Earlier this week, it came to light that Twitch was running ads in blatant opposition to the Amazon warehouse worker unionization effort in Bessemer, Alabama. Streamers, who had no say in whether or not these ads appeared during their broadcasts, were outraged. Today, Twitch has removed the ads, saying that they never should have run in the first place.
Despite being owned by Amazon, Twitch said in a statement to Kotaku that its parent company’s union-busting ads have no place on the streaming platform.
“Twitch does not allow political advertising, and these ads should never have been allowed to run on our service,” a Twitch spokesperson said in an email. “We have removed these ads and are evaluating our review processes to ensure that similar content does not run in the future. We are grateful to our community for bringing this to our attention.”
These days, Amazon, not Twitch, is in charge of the bulk of Twitch’s ad network, with Amazon selling the ability to reach Amazon and Twitch users with the same campaign as a big perk of its advertising program. In this case, however, Twitch has pushed back against an Amazon-orchestrated campaign, citing a policy violation.
The ads depict Amazon employees regurgitating standard anti-union lines: Everything is fine as is, unions do nothing but take people’s money, etc. According to pro-union publication More Perfect Union, the ads ran before and during streams watched by viewers in Alabama.
Over the past couple days, numerous streamers have spoken out against the ads.
“Amazon running anti-union propaganda is heinous and beyond despicable,” Twitch partner Saira said on Twitter. “ I’m no longer running ads in my stream until I get to choose them. Please use adblock on my channel! Chat will keep you entertained during the purple screen in the meantime.”
“This is abhorrent, despicable, and absolutely unacceptable,” said Twitch partner and StreamerSquare CEO Lowco. “I will not be running ads on my channel so long as Twitch allows for these anti-union spots. Hell no.”
It’s not surprising that Amazon tried to exploit one group of workers, streamers, in order to stifle organizing efforts by another. The mega-corporation has been absolutely dogged in its efforts to undermine workers in the majority-Black city of Bessemer, who are in the process of voting on whether or not to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), with votes being counted until March 30.
According to reports, Amazon has plastered the warehouse itself with anti-union propaganda and text-blasted employees, telling them to vote “no.” Management has apparently threatened to fire workers engaged in organizing. Vice reported that Amazon recently mailed pamphlets full of anti-union messaging to employees and instructed them to drop their votes in a US Postal Service mailbox that recently appeared outside the warehouse. Employees suspect that Amazon is trying to use the mailbox as a means of monitoring them. Oh, and then there was the time in January when Amazon tried to postpone the vote and make it an in-person event during a global pandemic.
The RWDSU sees the Twitch ads as part of this larger pattern.
“Amazon feels that it has to go to extremes like this in order to gaslight its workers about the dreadful working conditions at its Bessemer warehouse,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum told Kotaku in an email. “Amazon is leaving no stone unturned—including ads on Twitch—in its efforts to deceive and intimidate their employees into voting against the union.”
Streamers are concerned about the precedent this sets not just for unionizing warehouse workers but also for themselves, should they ever attempt to unionize or create some form of collective bargaining organization in light of their own long work hours and unfavorable pay rates.
“This absolutely sets a tone that [Amazon and Twitch] wouldn’t support the unionization of streamers,” streamer and activist Natasha “Zombaekillz” Zinda told Kotaku in a DM. “Paying people livable wages and assuring them the bare minimum of care to do their jobs effectively shouldn’t even need unions, BUT HERE WE ARE.”
Glam Shatterskull, a streamer who declared himself and his community “pro-workers’ rights” in response to the ads, said there is “without a doubt” reason to be concerned about what would happen if streamers tried to unionize. “One has to wonder why, if Amazon is such a fair company, they would spend so much money to contest a union representing their workers,” he told Kotaku in an email.
Streamers have come away from this fiasco feeling like, if nothing else, the option to opt out of specific ads on Twitch is long overdue.
“Twitch should absolutely start providing streamers with opt-out options for advertisements that are not conducive to the streamers’ branding,” said Zinda. “If they need us to succeed for their success, this should be a priority. Things like not showing adult-themed ads in family-friendly streams and not showing ads that could be considered recruiting for streams with kids in them are at the top of this list.”
“I think most sensible streamers understand that ads are vital to the sustainability of Twitch as it currently stands,” said Shatterskull. “Being able to opt in or out of certain ad campaigns would be extremely empowering. However, I do not personally think Twitch has marketed itself to a degree where it can offer streamers that much flexibility. It is ultimately discouraging to know an ad with this type of real-world off-Twitch influence is being shown on my channel completely unbeknownst to me.”