Yesterday evening, Twitch suspended a slew of high-profile streamers who, whether occasionally or full-time, cover politics. Those caught up in the snare included speedrunner Mychal “Trihex” Jefferson, lefty podcasters Chapo Trap House, and political pundit David Pakman. This happened after an organization claiming to represent CBS issued copyright claims on streams involving last night’s Democratic debates in South Carolina. Turns out, the organization was fake.
The organization called itself Praxis Political Legal and told Twitch that it was acting on behalf of CBS, which broadcast the debate last night. This is not an uncommon practice where copyright claims are concerned, so Twitch moved to take down the supposedly infringing content immediately. Not long after, streamers spoke up, with Jefferson saying that he didn’t even use audio or visuals from the debate—he just showed subtitles so that viewers could sync his commentary to the televised broadcast.
And yet, two of Twitch’s most popular political streamers who did show partial footage from the debates, Hasan Piker and Steven “Destiny” Bonnell, dodged the wildly swinging banhammer entirely, possibly because they were streaming outside of Twitch’s “politics” section.
Things got weirder when Praxis Political’s web presence disappeared. Its website (which remains cached on Google) vanished, and its email address ceased to function.
Today, Twitch reinstated the suspended streamers’ accounts and released a statement confirming what many had come to suspect: Praxis Political Legal was fake.
“Twitch’s investigation has determined that the alleged copyright infringement notices directed to channels from Praxis Political are false,” read the statement, initially provided to Vice and also given to Kotaku. “Twitch is reinstating access to each account and removing any strike attributed to a channel in connection with the notice, effective immediately. We regret that a false notice from a 3rd party disrupted any of our streamers and appreciate all who alerted us to the concerns about Praxis Political. The safety of our community is a top priority and it is unacceptable to target folks with false claims. The investigation continues as to the actor that submitted the notices.”
Kotaku also asked Twitch for more information on how it plans to avoid situations like this in the future, but a Twitch spokesperson did not answer those questions in its response.
This is not the first time Twitch has hurriedly moved to toss streamers in the digital slammer for live-reacting to debates. Last summer, Jefferson, Piker, and Bonnell were all suspended, allegedly due to a copyright claim from CNN, who was broadcasting the Democratic debates at the time. However, on other occasions, streamers have been able to debate over debates, which often air via free official streams in addition to on traditional broadcast networks. While it could be argued that what streamers are doing constitutes fair use, platforms like Twitch and YouTube don’t take long to remove content when big companies come a-knocking, for fear of legal repercussions. As a result, fake copyright claims have been and will likely continue to be an effective tool to troll and silence people online.
With Twitch growing into a burgeoning space for sometimes-contentious political discourse, it’s likely that people will continue to target political streamers. This is problematic on multiple levels. When streamers get suspended, their livelihoods are on the line. Too many suspensions (usually three or more), and Twitch makes it indefinite—or, functionally, a ban.
On top of that, political debates are, at least in theory, intended to allow the public to make informed decisions about who they vote for. Over the years, technology has transformed how we consume and discuss debates, and livestreaming is the latest evolution of that. Odds are, streamers will continue to incorporate debates and other major political events into their streams, but each time something like this happens, it’s hard to imagine that at least a few of them won’t have second thoughts.