US Army & Navy esports Twitch channels embroiled in 1st Amendment controversy [UPDATED]

The US Army and Navy esports Twitch channels are coming up against flack and First Amendment abuse accusations for banning users from chat on a government platform.

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Updated (7/22/2020 - 3p.m. PT): Following the recent controversy regarding recruitment efforts and bans on Twitch, the Army esports organization has apparently temporarily halted operations, including social media content and Twitch streams, as reported by esports consultant Rod "Slasher" Breslau. Also, according to a report by VICE, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would disallow the US military from using its Twitch channels as a recruitment tool.

The legislation is apart of a House Appropriations bill, which is aimed at setting the Pentagon's budget, but a July 22 draft of the bill would restrict the US Military from using funds appropriated by the bill to "maintain a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, e-sports, or live-streaming platform." The next meeting on of the House Appropriations bill on the committee will meet on July 27 to decide which amendments of the bill will go forward before the bill is voted on by the House. Stay tuned for more on this story as information becomes available.


Original StoryThe US Army and Navy have esports teams and are involved in gaming, a common case among large organizations these days. However, many have questioned the motives of an official government military entering the gaming space, as well as the recruitment efforts carried out on the likes of Twitch and other gaming platforms and the rules of speech that apply to a public government entity.

Recently, the US Army and Navy esports Twitch channels got caught up in a storm of controversy for use of bans to remove Twitch users from chat for bringing up controversial topics. In particular, esports consultant Rod “Slasher” Breslau and political consultant/progressive activist Jordan Uhl have been active in their calling attention to the fact that the Army, Navy, and Airforce have used both esports and video game livestreaming as a recruitment tool, gathering recruitment info through supposed giveaways and other methods. In particular, Uhl was recently banned from US Army Esports and Navy Esports channels for asking about war crimes, apparently a phrase for which both organizations have begun banning users pretty much instantly. It was a move that Uhl and others argue go against First Amendment protections against government entities silencing speech on public platforms.

On July 22, 2020, attorneys at Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University made a demand on behalf of Jordan Uhl that the US Army and Navy must stop banning users from their Twitch channels based on these aforementioned First Amendment protections. While both organizations argue that the bans are justified for what they would consider “a violation of Twitch's harassment policy,” as an Army spokesperson told Motherboard.

Even so, Knight Columbia’s letter argues that the case follows recent precedent set in regards to government-run social media, such as that by President Trump in a case were it was argued that the president violated the First Amendment when he blocked critics from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. The current standing is that once a government-run social account is opened to the public, it becomes a public forum and the government is not allowed to exclude people based on their views.

It will remain to be seen if Uhl and the Knight Institute’s argument will follow similar decisions, as Twitch is somewhat of a new ground for the matter. Either way, the Army and Navy both using Twitch and competitive gaming as a grounds for recruitment and silencing opposing viewpoints on those platforms is an issue that will (and should) draw intense scrutiny and criticism for the foreseeable future until a decision is reached.

News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. When he's not handing out beatdowns in the latest fighting games, exploring video game history, or playing through RPGs with his partner, he's searching for new food and drinks in the constant pursuit of good times with good people inside and outside the South Texas area. You can also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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