The U.S. Army has a Twitch channel that it uses to fish for potential recruits. Last week, it came under fire for issuing bans to viewers who asked about war crimes. This week, a report by The Nation dug deeper, pointing out, among other things, that the channel had a habit of running fake controller giveaways that redirected viewers to a recruitment page. Following widespread scrutiny, Twitch says it’s forced the Army to stop.
According to The Nation, the giveaways—which took place “repeatedly” in chat—offered viewers a chance to win an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller. Clicking the associated link, however, would send viewers to a recruitment page “with no additional mention of a contest, odds, total number of winners, or when a drawing will occur.”
Upon learning of this yesterday, Twitch viewers and streamers reacted with disbelief.
“The silence from Twitch on the latest wave of criticism regarding the military using the site to scam kids into sharing personal info speaks volumes,” said streamer Jayson “ManVsGame” Love on Twitter. “Imagine any other channel doing that. Feel free to manipulate your viewers as much as you like, I guess?”
“Hey Twitch, is using your platform to run scams always against the [terms of service] or does the US Army get a special exception when they’re after kids’ blood instead of money?” game developer Bruno Dias said on Twitter.
Now Twitch says it’s forced the Army to stop employing this obviously disingenuous tactic.
“Per our Terms of Service, promotions on Twitch must comply with all applicable laws,” a Twitch spokesperson told Kotaku in an email. “This promotion did not comply with our Terms, and we have required them to remove it.”
Kotaku reached out to the U.S. Army esports team for information on why they chose to run these faux-giveaways in the first place, but they did not reply.
Twitch viewers have seen a lot of the Army recently. In addition to running a Twitch channel, America’s armed forces are also an official sponsor of Twitch’s esports brand and channel, Twitch Rivals. This means, among other things, that the Army’s logo appears on the side of esports broadcasts centered around big-name games like League of Legends, Valorant, and even chess, which feature multiple popular personalities. Commentators also periodically shout out the Army, something that’s irked viewers in the past. Two sources speaking to Kotaku under the condition of anonymity said that this deal likely cost the Army around $1 million.
Army propaganda is unnervingly common in the United States—to the point that many living in the U.S. barely even notice it. But the Army’s esports branch continues to receive criticism for its methods on Twitch. Its Twitch channel goes a step further than standard propaganda, with recruiters playing video games and leveraging Twitch’s potent ability to build parasocial relationships to convince impressionable young people to enlist (the Army’s channel is not locked behind any sort of age gate). In addition, the ACLU and other legal organizations have said that the Army channel’s tendency to ban users for asking questions is unconstitutional on the grounds that the government can’t legally forbid speech on the basis of viewpoint.
“Calling out the government’s war crimes isn’t harassment, it’s speaking truth to power,” the ACLU said on Twitter. “And banning users who ask important questions isn’t ‘flexing,’ it’s unconstitutional.”