A Twitch user’s misogynist rant has brought the streaming platform’s standards under scrutiny. Last week, professional streamer Trainwrecks lashed out at a group of female Twitch users he deemed “sluts,” telling his audience to “put the pussy where it belongs, on the fucking ground.” Trainwrecks is a member of Twitch’s Partner program, which Twitch bills as an “exclusive” club that lets streamers run paid channels among other perks. The clip spread across Twitter and YouTube, and Twitch temporarily suspended Trainwrecks for hate speech — but said nothing about its de facto endorsement of him. Instead of making the company’s position clear, the move has only heightened long-standing confusion over Twitch policies — without taking a lasting stand against sexism.
As Polygon pointed out in a report this week, many Twitch streamers find the site’s moderation policies erratic. The platform guidelines say first- or second-time offenders are usually banned for 24 hours, with third-time offenders suspended indefinitely, but the exact period is up to Twitch; Trainwrecks, for instance, was suspended for five days over what by his description was a second offense. Lead community manager Aureylian has said that not all punishments are visible bans. The actual policies can also sound confusing, like a rule against “non-gaming” content — which seemingly conflicts with the site’s openness to “IRL” streaming. Since Polygon’s report, Twitch has said it’s removing this specific section of its policy, and revising the list of banned “non-endemic” content.
But since Twitch doesn’t comment on individual cases, it’s impossible to tell why one user might get a warning while another user is banned, which fosters mistrust and suspicion. In this case, it’s exacerbated animosity toward the target of Trainwrecks’ speech: female Twitch users who emphasize sex appeal rather than gaming prowess. Although Trainwrecks issued an apology, Reddit commenters jumped in to support him, claiming Twitch singled him out while letting “self-proclaimed camwhores” break its rules. These claims only intensified when Twitch issued a much shorter 24-hour ban to a female streamer over a sexually explicit video — something that clearer guidelines and more transparent moderation could have stymied.
The problems go beyond suspensions. Twitch approves partners on a case-by-case basis, based on things like high viewership and a consistent schedule. They’re required to follow the code of conduct, like other users. But it’s unclear whether Twitch holds partners’ behavior to a higher standard. Trainwrecks’ status wasn’t affected by this hate speech suspension, and Twitch didn’t respond to questions about whether any violation could affect it. Twitch could offer monetization options without the prestigious “partnership” language, which it’s arguably done with its lower-tier Affiliates program. For now, though, it’s tantamount to an official approval.
That’s one of the things that makes streamer Dennis White, Jr., who publicized Trainwrecks’ rant via Twitter, so frustrated. “There needs to be a stronger message sent to people who are supposedly representing the company,” he told The Verge in an email. “Is this what being a Twitch partner stands for?” Twitch has promoted diversity and inclusivity with events like “TwitchUnity” day, he says, but a quiet five-day suspension and continued partner endorsement doesn’t reinforce that message.
This incident is inextricable from the larger conversation on harassment and toxicity in games. Trainwrecks told Kotaku that his complaints applied to “the 0.1 percent [of women] that sexually exploit themselves for views and money” and “hide behind the defense or veil of sexism.” But women can be accused of “exploiting” their looks just by appearing in public. “I can’t wear on stream what I’d wear on a regular non-stream day, for fear of harassment/judgment,” tweeted musician and streamer Resurrection Fern. “If all the titty streamers were gone tomorrow, does anyone really think shitty people would stop degrading and insulting women?” asked streamer Renée Reynosa. “Truth is, they’d just find another hoop for us to jump through.”
Trainwrecks’ comments also evoked the (false) trope that gaming was once the pure province of awkward and usually male nerds, before being overrun with “the fucking god damn same sluts that rejected us,” as he ranted. And he didn’t just object to risque streams, he told viewers to hold all sex workers — and implicitly any woman they found attractive — in contempt. He acknowledged to Kotaku that his words had been “disgusting,” and praised “amazing female streamers that provide great content.” But the basic anger at sexy streamers seems unchanged, and it’s the same reasoning that lets trolls harass almost any female streamer for “manipulating” men.
Twitch didn’t create this controversy, but the company could address its fallout more seriously. Clearer, consistently enforced rules would make it more obvious what Twitch thinks belongs on Twitch, instead of leaving it up for debate among self-appointed gatekeepers. The platform could create a moderation team that’s more open about its actions. White also suggests preserving material that’s reported for rule violations, instead of deleting evidence. “There are people in those offices that care a lot,” he says of Twitch. “But if the issue continues to be spoken of as ‘the internet is just being the internet,’ then I will be disappointed.”