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 organizations have criticized the Army’s efforts. This includes legal organizations 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.”