The U.S. Army says it will restore Americans’ God-given right to shitpost on its esports channel, the premier destination for watching your favorite former sniper shoot up digital Middle Eastern villages. First spotted by gaming consultant Rod Breslau, and reported by the Verge, the Army has decided to unban pesky anti-war Twitch commenters, with caveats ensuring that, in all likelihood, they’ll be banned again.
Last month, the Army and Navy’s esports teams automatically deleted comments and banned hundreds of anti-war protesters from both Discord servers and Twitch streams. Posting phrases such as “war crimes” would result in automatic deletion. In one recorded example, a Green Beret replied to a commenter who asked, “what’s your favorite u.s. W4r cr1me?” with “Have a nice time getting banned, my dude.” The Army told Gizmodo at the time that it had banned around 300 users for “harassing behavior” over the course of three days.
After free speech organizations and the media protested over censorship on a government forum, the esports team took a break. Now, the Army told the Verge in a statement that it will resume play with the promise that it’s “reviewing and clarifying its policies and procedures for the stream” and that “all who have been banned” will once again be allowed to participate “as long as they follow the team’s guidelines.” The Army will not tolerate “personal attacks, crude language, pornographic material, harassment and bullying.”
So, no, you probably still can’t chat with the Army unless you love the Army. The Army esports team’s Twitch channel still lists additional speech rules and a “user agreement” under its “about” page, which, Electronic Frontier Foundation legal fellow Naomi Gilens told Gizmodo, it simply can’t do as a government forum for speech. The list stipulates that users can’t harass, spam, or disrupt the stream. Arbitrarily, the esports team gives itself permission to moderate messages that “are not constructive, topics outside the scope of the USAE, and pushing personal agendas.” Protesting w4r cr1mes, for instance.
And then there’s the “User Agreement,” which reads:
The Department of Defense reserves the right, but undertakes no duty, to review, move or delete any material submitted as a comment to the information provided for display or placed on the social media and streaming sites in its sole discretion, without notice. Comments submitted to these sites will be reviewed and a representative sample may be posted on the site or inappropriate comments may be deleted at the sole discretion of the Department of Defense.
“The User Agreement is not enforceable,” Gilens told us, “at least when it comes to censoring speech based on its content or viewpoint.”
It’s unclear whether a “review of the policies” will include removing the user agreement, and the Army has yet to respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
So go back and find out. Is the Army esports team ready to rumble? Can they allow the insubordination to stand? Can they handle the allegations that they’re grooming 13-year-old kids to perform drone strikes on children when they’re just trying to host a friendly death match over here?
Update 8/6/2020 1:10 pm EST: Activist Jordan Uhl, who authored a piece for The Nation on military esports teams and was banned for mentioning “w4r cr1mes,” told Gizmodo that he’s still banned. “I suspect they said that yesterday just to placate the Knight First Amendment Center attorneys because the deadline to respond/remedy the situation was yesterday,” he said, adding, “I’ll believe it when I see it, I guess.” The Knight First Amendment Center had sent a letter to the U.S. Army and Navy on behalf of Uhl’s constitutional rights. Uhl also noted that bans are still active on the Navy’s esports channel, which is still streaming.
Update 8/11/2020 9:00 am EST: Asked whether its definition of “harassment” extends to mention of “war crimes,” an Army spokesperson told Gizmodo that the esports team followed Twitch’s guidelines in banning users posting the phrase “after discovering the trend was meant to troll and harass the team.” On questions about censorship via their content guidelines, they added:
“The Army eSports Team does not regulate viewpoints of participants on its social media forums. The examples of attempting to flood the stream with discussions of war crimes, pornographic words and links, racial and ethnic slurs and threats against team members were considered harassing in nature and not constructive to the streaming platform.”
They said that users such as Uhl will be unbanned when the team resumes streaming.