Army eSports team will reverse ban on Twitch users who asked about war crimes

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The Army's esports team is reversing its ban on accounts that asked its players about war crimes on Twitch.

"The U.S. Army eSports Team is reinstating access for accounts previously banned for harassing and degrading behavior on its Twitch stream” and will begin streaming again “in the near future," said U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) spokeswoman Lisa Ferguson. 

In July, some users on the streaming platform Twitch were banned by the Army eSports team — an initiative from USAREC — after asking its players about war crimes (or "w4r cr1me" when the term "war crimes" was no longer allowed due to the Twitch channel's moderation settings). 

USAREC previously stood by the team's decision, saying the Army "may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of discussions on its recruiting social media sites."

Kelli Bland, another USAREC spokeswoman, told Task & Purpose in July that the users were being banned "for behavior intended to harass, degrade and intimidate, which violates the Twitch community guidelines."

But Ferguson said on Tuesday that the esports team is now "reviewing and clarifying its policies and procedures," and is going to provide previously-banned users "the opportunity to participate in the space as long as they follow the team's guidelines." 

The ban had been met with backlash from free speech advocates, who argued it was a First Amendment violation.

"As a general rule, as established in our case against Trump, if a government agency or branch of the military operates a social media platform or a website, and they allow people generally to post comments then typically that would be considered a public forum," Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute told Vice. “If the Army run Twitch channel is a public forum, then deleting comments or blocking people from commenting based on their viewpoints, such as asking about military crimes, would violate the first amendment.”

Since its inception, the Army's Twitch channel has included in its chat rules that users should avoid engaging in harassment, hate speech, spamming, posting people's private information, and more. 

As of July 14, Bland said, the page started including a user agreement which says the Defense Department "reserves the right, but undertakes no duty, to review, edit, move or delete any material submitted as a comment to the information provided for display or placed on the social media sites in its sole discretion, without notice.”

In the heat of the backlash, the Army temporarily stopped the esports team from streaming on Twitch. Ferguson said on Tuesday that the team would begin streaming again "in the near future," though a "specific date has not been set." 

She added that action "will be taken" against users who post "[p]ersonal attacks, crude language, pornographic material, harassment and bullying."