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US Army Suspends Twitch Streaming Amid Recruitment Concerns and Free Speech Controversies

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  • The U.S. Army has faced substantial blowback for banning Twitch users asking about war crimes on its eSports channel, a move that potentially violates free speech laws.
  • The criticism has been so intense that the Army has now paused streaming on its Twitch channel, which it uses as a recruitment method. 
  • Also on Wednesday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed a measure that aims to completely block the military from using Twitch to recruit. 
  • Separately, the Army has come under fire for seemingly hosting a fake giveaway that linked to a recruitment page. Twitch ultimately forced it to remove that giveaway, but the Army maintains that it was a legitimate giveaway.

Army Suspends Twitch Streaming

The United States Army has hit pause on the Twitch channel for its eSports team as of Wednesday, following mounting concerns that it has repeatedly violated First Amendment free speech laws by banning viewers who ask about everything from U.S. war crimes to Eddie Gallagher.

The news of the Army’s banning practice gained traction on July 8 when activist Jordan Uhl posted a clip of him asking about war crimes during a stream on the channel. Notably, the channel is used as a way for the Army to promote recruitment and talk with viewers about life in the military.

“What’s your favorite U.S. w4r cr1me?” Uhl asked after learning that “war crime” was already a banned phrase on the channel. 

Uhl also posted a link in the chatbox to the Wikipedia page for U.S. war crimes. He was then banned. 

“Have a nice time getting banned, my dude,” said Army recruiter and gamer Joshua “Strotnium” David.

On Saturday, Uhl was again banned for asking similar questions, this time on the Twitch channel for the Navy’s eSports team. Reportedly, others asking similar questions were also banned during that stream.

On Wednesday, the Knight First Amendment Institute then demanded that the Army and Navy change their banning practices. It also asked the Army to restore access for not only Uhl but also for 300 others who have been banned for similar comments. 

“When the government intentionally opens a space to the public at large for expressive activity, it has created a ‘public forum’ under the First Amendment, and it cannot constitutionally bar speakers from that forum based on viewpoint,” the Institute said in a letter to the two branches.

Later that same day, the Army announced it would suspend streaming on Twitch to “review internal policies and procedures, as well as all platform-specific policies.”

Still, a spokesperson for the Army has maintained that the branch did not violate free speech laws, arguing that people like Uhl were banned because the term war crimesis “meant to troll and harass the team.” 

AOC Files Measure to the Block Military from Twitch

Also on Wednesday, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) announced plans to file an amendment that would block the military from using video games and esports as recruitment methods. 

“It’s incredibly irresponsible for the Army and the Navy to be recruiting impressionable young people and children via live streaming platforms,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“War is not a game,” she added while pointing to the Marine Corps, which is the only branch of the U.S. military that has refused to form an esports team.

For its part, the Marines have said it does not want to “gamify” combat since it is a military agency that deals in combat. 

“The Marine Corps’ decision not to engage in this recruiting tool should be a clear signal to the other branches of the military to cease this practice entirely,” Ocasio-Cortez said. 

Is the Army Violating the First Amendment on Twitch?

Uhl has maintained that he wasn’t simply trying to troll the Army eSports Team; rather, he said the reason he asked questions about war crimes was because he had heard rumors of people receiving bans by the Army and Navy for broaching such topics on their Twitch channels. 

“Was I undiplomatic? Sure,” Uhl said in an article posted on The Nation. “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.”

“While members of military e-sports teams offer the regular gaming skill set, they’re also on-screen talent and recruiters,” Uhl said. “Instead of approaching a recruiter behind a table in a school cafeteria, kids can hang out with one who is playing their favorite video games and replying to their chat messages for hours on end.”

While a normal Twitch streamer can generally moderate their channel however they want, public forums hosted by the government must abide by free speech laws. In fact, there’s even legal precedent to support this. 

For example, in June 2019, a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump can’t block critics from his Twitter account because it constitutes a public forum.

Despite that, in a statement, the Army originally argued that it banned Uhl because he had 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 spokesperson said following the July 8 incident. “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,” the spokesperson added. “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.”

That spokesperson also went on to defend the Army by noting that it offers multiple career paths and that “the goal of the Army eSports Team is to accurately portray that range of opportunities to interested youth.”

Despite that, the statement quickly drew the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, which responded on Twitter by saying, “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.” 

US Army Caught Seemingly Offering Fake Giveaways

In addition to free speech concerns, the Army has also found itself defending its recruitment practices on the platform.

Last week, Uhl accused the branch of “repeatedly” presenting viewers “with an automated chat prompt that says they could win a Xbox Elite Series 2 controller… and a link where they can enter the ‘giveaway.’” 

However, upon clicking that link, Uhl said he was redirected to a recruiting form with no additional information on the “contest, odds, total number of winners, or when a drawing will occur.”

The news prompted outrage among streamers and game developers who urged Twitch to take action against the Army’s esports channel. 

On Thursday, Twitch finally responded, telling Kotaku that it had forced the Army to stop advertising that giveaway, saying, “This promotion did not comply with our Terms, and we have required them to remove it.” 

Since then, an Army representative has said that, despite transparency issues, a legitimate giveaway system had been in place. 

“Each giveaway has its own URL and marketing activity code that directly connect the registrant to the specific giveaway,” the rep said. “An eligible winner is selected at random, and the prize is given out. Twitch asked our team to remove the giveaway for lack of transparency, and they did. The team is exploring options to use platforms for giveaways that will provide more external clarity.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Kotaku) (Vice)

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Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat

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Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.


School Cancelled

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.”

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Associated Press) (People)

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Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer

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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)

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Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos

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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.


Bezos Prank

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. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Forbes) (CNET)

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