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US Army accused of breaching First Amendment by banning users on Twitch

Users were silenced for asking about war crimes.
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In the past week, the US Army has been facing criticism for banning users who asked about war crimes on its Twitch esports channel. Now, civil rights activists claim the US military might have violated the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) feels by banning users from its Twitch channel because of viewpoint the US Army violated the constitution.

“It looks like what happened was a violation of the First Amendment,” said Vera Eidelman, an attorney who works for the ACLU. She continued to explain that the military, and government, have no right to choose what comments to allow on a public forum selectively.

The military has been using esports to interact with civilians. They have a channel on Twitch where the Army’s esports team streams Call of Duty: Warzone.

On Twitch, channel creators can formulate their own chat rules, on top of Twitch’s community guidelines. The Army’s Twitch channel rules did not prohibit asking about war crimes. However, the channel’s moderators started banning anyone who asked about war crimes such as the Kunduz Hospital airstrike and the My Lai Massacre.

This is not the first time the military has banned users from its esports channel. In June, users started testing how fast they could get banned from the military’s Discord Channel by asking uncomfortable questions.

Jordan Uhl, a progressive activist, saw stories about the Discord bans and decided to see if the same would happen on Twitch.

Speaking to Vice, Uhl said, “Sure, at a base level, it’s trolling. But it was also interesting that [The Army is] being aggressive with removing any incidences of us war crimes in what is essentially a recruiting tool for the military.”

Uhl was particularly annoyed by the fact that the military is using esports to recruit teenagers. “If the Army wants to recruit with these modern tools and these modern platforms that are widely used by young susceptible kids, young, impressionable kids, the kids have at least a right to know what the military does and has done.”

Another civil rights group, Knight First Amendment Institute, the group that sued President Trump for blocking Twitter users and won, also thinks the military broke the law by banning users.

“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,” said Katie Fallow, a Senior Attorney at Knight.

Fallow continued to explain that, “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.”

However, according to the military, the users’ questions about war crimes were harassment.

“The team viewed the user’s question as a violation of Twitch’s harassment policy and banned the user. We fully support users’ rights to express themselves, but we will not support harassment of our Soldiers on our forums,” said a representative of the military’s esports team.

Twitch chose not to comment on this story specifically, probably because of the platform’s policy on bans and suspension, which clearly state that Twitch will not intervene on channel-specific bans.

“Channel owners and moderators are free to ban anyone from their channel, regardless of the reason. Twitch Staff will not assist in reversing channel-specific bans.”

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