We reported last week about a weird but amusing partnership between Twitch, KFC, and various streamers that offered viewers a chance to win free chicken dinners—real-world food, not the "winner winner" kind—simply by using a new "KFC Bucket emote" in Twitch chat. Basically, when a participating influencer wins a match, everyone who spams the bucket emote will be entered into a draw for a $20 gift card. Other prizes to be won include a Colonel Sanders ghillie suit, a survival spork, and a "med kit," which is basically a KFC bucket filled with gift cards.
It all sounds reasonably clever, slightly silly, and perfectly innocuous, and of course the whole thing went sideways very quickly. The problem, as streamer Mychal "Trihex" Jefferson explained on Twitter, is the racist connotations of fried chicken and the fact that its potential for abuse never occurred to anyone before the emote was rolled out.
"I feel bad for POCs right now on Twitch who can't look past that," he said during a stream. "Come on. Between Snickers and that one, someone's got to get it together. I'm laughing because I'm dying inside. Do no black people work at Twitch?"
My viral reaction to "WinnerWinner" KFC Bucket Emote being global on Twitch."I feel bad for People Of Color right now on Twitch" pic.twitter.com/4spQRQ3AjUMarch 26, 2018
Trihex elaborated on the point in a couple of follow-up tweets, in which he said that even if the emote itself isn't inherently racist—and he doesn't believe it is—it's problematic because it gives racist trolls "more tools that will be be abused endlessly site-wide."
"Connotations of racial tropes (Blacks love chicken) doesn't phase me cuz I don't identify em as valid (Everyone loves chicken, plus KFC is low-tier trash anyway," he wrote. "BUT that doesn't stop this from being an issue combined w/ streamer accountability of their communities w/ new TOS."
Twitch's terms of service, updated last month, state that Twitch will not tolerate "conduct that encourages or condones hate or harassment in any way." And that applies not just to members of the community, but to the creators behind them as well.
"Creators are role models and leaders of the communities they create or foster around them. Creators should consider the consequences of their statements and actions of their audiences; we ask that you make a good faith effort to quell any efforts from those in your community to harass others," it says.
"Twitch should not be used to incite, encourage, promote, facilitate, or organize hateful conduct or harassment, whether on or off Twitch. We will suspend communities, organizations, and individuals that do so."
Trihex has a unique perspective on the matter: The face of the Trihard emote on Twitch is his, a fact he discussed in an April 2017 video about the lack of accountability on Twitch. Use of that emote recently led to the second suspension and subsequent release of former Dallas Fuel player Félix “xQc” Lengyel; it was also used abusively against Terrence "TerrenceM" Miller during his hot Hearthstone run at Dreamhack Austin in 2016.
A KFC rep disavowed the emote's racist connotations in an email statement but acknowledged that there were problems with its use. "We are aware of the instances of abuse of our emote to which we think you’re referring," the rep said. "We will never be enablers of bigotry, and we’re not going to tolerate our brand being used to bully or intimidate others."
The KFC Bucket emote has since been removed, not because of the racist abuse but because the PUBG promotion had come to an end. The big question now is how to avoid these missteps in the future: It may sometimes be difficult to predict what seemingly innocent images will be adopted for abusive purposes—Who could have foreseen that a cartoon frog would become a face of the alt-right?—but this one was obviously going to be abused by certain Twitch users who jump on every opportunity to spam racist stereotypes and slurs, especially when they can use contextual cues like pairing emotes with each other and what's occurring on a stream to ensure their meaning is obvious but not handled by bots.
Getting such behavior off Twitch seems like a matter of strict human moderation, then, as it's easy to circumvent word filters and still send abusive messagessome of them (like this one, for instance) should be obvious, particularly given the nature of Twitch chat.