In one of the most targeted and far-reaching social media guidelines issued by a major tech company, Twitch said it is beefing up its policy against hateful images on its platform and adding a ban on the Confederate flag. The new rules will take effect January 22.
Amazon’s livestreaming service, Twitch is home to millionaire content creators and billions of hours of video content watched every year. It also has a harassment problem, which the platform is seeking to address in Wednesday’s announcement.
Although Twitch previously banned hateful images, this is the first time blackface, swastikas and the Confederate flag have been specifically designated as out of bounds. The new language is also more explicit. “This is not new, but the new guidelines will make the standard clearer for everyone,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Twitch has been working on the policy since early 2020 and said it consulted social media experts and conducted research for months.
The company said it was announcing the policy weeks ahead of instituting it to give users ample time to understand what’s changed. The ban applies only to content posted on or after January 22.
In its announcement, Twitch acknowledged that “women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, Black, Indigenous and people of color unfortunately continue to experience a disproportionate amount of harassment and abuse online, including on our service,” a written post on its site read. That kind of harassment hurts people’s chances of pursuing livestreaming as a career, the company added.
Twitch said it is also improving its guidelines covering sexual harassment to ensure a lower tolerance for objectifying behavior. It will now ban repeated, unwelcome compliments about a person’s attractiveness, sexually explicit comments and unsolicited links to nude images.
The platform also indicated it would continue to permit the acerbic humor that some online communities are known for.
Insults meant as jokes will still be allowed, the company said, adding that it would rely on “indications that a behavior is unwanted” before taking any action against users whose posts have been reported. Depending on the circumstances, these may include time-outs, bans or suspensions, the company said.
The expanded guidelines forced Twitch to double the size of its safety operations team in 2020, although the platform declined to say how many such team members it employs.
“It’s questionable that banning [symbols like the Confederate flag] will overall transform behavior on the site,” said Ramesh Srinivasan, professor and author at UCLA. “We know that on platforms like Facebook and Twitter that more inflammatory content that is predicted to be attention-grabbing often goes viral.”
Twitch had a big year in 2020. Viewership hit 1.6 billion hours watched in October, double the amount compared to the same month last year, according to StreamElements. Twitch also attracted new talent with lucrative deals, banned some on its platform following a violation of its rules and fell under the scrutiny of the music industry for not paying artists to license songs. It also saw some unexpected users joining the platform, including US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the US Navy.