Following on from the wave of abuse allegations made against a range of Twitch streamers in June, the company itself is now in the spotlight, with accusations of systemic sexism, racism and abuse.
An investigation by GamesIndustry.biz has found a number of former and current employees willing to share stories that go back over half a decade, from before the company’s acquisition by Amazon in 2014. That was a turning point for the company’s hiring practices, but not necessarily for the overall attitudes.
They write that a common point was one of deeply rooted misogyny within the company, where women were not given the same opportunities in the business, and on a different level objectified. One source said female employees were often referred to as “bitches”, while women streamers were often called “boob streamers” and aspersions were cast about promiscuity.
Within the office, women that reported problems were the subject of victim blaming – when one woman was called a c*** and spat at, her manager asked what she did to deserve it. This extended to outright sexual assault with forced kisses, groping, and inappropriate massages. Again, when these incidents were reported to HR or senior staff, appropriate action was not seen to be taken. Naturally, this led to a number of employees choosing not to report incidents.
One woman said she was told to continue working with the man who sexually assaulted her and “show him respect.” One person who raised a concern about the treatment of women at the company said they were told that, “if they don’t feel safe here, they should just leave.”
“It just didn’t feel safe there ever,” one woman said.
“Nobody ever really took responsibility for anything and there was nobody to go to if you were threatened, or felt threatened, or were harmed in some way. HR was not on the side of the employees, for sure. They were on the side of the executive team. That was the sense; if you went to HR, that would just ruin you even more.”
In some cases, women said that men they reported were later promoted.
One famous incident in Twitch’s seemingly reluctant attempts to add more serious moderation to the website was the ‘Remove Horror’ incident that eventually led to the departure of the company’s first paid moderator, Russel “Horror” Laksh. While one series of events was given by Twitch, stating that Laksh had been too close to the situation as he banned users and that he was voluntarily stepping back from moderation, Laksh has refuted this, saying he was the fall guy for his boss.
In the follow up to this, an executive brought up Laksh homosexuality, with a series of uncomfortable questions that even resorted to a demeaning bestiality trope. You can guess what happened when he reported this to HR.
Less visible were the racial issues reported within the company, though still very much present.
“Historically, the decision makers have been predominantly white and male, so they have brushed off safety concerns of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and people from other under-represented groups,” [one source] said. “They have brushed off those concerns and said, ‘When we are prioritizing product road maps, this is where certain safety tools and safety interventions lie; we’re going to put those at the bottom because they’re not important to us.’
An issue was perhaps less of overt racism and one of tolerance of those who are racist. For example, a year-long fight to get the n-word put on the global ban list, with the onus being put on streamers to moderate their own chat.
“Hate speech was dismissed as teenagers being edgy and thus not as serious,” [one employee] said. “It was almost like it was dismissed as not being real racism.”
When Twitch has tried to be forward thinking with its message of inclusivity, it has backfired. Their Black Lives Matter video montage was predominantly white, they tried to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in the US with clichéd emotes modified with sombreros and maracas, and it took years for them to remove a raccoon emote that was twisted into a way to harass black people.
This is really just a cherry-picked summary of the litany of allegations made on almost every area of the company, from its inaction toward and tolerance of abuse, to its reluctance to instigate meaningful change that is eventually forced through in the name of business gains and keeping advertisers happy.
It’s a long and potentially distressing read, but you can find the full article at GamesIndustry.biz.