In a new report by GamesIndustry.biz, current and former Twitch employees recount issues of racism, sexism, and assault at the company that they say were never properly dealt with and often even enabled by a white bro tech startup culture.
GamesIndustry.biz spoke to 16 employees that span the streaming platform’s history, and their stories paint a picture of Twitch at odds with the values of inclusion it’s often publicized in the past. One former employee said a co-worker called her a cunt and spit on her, but management treated her like she was the problem when she tried to report it. Others told GamesIndustry.biz that they had been groped, inappropriately massaged, or had kisses forced on them during their time at Twitch.
“Twitch repeatedly swept accounts of harassment and abuse under the rug: sexual, verbal, physical abuse, and racism. And not just my own,” a former employee told GamesIndustry.biz. “It took place in the office. At events. In meetings and behind closed doors. It was rampant and unavoidable. We heard about it in the halls. We saw it at our desks. It was overt and part of the job.”
In response, a spokesperson for Twitch told GamesIndustry.biz:
“We take any allegations of this nature extremely seriously, whether on our service or within our company, and work swiftly to investigate and address them as appropriate. Any suggestions to the contrary misrepresent our culture, leadership, and values. Many of these allegations are years old, and we’ve taken numerous steps to better protect and support our employees and community, and will continue to invest time and resources in this area.”
The report also detailed concerns about how the company handled issues around racism and the safety of marginalized streamers on the platform. According to one former employee, co-founder and current CEO, Emmett Shear once believed that anyone should be allowed to stream on his platform, even the Ku Klux Klan, as long as they followed the company’s rules. Another employee told GamesIndustry.biz that people within the company had to fight for years to get the n-word banned.
“We have taken, and continue to take, aggressive action to curtail hate speech and harassment on Twitch, including issuing permanent bans,” a Twitch spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz.
Issues around sexual misconduct and racial insensitivity have persisted at Twitch, though. When a wave of allegations of sexual harassment and assualt broke in and around the gaming industry in late June, many involved Twitch streamers, which prompted Shear to put out a statement saying the company needed to do a better job of protecting its community and banning those credibly accused of misconduct. Streamer and Twitch employee Hassan Bokhari was one of those accused of sexual abuse and assualt. Kotaku reported in September that Bokhari is no longer employed at the company, and while Twitch would not comment on the matter, it did confirm that an investigation into the allegations against Bokhari had been completed.
The platform’s commitments to diversity also continue to be called into question. Earlier this year, former lead product manager at Twitch, Olivia Grace, wrote on Twitter that she fought to have a raccoon emote that was being used to harass Black streamers removed from the platform, but was told no by Shear himself. And In September, as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Twitch put and then promptly pulled a “customized sub emote to show your support for your favorite Hispanic and LatinX streamer” that featured a sombrero and maracas. “These were not an appropriate representation of Hispanic and LatinX culture, and we’ve removed them,” the company later wrote on Twitter.
GamesIndustry.biz’s extensive report lays out all of this and more. Go read the whole thing here.
Update - 9:30 p.m. ET, 10/8/20: Twitch contacted Kotaku to send over the following statement regarding former Twitch employees speaking out about issues at the company:
It’s deeply disappointing to read accounts of toxicity from people who had negative experiences at and on Twitch. Clearly, some of the processes and policies we had in the past did not do enough to make our employees and community members feel safe and valued. While we are not without fault or above criticism, this article does not adequately acknowledge all the ways in which our company has evolved and the numerous steps we’ve taken over the years to build a company that protects and supports our employees and community. We’ve invested heavily in our HR and safety teams, brought in new, diverse leadership and will continue to invest time and resources in this area. We take any allegations of this nature extremely seriously, whether on our service or within our company, and work swiftly to investigate and address them as appropriate, bringing in third parties to ensure impartiality when needed. Any claims to the contrary simply misrepresent our culture and values.