Earlier this week, Twitch streamer and VTuber Shylily was banned for three days and given no clear reason why. Her story mirrors those of many other high-profile streamers who, due to Twitch's policy against explaining its reasons for issuing bans, are left guessing what they did wrong.
"I find it absolutely wild that you sign a contract with this company but they hold the right to basically throw you off their platform without needing to let you know why specifically," Shylily told me.
Shylily, who has about 20,000 subscribers and averages around 8,000 viewers per day, isn't sure what part of her most recent VRChat streams, or any of her streams from the last few months, could have provoked the ban. She received an email from Twitch that simply said she broke the terms of service on a live broadcast or a VOD.
According to Twitch's suspension policy (opens in new tab), it will issue warnings to streamers depending on the type of violation, but it can also suspend anyone immediately, even mid-stream in some cases. Twitch uses a three-strike system for DMCA warnings, but Shylily says she has only received one before, so it seems unlikely that copyrighted material was the issue. I emailed Twitch about Shylily's ban and didn't receive a response before publishing this article.
Shylily's streams regularly include what she calls (opens in new tab) "bro" and "lewd" humor, and have shown suggestive fan art. She's also a VTuber, which means she exclusively represents herself as a 2D and 3D avatar. In its guidelines (opens in new tab) for nudity and sexual content, Twitch says that "augmented reality avatars" must abide by the same rules as everyone else. Shylily thinks her new VRChat model could be the problem.
Shylily's new VRChat model, which she says she paid around $8,000 for and "was gonna build future content based on it," lets her remove her outer layer of clothes and only show the tiny bikini underneath. It gives her a similar look to streamers who go live from their pools or hot tubs (opens in new tab), but viewers suspect the revealing outfit and her suggestive antics on one of her most recent streams could have triggered the ban. The archive of the stream is unavailable, but Reddit user ReddishCat posted a clip (opens in new tab) where you can see her dancing in the outfit while on a beach.
Shylily said it's possible that it wasn't "blatantly obvious enough that we were at the beach despite the water and sand everywhere" and therefore "the bikini toggle might have been against [Twitch's terms of service]."
She told me it could also be a number of things she talked about on the stream, including a joke about pegging or referring to PornHub as "orange YouTube", which she says could make Twitch think she's promoting NSFW content. But it's still unclear if the violation was in one of her most recent streams or one of the many others.
"I'm always under the impression that, as long as you don’t make things sensual or straight up sexual without context and just have fun and laugh and enjoy your time, you’ll be fine," she said.
"IRL streamers are allowed to paint their full nude bodies with nothing but their nipples covered, take showers in string bikinis exposing their entire behinds, rub themselves with body wash and bath bubbles all over their body in a sensual manner with every sub on a 4K viewer count stream as they proceed to chat for hours sitting in a bathtub," she said in her defense.
Shylily used Twitch's ban appeal system, but was denied. She also opened a ticket, and that too was denied. "Not knowing what caused the ban makes it very difficult to avoid in the future," she said.
❌ Twitch Partner "Shylily" has been banned! ❌https://t.co/qBDCTvE73W#twitch #ban #firstban #partner #twitchpartner 🔅August 15, 2022
The three-day ban, while brief compared to some of Twitch's stronger punishments, has left Shylily locked out of her account, unable to view her Twitch Partner contract, and restricted from streaming on YouTube as an alternative (per her contract). She says the break will lose her the hundreds of subscriptions she expected to receive in that period, but that she'll be fine.
"But I can very well imagine streamers who barely make months end, without any savings to put aside, having a very tough and frustrating time!" she said.
Shylily and the many other streamers who make a living on the platform are frustrated with Twitch's lack of communication when it comes to abrupt suspensions. In May (opens in new tab), the streaming site said it was looking into providing more context with the bans it sends out, but hasn't made any further announcements about implementing this policy. At the time, Twitch said it stood by the accuracy of 99% of its suspension decisions.
In 2020, Dr Disrespect was permanently banned for a reason that he says Twitch never explained to him. His lawsuit against the platform fizzled out (opens in new tab) in March when he posted a message to Twitter that read: "No party admits to any wrongdoing." That same month, controversial Just Chatting streamer Destiny was indefinitely banned and was also given no reason from Twitch. Although both streamers had offensive clips to point to, Twitch's refusal to communicate means it never has to defend its decisions.
Clara "Keffals" Sorrenti, a trans streamer who was recently banned (opens in new tab) from Twitch for 28 days, said she was mass reported by users for planning to show and discuss examples of the harassment she receives. Her ban appeal was rejected by Twitch and the company didn't respond.
Many see Twitch's silence as intentional obfuscation so it can do whatever it wants. As a result, bans to popular streamers, however short, spark debates over what the violation could have been and whether or not the platform has a double standard for different types of streams and streamers. Last year, a Twitch data breach revealed that it used to keep a 'do not ban' list (opens in new tab) of big streamers to prevent undue bans, so it's clear the company was willing to selectively deploy its rules when desired.
As the streaming juggernaut grows (opens in new tab)—Twitch says over 15 million new people went live in 2021—there's a lot of pressure for the platform to better support the users who put it on top and to prevent the spread of hate (opens in new tab) toward its marginalized community members.
Several of the biggest streamers, including LilyPichu, Myth, DrLupo and TimTheTatman, have left Twitch to sign exclusivity deals with YouTube. While their absence hasn't left much of a dent in Twitch's streaming dominance, its most successful streamers don't appear to be as committed to the platform as it would probably like.
Shylily will return to Twitch on Thursday, but will likely stay off VRChat. She posted a tweet (opens in new tab) with the hashtag "#FreeLily" and a video that jokingly promises a start to her "seiso," or pure, era while a series of raunchy clips play.
⚠️UNBAN ANNOUNCEMENT⚠️Please come witness my seiso Era!https://t.co/Q3DH9CbWvq August 18th 4:29PM CESTBe there or be squarepeepeepoopoo#FreeLilywomp womp pic.twitter.com/24ly9jmrmHAugust 17, 2022
"I really do want Twitch to be a good place. Really," she said. "I enjoy Twitch culture a lot more than YouTube's," she said, but she also feels that YouTube is "a lot safer" than Twitch, and suggests that's why YouTube is able to lure big streamers away from the platform.