Twitch is overhauling its policies against hateful conduct and harassment as it tries to make its live streaming platform more hospitable to women, minority groups, and LGBTQIA+ users.
The new policies, which will apply to all content created on or after January 22, 2021, include recognition of the Confederate flag as a hate symbol and suspension for anyone who makes sexually objectifying statements or sex-based insults, even for a first offense.
In a blog post, Twitch said the new policies are a result of a “months-long process” of research and consultation with industry experts and its community.
“We know that many people on Twitch—particularly women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Black, Indigenous, and people of color—unfortunately continue to experience a disproportionate amount of harassment and abuse online, including on our service,” the blog post reads. “Not only is this blatantly unacceptable, it also undermines the community we’re building on Twitch and threatens the long term viability of streaming as a career for everyone who wishes to pursue it.”
Harassment and hate speech have been long-standing issues for Twitch, for social media sites in general, and for the gaming community in particular. Twitch has also faced allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and racism within the company itself, and in June, a group of prominent streamers conducted a one-day blackout on the platform to protest Twitch’s inaction.
Twitch’s other new policies against hate speech include an explicit ban on belonging to a hate group or sharing hate group propaganda, along with rules against using combinations of emote images as a proxy for racist comments. Twitch will also recognize caste, color, and immigration status as characteristics that are protected against hate speech.
To curb sexual harassment on the platform, Twitch says it will ban repeated comments on someone’s attractiveness if they’re unwelcome, as indicated, for instance, by the user being told to stop. The company also now explicitly forbids sending unwanted nude photos or videos to other users and making lewd or suggestive comments about a streamer’s physical appearance—including for public figures.
Twitch is trying to cut down on generally malicious behavior as well. Encouraging people to attack someone via hacking, doxxing, or swatting will be explicitly banned, as will encouraging harassment on someone’s other social media profiles. Also, users won’t be able claim someone is lying or “crisis acting” about being the victim of a violent tragedy if it’s well-documented.
Twitch, which Amazon acquired for $970 million in 2014, previously updated its guidelines in early 2018, making clear that hateful conduct can get users immediately and indefinitely suspended. The company says that its new policies will help moderators make decisions based on content, rather than having to make judgment calls about whether a user intended to cause harm. To that end, Twitch says it will lean more on streamers and their viewers to indicate when behavior is unwanted through actions like reporting hateful behavior or banning users from an individual channel.
The new policies seem like a step toward addressing some of Twitch’s long-standing problems with harassment and hate speech, though they’ll almost certainly be met by cries of censorship from some corners of the internet as well. How Twitch reacts between now and January 22 will be something to watch.