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Twitch bans the Confederate flag, blackface, and unwelcome sexual comments

Kaceytron

Kaceytron, above, was suspended from Twitch in March 2020 for engaging in "hateful conduct." (Image credit: Kaceytron)

Twitch will make changes to its hateful conduct and harassment policies in January that will see it adopt an increased focus on sexual harassment and attacks against "identity-based attributes." The update will also bring about a ban of the Confederate flag on the platform, because of its "historic and symbolic association with slavery and white supremacist groups."

Some of the policy updates are aimed at more explicitly detailing behaviors that are already prohibited on Twitch, presumably with an eye to making it more difficult for those who fall afoul of the rules to claim ignorance. The Safety team will also "look at the content of statements or actions in order to determine whether a behavior is abusive and violates our guidelines, rather than relying solely on perceived intent" under the new rules.

"As a consequence of this, our assessment of some areas, including some types of harassment, may rely on indications that a behavior is unwanted, including channel time-outs, bans or reports from the targeted user or a mod team. This will provide us with the necessary context to ensure we aren’t punishing people for good natured or competitive banter that is accepted in some communities," Twitch explained. "That said, we’ll continue to weigh both the perspective of the reporter and the content under review to reach a determination."

The update will add a new "Sexual Harassment" category to Twitch's current hateful conduct and harassment policies, with "a much lower tolerance for objectifying or harassing behavior." This will include things like repeated unwelcome comments on a streamer's attractiveness, lewd or explicit comments about sexuality or appearance, or sending unwanted links to nude images or videos.

The hateful conduct policy is also being expanded to include caste, color, and immigration status as protected characteristics, "to ensure we are evolving with our global community and providing sufficient protection for under-represented groups." The malicious use of emote combinations, even without text, will also be included in the updated policies, and any display of the Confederate flag, including streamers showing the flag in livestreams, is prohibited—which, given its popularity (particularly in some parts of North America) could prove to challenging to enforce.

"Hate speech and symbols have always been prohibited, and we’ve added explicit language banning hate groups, membership in hate groups, and sharing of hate group propaganda. We’ve also specifically prohibited black/brown/yellow/redface unless they are being used in an explicitly educational context," Twitch said. "Again this is not new, but the new guidelines will make the standard clearer for everyone."

To ensure that everyone has time to process and prepare for the changes, the update won't take effect until January 22, 2021, and Twitch clarified that the changes will only apply to content created on or after that date. Prior to that, there will be three livestreamed sessions explaining the changes in detail and answering any questions that may come up.

  • 12/11 Creator Camp: Deep Dive on the Policy (10am on /CreatorCamp) - While it’s called “Creator Camp,” the entire Community is invited! Join us for a live discussion of key policy changes. We’ll also answer questions from chat. 
  • 12/16 Town Hall: Overview of the Policy and Enforcement (10am on/twitch) - We will discuss safety on Twitch, our goals for this new policy, and answer questions from chat. 
  • 1/6 Creator Camp: Reviewing FAQ since Launch (12pm on/CreatorCamp) - We’ll return to the Creator Camp stage to do a rundown of frequently asked questions since the policy was announced and provide an opportunity to ask any last questions before enforcement begins. 

VODs of all three streams will be available after they've concluded.

The reaction to the announcement on Twitter is all over the map. Many respondents see it as a worthwhile step in the right direction, but others criticize it as insufficient or uneven, and of course there's plenty of doubt about how (or whether) the new rules will be applied, particular with regard to top streamers.

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"These changes are intended to better protect the community, not to be punitive, so we are sharing them before the updated policy goes into effect to ensure you have adequate time to understand what is changing," Twitch said. "During this education period, our Safety team will continue to moderate content using the existing guidelines."

Twitch's updated hateful conduct and harassment policies are available in full at twitch.tv.