In a new set of guidelines released on Wednesday, live streaming company Twitch announced that it will begin enforcing its policy against "hateful conduct and harassment [for acts outside of the Twitch services"]. This means that such behavior "against members of the Twitch community [on] … social media, other online services or even offline" can lead to Twitch bans or other consequences on the platform.
The focus of the new Off-Service Code of Conduct is on off-Twitch crimes that "pose a significant security risk to the Twitch community [and have the greatest potential to harm our community"], Twitch said. These include terrorism, threats of violence, membership in hate groups and sexual offenses as detailed in the policy.
Twitch says it will hire "a highly respected third-party investigative partner" to investigate such allegations of off-Twitch behavior and act in cases where evidence is available and can be verified, such as through links, screenshots or videos who have created "Confirmed Authentic by our outside investigator." If that law firm finds an "excess of evidence", the situation will be referred to a law enforcement response team to "manage sensitive, confidential investigations and work with law enforcement".
The parties involved in an investigation will be notified "if necessary," while the prosecutors are kept confidential, Twitch said. Details of the investigations will not be made public.
Punishing users for behaving outside of Twitch is not a completely new concept for the platform. In 2018, the company said it would "consider demonstrably hateful or harassing behavior occurring outside of Twitch when making moderation decisions for actions taking place on Twitch." Wednesday's announcement, however, appears to mean a realignment and expansion of that policy – and a commitment to investigate further harassment allegations from outside Twitch.
"While this policy is new, we have taken action in the past against serious, clear misconduct that occurred off-service, but until now we have not had a scaled-up approach," Twitch wrote in its announcement. "These investigations are far more complex and can take a lot of time and resources to resolve. For behaviors that take place outside of Twitch, we need to rely more on law enforcement and other services to exchange relevant evidence before we can proceed . "
Last summer, some high profile Twitch streamers were charged with sexual abuse and misconduct, while other streamers accused Twitch of failing to take such reports seriously enough in the past. These reports led to calls for a day-long boycott of "#TwitchBlackout" to get Twitch executives to "take notice of abuse, racism, sexual harassment, assault and rape," as one participant put it.
In December, Twitch introduced a new, stricter set of guidelines for hateful conduct and harassment on the Service, which went into effect on January 22nd. These guidelines set "a much lower tolerance for objectifying or harassing behavior," according to Twitch, and added caste, color, and immigration comments to a list of previously protected identity-based attributes such as race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
In January, Twitch also removed its popular PogChamp emote, saying, "The face of the emote [Ryan" Gootecks "Gutierrez] encouraged [ed] further violence" after the January 6th Capitol uprising.
Twitch has historically responded inconsistently to reports of problematic behavior from some of its partners. In 2019, the company cut ties with Thomas "Elvine" Cheung after he was arrested in a child trafficking stab. Australian streamer Luke "MrDeadMoth" Munday was initially only temporarily banned from the platform after being arrested for attacking a trapped attack. Twitch later made that ban permanent after community outcry.
Also in 2019, popular streamer Guy "DrDispect" Beahm received a two-week suspension from Twitch after being banned from the E3 gaming convention for filming a Twitch stream in a public bathroom.