Following several reports of a toxic workplace and abuse this year, Twitch today announced the introduction of a new hateful content and harassment policy for its streamer community that will go into effect on Jan. 22, 2021. Under the updated guidelines, Twitch’s Safety team will change the way it evaluates potentially violating content. The company says it will now focus less on the perceived intent of a streamer’s statements or actions, and more on the content itself as well as its impact. Twitch also expanded, clarified and toughened the guidelines around hateful conduct and harassment, including sexual harassment, which now has its own section.
As Twitch notes in a blog post detailing the new policy, “words and actions have meaning and impact, even if your intent is not meant to be hurtful or cause harm.”
The company explains that even if the streamer and the target of the harassment isn’t bothered by what took place, others in the Twitch community may be. So Twitch will evaluate a streamer’s behavior based on whether it’s abusive and in violation of the company’s guidelines, rather than only on the intent.
Twitch says it may also take into consideration other factors when making determinations of punitive actions, including the reports from the targeted user or a mod team as well as other indications a behavior was unwanted, like a channel time-out or ban, as needed.
The new policy additionally makes clearer that certain behaviors are considered harassment and are prohibited. This includes claiming that the victim of a well-documented violent tragedy is a crisis actor or lying; encouraging others to DDoS, hack, dox or swat another person; and inciting malicious raids of another person’s social media accounts. This means that even off-platform behavior is being wrapped into these new guidelines.
Twitch is also adding “caste,” “color” and “immigration status” to its list of identity characteristics it uses to determine what’s considered hateful content. The list already includes protected characteristics like race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, serious medical condition and veteran status.
While hate speech and symbols were already banned on Twitch, the guidelines now explicitly ban hate groups, membership in hate groups, and the sharing of hate group propaganda. It’s also banning black/brown/yellow/redface, unless being shown in an “explicitly educational context.” (This is not meant to be a new change, but rather the language here has been made clearer, Twitch says.)
In another notable change, displaying the Confederate flag is now prohibited given its “historic and symbolic association with slavery and white supremacist groups in the U.S.”
Sometimes, harassment may not be as obvious, so the new policy looks for ways users try to get away with abuse by using emotes instead of text. Under the updated policy, the way combinations of emotes are used will also be considered when the Safety team is reviewing malicious content — even if no text was involved.
Meanwhile, following complaints from the community about being too lax on sexual harassment, the new policy will now also break out sexual harassment under its own section and lower the bar as to what’s considered objectifying or harassing behavior.
New changes of note here include repeatedly commenting on someone’s perceived attractiveness — even if this is intended as a compliment — if the commenter has been given an indication that it’s unwelcome. This could mean the commenter has already been asked to stop, timed-out or channel-banned. Twitch will also prohibit making lewd or explicit comments about anyone’s sexuality or physical appearance — with no exception for public figures. Sending unwanted or unsolicited links to nude images and videos is also prohibited.
Twitch says it will soon offer three live sessions on different dates before the policy goes into effect, where it will walk creators through the various changes and give them a chance to ask questions. These will be later available on-demand, too. The first is at 10 a.m. on 12/11 on /CreatorCamp, followed by a 10 a.m. session on /twitch on 12/16, then a 12 p.m. session on /CreatorCamp on Jan. 1, 2021.
The company is not necessarily changing the penalties associated with various behaviors. But, because the policy is more detailed, Twitch believes it will be able to better tailor a punitive action to the appropriate level with regard to the severity of the violation. For instance, lower severity violations may receive a warning or a lighter suspension, while the most severe actions will result in indefinite suspensions, even on a first offense.
The blog post answers other questions about the rollout of the policy, like how older content is handled or how Twitch will handle harassment when reports aren’t filed, for example, among other things. (The policy will only apply to new content created on or after Jan. 22; reports from someone are needed for Twitch to take action, as it wants to avoid punishing users in situations where banter or trash talk was welcome).
Of course, many may wonder how well Twitch will be able to properly enforce its new guidelines, given that its own corporate culture has been called out in the recent past as being toxic and abusive.
Several reports from former and current Twitch employees have documented Twitch executives and staff engaging in or ignoring issues like sexism, racism, harassment and other abuse both in the workplace and in the broader Twitch community. That raises the question as to how well can a company — a place where men allegedly referred to women streamers as “boob streamers,” for example, or assaulted their coworkers — properly enforce a sexual harassment policy? At Twitch, when a coworker called a colleague the c-word and spat on her, a manager asked what she did to deserve it, one report claimed. Many women also described sexual assault in the workplace, including groping, forced kisses and unwanted massages.
Twitch has a history of making bad choices in other areas, too — like featuring a Black Lives Matter support video where only one line was spoken by a Black streamer; a Pride celebration video where Twitch said the “G” also stood for “gamer;” and the release of Hispanic Heritage Month emotes that allowed users to add sombreros or maracas to their emotes, as reported by Gamesindustry.biz.
The company says the policy rewrite had been underway since the beginning of the year, but the recent conversations with the community, including those about the sexual misconduct allegations, “absolutely informed” the changes.
Earlier this year, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear publicly posted a memo to staff that promised people’s voices had been heard on these matters, and that the company aimed to make changes. This policy is one step in that direction but Twitch still has a lot more to prove.