Twitch outlaws 'simp' and 'incel' as sexually disparaging insults

(Image credit: Twitch)

Last week Twitch announced changes to its hateful conduct and harassment policy that will, among other things, impose a ban on the Confederate flag, blackface, and unwelcome sexual comments. Many of the changes were simply a clarification of regulations that already exist, presumably aimed at closing the door on people claiming ignorance of the rules when they break them. Twitch also said that it would "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.

To help ease everyone into the new system, which will take effect in January, Twitch scheduled three livestreams intended to explain them in detail and answer any questions that might come up. The second livestream, "Town Hall: Overview of the Policy and Enforcement," took place today, and raised some questions when Twitch COO Sara Clemens said the words "simp" and "incel" will no longer be allowed "as insults" under the new policy.

"Using terms like 'simp,' 'incel,' and 'virgin' as an insult—to negatively refer to another person's sexual activity—is not allowed under this new policy," Clemens says in the clip above. "In addition to the policy change, we're also proactively denying emotes that include the term 'simp.' And we remove them when reported, and we'll keep doing that once the policy changes."

Twitch's updated content policies include a new "Sexual Harassment" category, separate and distinct from the current "Harassment" category, which carries a general proscription again "unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment, and sexual bullying." The new policy is a much more detailed breakdown of unacceptable behaviors, including "making derogatory statements about another person's perceived sexual practices or sexual morality." 

That includes:

  • Alleging that a person is sexually immoral due to their attire or physical appearance
  • Stating that a person’s attire reflects negatively on their sexual practices
  • Suggesting that a person’s channel is only popular or has not been banned due to sexual favors
  • Repeatedly negatively targeting another person with sexually-focused terms, such as ‘whore’ or ‘virgin’

Some pointed out after the stream was over that "simp" has evolved into a very widely used, catch-all insult for anyone who's nice to women on the internet (and by definition doesn't have any sexual connotations to begin with), while "incel" is often used as a self-descriptor. Others wondered why Twitch would crack down on them, while other, far more overtly offensive terms and slurs are allowed.

Racist slurs are forbidden, however: The updated policies specifically forbid "Using hateful slurs, either untargeted or directed towards another individual." It does allow for the use of some banned words or terms "in an empowering way or as terms of endearment when such intent is clear," however, and Twitch said in a statement that it will a similar approach to these terms.

"We will take action against the use of terms like 'simp,' 'incel,' or 'virgin' specifically when they are being used to negatively refer to another person’s sexual practices. Using these terms on their own wouldn’t lead to an enforcement but we would take action if they were used repeatedly in a harassing manner," a Twitch rep said.

"We deny emotes related to these terms and take them down when they are reported to us. We have a stricter policy on emotes overall because they can be used across Twitch so we take more proactive measures to minimize the potential for harm."

That approach seems to fit with Twitch's promise to take a context-focused approach to enforcement—looking at the content of statements rather than just "perceived intent." It's inherently a bit vague as a result, and I'd expect further tweaks and clarifications after the updated hateful conduct and harassment policy goes live on January 22, but as a general movement toward cracking down on abuse I think it's a step in the right direction.

Thanks, @slasher.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.