- Twitch has ordered the U.S. Army to stop offering fake giveaways on its platform.
- The issue first came to light after a reporter noticed that a prize giveaway link, which was posted into the chat box of an Army esports stream, redirected users to a recruitment page.
- According to that reporter, the recruitment page offered “no additional mention of a contest, odds, total number of winners, or when a drawing will occur.”
- Separately, the U.S. Army has also faced substantial blowback for banning Twitch users asking about war crimes, a move that potentially violates free speech laws.
US Army Offers Fake Giveaways
After the United States Army was allegedly caught promising fake prize giveaways on Twitch to promote its recruitment page, Twitch has ordered it to abandon the strategy.
The practice was first detailed by reporter Jordan Uhl in The Nation on Wednesday and stems from the Army’s esports team, which regularly streams on Twitch as a way to talk to teens about life in the military and recruitment options. Both the Navy and the Air Force also have esports teams that stream on Twitch.
In the chat box of those streams, the Army would reportedly post automated links promoting prize giveaways. For example, one prize included an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller; however, once people clicked the link to try to win that controller, they weren’t taken to a page to enter that drawing.
Instead, according to The Nation, they were directed to “a recruiting form with no additional mention of a contest, odds, total number of winners, or when a drawing will occur.”
The Army esports team routinely points viewers as young as 13 to this page with “Register To Win!” at the top in all caps. In some cases, they claim you can win a $200 controller.— jordan (@JordanUhl) July 15, 2020
The form is actually a recruiting form.https://t.co/Vk1mC7bn5U pic.twitter.com/N8oQkikeQJ
The news prompted outrage among some streamers and game developers who then urged Twitch to take action against the U.S. Army esports channel.
“The silence from @Twitch on the latest wave of criticism regarding the military using the site to scam kids into sharing personal info speaks volumes,” streamer Jayson “MANvsGame” Love said on Twitter. “Imagine ANY other channel doing that. Feel free to manipulate your viewers as much as you like, I guess?”
On Thursday, gaming website Kotaku reported that Twitch had forced the Army to stop tricking viewers, with Twitch saying in a statement to the outlet, “Per our Terms of Service, promotions on Twitch must comply with all applicable laws. This promotion did not comply with our Terms, and we have required them to remove it.”
Meanwhile, the Army has remained silent on why it allegedly engaged in fake giveaway tactics.
Is the US Army Also Violating Free Speech Laws on Twitch?
The fake giveaway is not the only Twitch-related controversy the Army has recently faced. Last week, after catching wind of users being banned for asking uncomfortable questions, Uhl reported that the Army’s Twitch channel banned him after he asked about war crimes during a stream—a move that could be seen as a blockage of free speech.
In a recorded video, Uhl asks other viewers what their favorite U.S. war crime is in the chat box of that stream. He then links to the Wikipedia page for U.S. war crimes. Seconds after that, he is banned.
“Have a nice time getting banned, my dude,” Army recruiter and gamer Joshua “Strotnium” David tells Uhl just before the video ends.
The U.S. Army (and its esports team) are not private entities. While general Twitch streamers can moderate their channels however they wish, public forums hosted by the government are generally required to abide by strict free speech laws.
In response, the Army later confirmed that it banned Uhl directly because of his comments, arguing that those comments violated Twitch’s harassment policies.
“Team members are very clear when talking with potential applicants that a game does not reflect a real Army experience,” a representative of the U.S. Army esports team told Vice. “They discuss their career experiences in real terms with factual events.”
“Team members ensure people understand what the Army offers through a realistic lens and not through the lens of a game meant for entertainment. This user’s question was an attempt to shift the conversation to imply that Soldiers commit war crimes based on an optional weapon in a game, and we felt that violated Twitch’s harassment policy.”
“The U.S. Army offers youth more than 150 different careers, and ultimately the goal of the Army eSports Team is to accurately portray that range of opportunities to interested youth.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has argued that “calling out the government’s war crimes isn’t harassment, it’s speaking truth to power. And banning users who ask important questions isn’t ‘flexing,’ it’s unconstitutional.”
Concerns Over Army Streaming With Teens
“Was I undiplomatic?,” Uhl asked in his Wednesday article. “Sure. But if the military is going to use one of the world’s most popular platforms to recruit kids, then it shouldn’t be able to do so without some pushback. Right now, with the support of Twitch, gamers with the US military are spending hours with children as young as 13, trying to convince them to enlist.”
As Uhl noted, the military’s newfound use of Twitch could be an even more effective method than “approaching a recruiter behind a table in a school cafeteria.” For example, “kids can hang out with one who is playing their favorite video games and replying to their chat messages for hours on end.”
Of the four main branches of the military, only the Marine Corps has refused to launch an esports team.
“This is due in part to the belief that the brand and issues associated with combat are too serious to be ‘gamified’ in a responsible manner,” the Marine Corps Recruiting Command said in January.
See what others are saying: (The Nation) (Kotaku) (The Verge)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.