In response to the restriction of certain chat topics in US Army and Navy Esports streams; Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University represented political consultant and Twitch user, Jordan Uhl, in a letter sent to the US-sponsored Twitch channels. The letter firmly discusses the misrepresentation Uhl has received as the actions by these Twitch channels directly conflict with first amendment speech. The letter goes into the details of Uhl’s unlawful ban and reveals the reason for his ban. Using the phrase “war crime” was punishable by a ban with many other users suffering the same fate. A video by Esport insider, Rod “Slasher” Breslau, shows what these bans look like, how they were delivered and what the stream environment is.
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) July 8, 2020
In response to their decision to ban Uhl, the organizations tried to defend the ban by explaining how his messages were harassment to their players. Columbia responded to such an unscrupulous claim by citing the landmark supreme court case, NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. This 1982 civil rights court case ruled that states could not interfere with inalienable rights to boycott and speak freely. These issues are absolutely at the heart of what the first amendment is meant to protect. When the Twitch stream gave the justification for Uhl’s statement to be out of time and place, Columbia again cited another Supreme court case. Ward v. Rock Against Racism deliberately outlines how such speech is not restricted or limited. Uhl’s chat messages are protected by such cases and would be upheld by US justice system. It has proven his ban and many others are unjust while the US Army Twitch channels continue to dig themselves into a larger problem with fake giveaways enticing young teens into recruiting schemes.
The Army esports team routinely points viewers as young as 13 to this page with "Register To Win!" at the top in all caps. In some cases, they claim you can win a $200 controller.
— jordan (@JordanUhl) July 15, 2020
While the US Army Twitch pages have been very vocal and clear about their intentions to recruit future talent; their use of “giveaways” to entice a young audience into recruiting future talent. The blatant bait and switch tactic to get more sign-ups is deplorable on all accounts. Such an effort to get more sign-ups has deterred people from watching their live streams, Twitch has even directly enforced a ruling to get these types of giveaways shut down. The US Army moderation is questionable and unreasonable as pointed out again by the Columbia letter. Their message ends with a request to undo all bans on viewers and to put new guidelines and rules in place to ensure no future confusion on what constitutes free speech. Expecting a response no later than August 5th, Uhl’s case stands as a shining example of the dangers in suppressing truthful anonymous voices on Twitch.
Update: 1:10 PM Breslau has confirmed a pause on all US Army Esport social media activity until 2021. This pause is only for the Army and the Navy outlets and platforms will continue to post. Both will maintain their Twitch partnerships going forward.
new: sources tell me due to recent media coverage of fake giveaways and potentially unconstitutional bans, the US Army esports team has paused social activity, streaming on Twitch, and official activations with Twitch including participating in upcoming Twitch Rivals events
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) July 22, 2020
Update 4:45 PM US House of Representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), is filing a draft amendment for a prospective bill to prevent future recruitment efforts on Twitch. While the proposed amendment is still in the very early stages, there are many possible ways it could cease to be a part of the full bill. The next meeting for this amendment to hopefully be approved is next week on July 27th.