employer ever again. None of that means I am going to pretend that what you are doing isn’t bullshit. You have a group of business partners too scared of reprisals to call you out on something that is so clearly unacceptable and, honestly, you seem to like it that way.

So I am curious as to what the hidden benefits are. You certainly can’t be just another tech company that got lazy because it has a functional monopoly. No. You’re too smart to be that.

There. I’ve watched you closely. I’m holding you accountable. You asked me to. What are you going to do about it?

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About The Author

Richard Lewis is a veteran, award-winning British esports journalist, with over a decade of experience covering the biggest scandals and uncovering the inner workings of esports. He has been recognized for his contribution to esports with a lifetime achievement award in 2020. You can find Richard on Twitter at @RLewisReports.