An amendment proposed by U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that would stop the military from recruiting on platforms like Twitch failed a House vote on Thursday. Had it passed, it would have added a provision to the House Committee on Appropriations Bill to bar the U.S. military from using federal funds to maintain “a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, e-sports, or livestreaming platform.”
In a Twitter thread criticizing the vote, Ocasio-Cortez expressed frustration at her colleagues’ tech illiteracy and said this knowledge gap is impeding their ability to protect people’s privacy. “Imagine trying to explain to your colleagues who are members of Congress what Twitch is,” she wrote followed by a crying face emoji.
In recent weeks, the official Twitch and Discord channels operated by the U.S. Army and Navy have come under fire for banning users that criticize the armed forces in chat, such as by asking military esports teams about their “favorite w4r crime” or questioning the military’s predatory recruitment strategies. The Washington Post reports that the Army said it has banned 300 Twitch users so far.
“War is not a game,” Ocasio-Cortez said, defending the measure in Congress before Thursday’s vote. “This amendment is specifically to block funding for recruitment practices on services such as Twitch.tv, which are live streaming platforms largely populated by children well under the age of military recruitment rules...currently, children on platforms such as Twitch are bombarded with banner ads linked to recruitment signup forms that can be submitted by children as young as 12 years old. These are not education outreach programs for the military.”
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the military’s online bans last week, calling them a violation of the First Amendment in accordance with a recent federal court ruling regarding a suit against President Donald Trump and his block-happy Twitter account. This decision established that accounts of government officials classify as public forums if used for official government business, thus making it unconstitutional for them to block members of the public. In a letter to the U.S. Army and Navy, Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute demanded that these military branches immediately stop banning users from its @USArmyEsports and @AmericasNavy Twitch channels.
Following widespread criticism from politicians and prominent civil rights groups, a U.S. Army spokesperson confirmed to Gamespot that it was retreating from using Twitch streaming as a recruitment and outreach tool.
“The team has paused streaming to review internal policies and procedures, as well as all platform-specific policies, to ensure those participating in the space are clear before streaming resumes,” the spokesperson told the outlet.
Last week, Gizmodo’s sister site Kotaku also reported that an internal U.S. Army email outlined plans to pull the plug on its esports activities, including streaming, social media posts, and event invitations, possibly until spring 2021. The Army declined to comment to Kotaku on the matter, but the email attributed the shutdown to the recent flood of unflattering media reports.