Moderating Gender on Twitch

Curator's Note

"What even is sexual content?" The question speaks to the difficulties and importance of content moderation on social media platforms, as such a complex issue can hardly be articulated in the span of a short video, within Community Guidelines, or the algorithms in place to moderate content online. The February 2018 updates to Twitch’s Guidelines were in part a reaction to increased harassment, debate, and complaints across the Twitch platform wherein the 81.5% male userbase reacted to the rise of non-male streamers to the platform as part of its overall growth. Men critiqued many of these women as using sexuality to siphon viewers away from more ‘legitimate’ content fitting the site’s values/goals. Twitch stands amidst this cultural crisis like so many social media companies, and its response speaks to cultural, economic, and social values that become enacted through moderation policies.

As seen in the video, much of the struggle is over defining what is “sexually suggestive,” with calls to involve a variety of contextual elements like camera angles, outfits, and content. Tellingly the example used in the video is a hypothetical male streamer making sexual jokes and wearing a ‘mankini,’ a purposely extreme case that avoids the social complexities of women’s clothing expectations despite women being much more subject to this policy’s enforcement.

What’s more, Twitch evokes Supreme Court Potter Stewart’s famous claim when settling on “You know it when you see it,” as Stewart famously stated in reference to obscenity. This echo should be rightfully critiqued for its individual arbitrariness and reminds us that social media platforms like Twitch are in fact enacting their own judicial systems with little to no oversight in dictating cultural norms.

This excerpt includes a direct call-to-action, deputizing Twitch users to report anyone they feel are breaking these rules. What followed was the emergence of empowered vigilante posses of male users patrolling Twitch to admonish and punish women for their attire or content. This raises questions over the role moderation policies like Community Guidelines play in dictating gendered appearance, behavior, and interaction, as well as reinforcing patriarchal systems of power through their enforcement.

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