Twitch Finally Starts Banning Streamers Accused Of Sexual Abuse
Over the weekend, over 50 people, mostly women, in and around the world of Twitch came forward to accuse streamers and other industry figures, mostly men, of sexual abuse. As the week has progressed, that number has swelled to nearly 100. After the initial wave of accusations, Twitch promised to investigate and potentially take action. Now it has — or at least, it's started to.
Wednesday night, Twitch banned five streamers who have been accused of sexual misconduct: IamSp00n, Wolv21, BlessRNG, DreadedCone, and WarwitchTV. In a statement posted to its official blog, Twitch said that it is “reviewing each case that has come to light as quickly as possible, while ensuring appropriate due diligence.” It characterised the bans as “permanent suspensions,” meaning the streamers in question won't be coming back.
Women who said they'd dealt with abuse from these particular streamers were amazed that, after all this time of Twitch failing to take meaningful action, the company actually did something.
“Honestly I'm mostly stunned,” LadyNasse, one of the streamers who spoke out about IamSp00n, told Kotaku in a DM. “I didn't expect things to steamroll the way they have.”
After being accused of physical sexual abuse, aggression, and manipulation by multiple streamers, IamSp00n said in a note published on Twitter that he “directly benefited sexually” from his behaviour “while the people on the receiving end were negatively impacted” and encouraged readers to “believe” his accusers. In an email to Kotaku, he called the ban “appropriate” and said that he does “not see myself capable of ever returning to this industry.”
“I feel as though I should be happy or feel triumphant, but the entire situation is haunting,” said Littlesiha, a popular Just Dance streamer and one of the people who accused IamSp00n of misconduct, in an email. “Writing out my experience when I was sure I'd never tell it publicly was really difficult, and Sam (IAmSp00n) was someone I once cared for deeply. We were together for three years. There are times where I wonder if he's ok, and I have to remind myself that the real question is if I'm ok.”
Krystal, a former Twitch streamer who said that banned streamer WarwitchTV exchanged sexually explicit messages with her when she was a minor, said she was surprised by Twitch's action against him and other streamers.
“I'm extremely happy that Warwitch has been banned,” she told Kotaku in a DM. “I cried last night because it was so unexpected.”
In a note titled “No excuses” that has since been deleted alongside his Twitter account, WarwitchTV confirmed that he knew Krystal was 17 at the time they exchanged messages and that he had learned from his mistakes. But after he posted this message, another streamer came forward to say that he had sent her inappropriate messages as recently as last month. (This streamer asked that her name not be used and that her tweets not be linked.) WarwitchTV has not responded to Kotaku's requests for comment.
Three other streamers were also banned, all for allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse. Wolv21 was accused of physically taking advantage of a woman at PAX East and sending unwanted sexual DMs. On Twitter, he said that “we did share a bed, I did put my arm around her, we did grind a little bit then that's when I touched her breasts.” He then apologised and said he was “wrong.” Neither party in this incident has replied to Kotaku's request for comment.
BlessRNG, a longtime streamer whose global emote has also been removed from Twitch, was accused of unwanted sexual advances as well as repeatedly attempting to make contact with the accuser after she broke off their relationship. After initially claiming that he, too, had been abused (resulting in significant pushback from friends and fans), he put out a second statement in which he said that he “engaged in abusive behaviour” and apologised. In a Twitter DM to Kotaku, BlessRNG said that he is seeking additional mental health therapy.
“While my story is by no means the ‘worse' from those shared over the weekend, it was a relief seeing Twitch take real action within a reasonable timeframe,” the person who posted her story about BlessRNG told Kotaku via DM. “I sat at my desk in tears. I'm cautiously optimistic we will continue to see action taken in the next days and weeks as investigations take place and conclude.”
DreadedCone's case goes further back. Two years ago, a viewer said that he had “groomed” her online, distributing nude photos of her when she was underage. At the time, the viewer said, Twitch did not do anything once the matter was brought to the platform's attention, but after she re-told her story on Twitter as part of the recent wave of sexual abuse and harassment stories, Twitch finally took action. DreadedCone does not seem to have released a public statement; neither party to this matter responded to Kotaku's requests for comment.
Twitch said in its blog post that it plans to “continue to assess accusations against people affiliated with Twitch and explore ways Twitch can collaborate with other industry leaders on this important issue” and improve both its policies and its tools. Encouraging words, but streamers and others in the industry agree that these bans will only suffice if they're the beginning of a much larger overhaul, as opposed to caution tape around the pothole that's slowly engulfing the whole platform.
“This first step addresses streamers on Twitch, but still no word on non-streamers in the wider community,” Twitch's former vice president of community and partnerships, Justin Wong, said on Twitter. “Will they be barred from Twitch social events? Will Twitch continue to do business with their companies? What are they going to do when the low-hanging fruit is gone?”
He also offered some hypothetical scenarios that could push Twitch's current approach past a breaking point: “Twitch has a partnership agreement with an esports team. Twitch finds an accusation against their CEO credible and issues a ban, but the CEO refuses to resign. What does Twitch do to the deal? What if it's a non-public-facing position like a CFO? Another: A buyer purchases a seven-figure advertising campaign on Twitch. Twitch finds an accusation against the buyer credible, but the buyer remains in his position. Does Twitch still take the money? What happens to the seller's commission since they're under Amazon now?”
There is precedent for these concerns. One of the most significant accusations this week was leveled not against a streamer, but the (now-former) CEO of Online Performers Group, a management company. Meanwhile, the esports scene is now reckoning with its own sexism and harassment issues.
While noting that there are “no easy answers,” LadyNasse suggested that Twitch could create a team focused on responding to victims. “If there was someone I knew I could go to, privately, without risking my reputation and without risking backlash, I would've come forward a long time ago,” she said. “But the fact is that right now there is almost no way to out someone as abusive, predatory, or simply inappropriate, without risk right now.”
This moment was only possible, she noted, because of “the context of other women's stories.” She thinks that needs to be systematized, or else things will just go back to the way they've always been.
“Once you put the stories side by side, the pattern emerges, and it becomes that much more awful,” she said. “So a victim response team of some kind is the only way I see that happening.”
Over the weekend, a trickle of sexual harassment stories surrounding influential figures in the streaming world grew into a tidal wave. More than 50 streamers, most of them women, shared dozens of stories that have already produced vast reverberations, including the resignation of the head of one of the biggest management firms in all of streaming and the departure of over 20 streamers in his wake. In response, some streamers are boycotting the platform altogether today and refusing to stream.