Earlier this week, Twitch suspended a streamer named Quqco for wearing a cosplay of Street Fighter heroine Chun-Li on stream, deeming her outfit “sexually suggestive.” This took Quqco—and many others—by surprise, given that the outfit was not overtly risqué. But this was not an isolated incident. In the past few days, Twitch has been cracking down on so-called “sexually suggestive” content more aggressively than usual, and picking some questionable targets for its crusade.
In addition to Quqco, several other notable streamers have received suspensions or warnings from Twitch about sexually suggestive content in the past few days. Late last week, IRL streamer Bridgett Devoue was given a three-day suspension for “sharing or engaging in sexually suggestive content or activities,” but Twitch did not elaborate any further. Over the weekend, Overwatch streamer Fareeha got hit with a warning (and a 90-day probationary period) after wearing a sports bra and baggy shorts at the gym. Also over the weekend, art streamer Saruei found herself on the wrong side of a warning for drawing “nudes,” despite the fact that her characters—while hentai-inspired and scantily clad—are clothed. Today, Twitch suspended her for three days.
Lastly and most strangely, the weekend also saw Twitch take aim at Spongebob: Battle For Bikini Bottom streamer Shift’s emote of Spongebob ripping his pants, a reference to a classic episode of the long-running Nickelodeon series in which Spongebob gets a laugh by accidentally ripping his pants and then does it repeatedly until the joke loses its luster. This, too, was “sexual,” in Twitch’s eyes, and the emote was disallowed.
Nobody’s entirely sure what to make of the latest spate of suspensions. This is in part because, as ever, Twitch has failed to lay out a consistent roadmap of what streamers should do to stay on the right side of the rules. For example, Fareeha’s warning specifically accused her of wearing “underwear or lingerie,” when she was, in reality, wearing baggy gym clothes in a setting where you’d expect to see them. Twitch’s guidelines around what streamers can and cannot wear are vague and contextual; the sort of attire Fareeha was wearing might not have cut it if a streamer was broadcasting from their bedroom, but streamers regularly wear gym clothes in the gym. Some men even go shirtless. It’s not clear why Twitch singled out Fareeha.
Fareeha is as confused as anyone, and tired of the inconsistency. “I’m aware another streamer was just recently banned for a cosplay that showed a little bit of leg,” Fareeha told Kotaku in an email, referring to Quqco. “It baffles me that she and I are the people getting reprimanded for ‘not sticking to TOS’ while others who have honestly done way worse go under the radar.”
“How can they ban her for showing some thigh, and put me on probation for showing shoulders, when there are streamers who have shown way more private things?” Fareeha said. “All the power to the girls who can showcase their bodies with confidence; the successful ‘titty streamers’ that have gotten so much flak in the wake of the recent ban/warning waves are genuinely not the issue. The big problem here is the inconsistency with which Twitch approaches these bans.”
While Fareeha does not have concrete evidence of this, she suspects foul play. She said that she’s been harassed before by a YouTuber with a Discord dedicated to harassment of select streamers, and that there are other “troll Discords” that often target women and members of the LGBT+ community. One common tactic these groups share is mass usage of Twitch’s reporting tool. Earlier this year, Fareeha received a hate speech suspension that she now chalks up to mass reporting after a controversial moment in which she said that South American Overwatch players “are shit.” She apologized shortly afterward, but Twitch still suspended her for 30 days. Fareeha disputed the suspension and got it shortened. In the meantime, people flooded her Discord with harassing messages.
“The people responsible for it were saying disgusting, racist, sexist and homophobic things about me on all kinds of platforms, and when I needed Twitch for support and help, I was the one who got punished for it,” she said.
While Twitch’s process for meting out warnings and suspensions is purposefully opaque, Fareeha suspects that Twitch acts on reports that reach a certain critical mass more quickly than others.
“Mass reports seem automatically actioned sometimes, and it really offers the streamer no protection when real people aren’t the ones processing reports from potential trolls,” she said. “That being said, if my case was looked at by an actual person, there’s definitely something more to it. Whether it’s personal bias, some kind of sexism or whatever other ‘ism’ it could be, it’s clear that Twitch has let the [terms of service]-breaking actions of many others slide, while I get penalized for wearing long shorts and a sports bra so big it’s practically a crop top.”
Bridgett Devoue also thinks it’s possible that she was mass reported, but doesn’t believe that was necessarily the cause of her suspension. Her streams generally involve her sitting in a chair and talking to her chat while wearing a crop top, short shorts, and stockings. This has earned her the ire of groups like the popular subreddit and drama haven Livestreamfail, a place where users have sometimes been known to brag about reporting streamers who they perceive as violating Twitch’s terms of service. There, women are often derided as “titty streamers” or “Twitch thots.”
Devoue said she tends to avoid reading Livestreamfail because she has no desire to marinate in all the hate. Instead, she believes her suspension was the result of an “over-correction” on Twitch’s part, rooted in “backlash” stemming from other recent controversies.
“I’m an active user on Twitter, and I constantly see users frustrated at some streamers seemingly getting away with acts others would be banned for, and even comments of favoritism towards female streamers,” she told Kotaku in a Twitter DM. “I hope if anything, this recent wave of bans quiets those still saying women get special treatment on this platform, because sometimes it feels like the opposite.”
While Twitch has not specified which element of Devoue’s stream it found to be so sexual that it caused the rulebook to explode, Devoue believes it might have been her chat, which she says recently expanded from hundreds of concurrents to thousands thanks to increased exposure and a sudden popularity growth spurt. This made moderating chat a precariously tall order for her then-smaller moderation staff, and some potentially objectionable comments slipped through the cracks.
“I simply wasn’t prepared for situations that began arising due to increased chat participation,” she said. “To be clear, I always ban racism, slurs, homophobia, sexism, or violence. The grey area for me was comments of a sexual nature, as I’m an open person not afraid to talk about almost any topic, including sex. I believe we can always have mature dialogue about almost any topic, and maybe find the humor in otherwise serious things. I disdain censorship outside of violent hate speech, so it’s been hard for me to find that balance while growing as a streamer.”
But again, Twitch didn’t actually tell her whether or not that’s why she got suspended. She’s since brought on more moderators and listened to advice from other streamers, but she remains in the dark, just like everybody else.
“I think what makes these bans difficult to define is Twitch caring about context more than anything,” Devoue said. “For example, you can stream in a bikini, but only if it’s for use by a pool, not just sitting in your apartment. Nudity in a video game is allowed, to an extent, but nudity elsewhere is not. Again, I just think warnings and specificities after the bans would help all of us streamers know exactly what Twitch wants, and how we can safely be within their boundaries and make their lives easier by not breaking [terms of service]. To be fair, I’m sure this is all a lot more complicated than simply explaining things more, and I commend Twitch’s efforts in this matter.”
Saruei, who was suspended for drawing “nude” characters, declined to speak to Kotaku out of concern that she could face further repercussions from Twitch. However, prior to her recent suspension, she spoke out against what she feels is “hypocrisy” on Twitch’s part. Suggestive poses apparently aren’t allowed in her drawings, she said, but it’s fine when some people do them IRL.
“These are suggestive poses, right?” she said of her own art while discussing her Twitch warning during a recent (now-unavailable) stream. “We agree with that, right? Why I can’t draw waifus like this when there is fucking Twitch girls that can do it?”
She went on to express frustration about the lack of clarity that she, like others, has had to deal with. “I hope it won’t happen again, because I asked them ‘What is the problem with these drawings?’” she said. “Is it the clothing or the pose? What is against Twitch guidelines? I need to know.”
Today, she did receive some clarity—and also a suspension. In an email she read on stream before the suspension went into effect, Twitch said that her characters’ poses and the “focus on the butt in particular” constituted a no-go zone. She was also told not to promote her stream with titles focusing on “lewd art.”
As for Shift, he was baffled when Twitch first placed a “RIP” tombstone atop his Spongebob-with-ripped-pants emote. “You’re joking, right?” he said on Twitter at the time, posting an image of his “sexual content” violation. “Honestly Twitch, get fucking real. When I go around and see horny boobie emotes everywhere on this site, but I can’t have the iconic Spongebob pants rip as an emote, that’s how you know we’ve got top-tier moderation and guidelines on this website.”
According to Twitch’s guidelines, streamers are not allowed to have custom emotes that depict “sexualized torsos or bodily fluids,” but Shift’s emote was laughably un-sexual in nature and, if we really want to dive into the weeds and/or kelp of this one, didn’t even include an actual butt—just a square backside and some torn pants. Fortunately, it seems like this story might have a happy ending. Yesterday, Shift said on Twitter that his Twitch partner representative is trying to defuse the situation, and another Twitch staffer told him that his emote’s exile should be short-lived. For now, however, the emote is still banned.
Kotaku reached out to Twitch for comment on all of these warnings and suspensions, but did not receive a reply as of this publishing.
These recent occurrences have caught the eyes of other streamers, who’ve had to deal with Twitch’s inconsistency and relative silence for years. At this point, they’re pleading for change.
“Honestly, Twitch is just the most exhausting thing to try to understand,” Rainbow Six, Overwatch, and Minecraft streamer Annemunition said on Twitter. “You can’t draw 2D breasts on stream but you can literally get naked and put paint on your actual breasts and that’s fine. For the record, I don’t have a problem with either. But it just makes no sense. It just feels like you can get away with anything if you make Twitch enough money, and I hate it, even as someone who probably falls in that category. I don’t have a solution, I’m just annoyed with the way Twitch is handling everything the past few weeks.”
“It’s really disappointing after the whole ‘We’re taking [terms of service] seriously now’ thing last year,” said Just Dance streamer Littlesiha in response, referring to Twitch’s 2018 efforts to revamp its community guidelines and a now-notorious comment asking that streamers and viewers “hold us accountable.”
These incidents have caused others to make note of hypocrisy not just on Twitch’s part, but also within its community. “Twitch bans female streamer for wearing revealing clothing, and the [Livestreamfail] community rejoices,” said satirical streamer Kaceytron on Twitter. “Twitch bans hentai and the LSF community is outraged. Figures.”
Regardless of what they’re cheering for or against, however, pretty much everybody agrees that Twitch needs to give its approach to warnings, suspensions, dress codes, and other related subjects an overhaul. Maybe that means a series of set-in-stone specifics. Maybe that means a case law-like system where public precedents stemming from previous judgements inform future rulings. Whatever the case ends up being, the current system—overly vague and open to exploitation from bad actors—isn’t working.
“If people are getting banned for ‘sexual content’ with no further explanation, they could easily look at hundreds of other streamers doing so called ‘sexual content’ but not being banned, which might create resentment among their streamers and viewers, which I doubt is something Twitch is intending to do,” said Devoue.
As for Fareeha, she may not feel like her probationary period is warranted, but she’s at least trying to take it in stride.
“I’ve ordered several turtlenecks, ski masks and bodysuits,” she said. “I’ve pulled off some tech tricks, and for the rest of my 90 day probation, I will cover myself up a ridiculous amount. Partially in protest, but mostly in good humor. I’m going to make the most out of whatever they throw at me. They can’t ban me for showing my body if I’ve ascended and turned into a holographic AI head.”