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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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Mr Beast Defends Charli and Dixie D’Amelio Following Tournament Win Backlash

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  • Mr Beast held a trivia tournament Saturday where creators competed against each other for $300,000 to give to their fans.
  • Charli and Dixie D’Amelio won the competition, however, many accused them of having an unfair advantage because they were allowed to compete as a team and had their parent’s beside them as well.
  • Some online even suggested that the family may have been cheating through the use of phones or people off-camera.
  • Mr Beast said fans should be mad at him, not the family, since it was his decision to allow multiple people on a team. Still, he noted that the tournament was just for fun and promised to make teams equal in future competitions.

Mr Beast Hosts Creator Tournament

Internet users lashed out at TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D’Amelio on Saturday, accusing them of cheating in YouTuber Mr Beast’s trivia competition.

Mr Beast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, held his latest influencer tournament that same day, following the success of his Rock Paper Scissors charity steam earlier this year. During the trivia event, 24 creators competed against one another for $300,000 to give to their fans.

Contestants included the likes of Addison Rae, Bretman Rock, KSI, Safiya Nygaard, Jaiden Animations, and tons of others, with the D’Amelio sisters ultimately being declared the winners.

However, many were unhappy with that, saying they cheated and had an unfair advantage. This is because the sisters were allowed to compete as a team and also brought their parents along with them.

It is worth noting that only Dixie competed in the final round of trivia against comic book artist and YouTuber ZHC. Still, many felt like the 4 on 1 match-ups weren’t fair and even suggested that the family was cheating through the use of phones or people off-screen.

Mr Beast Defends D’Amelio Family

Mr Beast eventually had to try and diffuse the situation after seeing the family faced a slew of backlash online.

“I see some people mad that I let multiple people compete on a single team in the trivia tournament!” he wrote. “Honestly, the tournament was just for fun and to bring the community together and I’d appreciate if you were to get mad at anyone, get mad at me. It was my decision lol”

“The criticism is noted and I’ll definitely keep all the teams the same size next time! 100% my b Red heart,” he continued.

Fellow YouTubers expressed a similar sentiment about the competition being all for fun, with the money ultimately going to fans in need.

See what others are saying: (Dexerto) (Insider) (HITC)

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Tana Mongeau’s “Booty for Biden” Promotion Sparks Legal Concerns

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  • YouTube star Tana Mongeau has come under fire for offering nude photos to fans who proved they voted for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
  • Some said it could be considered vote buying, which is a felony. Others said it encourages fans to take ballot selfies as proof, which are illegal in several states.
  • Mongeau eventually added, “by proof I just meant tell me,” before ultimately deleting the post and writing, “in all seriousness if you can vote please do.”
  • She did, however, claim that she received “tens of thousands of messages” from people telling her they voted for Biden.

Tana Launches #BootyForBiden Campaign

YouTuber Tana Mongeau promised to send nudes to Joe Biden supporters on Wednesday as part of her “Booty for Biden” campaign, which has now raised legal concerns.

Mongeau advertised the strategy in a Tweet, writing: “if you send me proof u voted for Biden I’ll send you a nude for free.” 

Image
@Tanamongeau

That post, of course, was accompanied by a link to her OnlyFans page and the hashtag #bootyforbiden. However, the problem is that people said she was breaking the law and asking her fans to do the same.

Some say what she did could be considered vote buying, which is a felony punishable by a fine and up to two years behind bars. Because she was asking fans for proof of their vote, others said she was also encouraging ballot selfies, which are illegal in several states. 

2016 map that shows where voter selfies are illegal. Source: Vox

Tana Deletes Post

Mongeau eventually clarified what she meant by proof, saying, “I just meant tell me.”

@Tanamongeau

She then ended up deleting her initial offer altogether, following up with, “in all seriousness if you can vote please do… not voting is voting and the world is scary.”

It’s unclear what the response to her post was like on her end, but she did later claim that her campaign “broke Tana Uncensored,” in an Instagram post that featured a NSFW photo of her with the Democratic candidates face photoshopped over hers.

“Tana Uncensored messages are broken, and the point has been made: I got tens of thousands of messages of people telling me that they willingly voted for Joe Biden,” Mongeau added in an Instagram Story.

“It’s the best thing ever. You don’t need my ass to make you go vote. So go vote because you wanna see a change in this country just like me, and thank you to everyone who joined me today. Booty for Biden.”

For now, it seems like the YouTuber is trying to join the list of stars encouraging their fans to vote, but the way she’s been doing it might be a problem.

Tana Loses YouTube Verification

Reports surfaced this weekend pointing out that Mongeau has just lost her YouTube verification check. As of now, there’s no confirmed reason, evidence, or explanation for this, but some internet users and media outlets are suggesting it could have to do with the controversy.

Neither Mongeau nor the platform has commented on the verification change so it’s tough to say if they are connected.

Meanwhile, fans online are offering up other explanations, saying it could be because she changed her name back from Tana Paul to Tana Mongeau. 

See what others are saying: (TMZ) (Cosmopolitan) (Daily Dot)

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How Snapchat, Kylie Jenner, and David Dobrik Are Helping Boost U.S. Voter Registrations

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  • Snapchat has helped more than 1 million people register to vote through an in-app feature.
  • According to the company, about 56% of people who registered to vote through the app this year are first-time voters, and about 65% are voters ages 18 to 24.
  • On top of that, Snapchat also had large amounts of users registering in historically red or battleground states, including Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.
  • Massive stars like Kylie Jenner and David Dobrik also caught attention this week for encouraging voter registration.
  • Jenner did so with bikini photos that directed fans to vote.org, meanwhile, Dobrik did so by launching a Tesla giveaway that requires participants to check their voter registration status.

Snapchat Helps Register Over 1 Million Voters

Snapchat said Thursday that is has helped more than 1 million people register to vote through its in-app tool. The move aligns with several recent pushes encouraging voter registration from both companies and notable public figures.

More than half of the 1 million who registered through the social media platform did so in less than a month, the company added.

While the numbers are less than the 2.5 million who have signed up through Facebook, they’re still incredibly important and impressive.

Experts also find them particularly interesting because Snapchat reaches much younger audiences, which could play a huge role in affecting the outcomes in certain areas.

Snapchat said about 56% of people who registered to vote through the app this year are first-time voters and about 65% are voters ages 18 to 24, a Snapchat spokesperson estimated.

On top of that, the company also had large amounts of users registering in historically red or battleground states. 

The company says it saw more signups to register in Texas than in any other state, with some of the largest additions coming from Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Aside from the in-app registration tool, Snapchat had already been working to helping inform its users about voting with public service announcements from lawmakers in both parties, as well as celebrities and influencers.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Snapchat says it will continue sending reminders to users about early voting deadlines in their states and will ensure that information and news in the app is accurate. 

Kylie Jenner and David Dobrik Boost Voter Registration

However, it’s not just social media platforms working to boost voter registration ahead of the election. A ton of big-name celebrities and influencers have been their platforms to do the same.

One unique approach came from none other than Kylie Jenner. She took to Instagram on Monday to post some bikini pics for her 196 million followers, captioning the post: “but are you registered to vote? click the link in my bio.. let’s make a plan to vote together.”

That link directs users to Vote.org, where users can check their voter registration status. According to a TMZ report Wednesday, the thirst trap resulted in “nearly 50,000 potential new registered voters.”

The article went on to say that Vote.org saw a 1500% boost from traffic driven via Instagram, and got over an 80% increase in total users of its voter registration and verification tool from the prior day.
TMZ says all translates to more than 48,000 users going to the site through Kylie’s post.

Those numbers, of course, are likely still rising.

Another massive star encouraging voter registration this week was YouTube’s own David Dobrik.

He’s partnered with HeadCount, a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes voter registration, and together they’re giving away five brand new Tesla Model 3s. 

In order to win, participants must check to see that they are registered to vote on the HeadCount website. 

Voter registration is not necessary, but participants will have the opportunity to register if they haven’t yet. The contest started midday Tuesday, and by Wednesday morning, HeadCount has said the campaign has been a record-shattering success.

It generated 10,000 new voter registrations within the first hour of launch and allowed 23,000 people to verify that they had already registered within that same time frame. 

On Wednesday morning, HeadCount also said the numbers for registrations and verifications had reached 82,000 and 212,000, respectively, which makes this the organization’s largest campaign to date. 

By Thursday, the numbers hit 100,000 new registrations and 250,000 verifications, with the HeadCount saying on Instagram, “This is unprecedented in the entire history of celebrity-led voter engagement campaigns.

It’s extra inspiring to know that David is a “Dreamer” (DACA recipient) who can’t vote in the U.S, but has used his platform to help others make their voice heard. A true act of patriotism if there ever was one.

Of course, that number too is expected to get even higher in the coming days. The contest closes at 11:59 p.m ET on Sunday, October 4th. The winners will be randomly selected and announced Monday.

Like in Snapchat’s case, this campaign will no doubt have an impact on younger audiences because Dobrik’s fanbase consists of Gen Z and Millenials. HeadCount says those groups make up 37% of all eligible voters, though they are drastically under-registered.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (TMZ) (Tubefilter)

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