On Wednesday, before the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden's Twitch channel banned users from its chat for talking about "Obama era war crimes," namely the administration's role in the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. For a time, Biden's Twitch channel also banned users from typing the word “frack.” Biden insists that he would not ban fracking if he wins the White House, a method for extracting oil and especially natural gas—long-touted as a cleaner alternative energy—that is increasingly under fire for disastrous side-effects, and which environmental groups and leftists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to ban entirely.
On Joe Biden’s Twitch stream, lo-fi beats played over footage of a livestream from his campaign bus in between replays of his campaign speeches. Two hours and 48 minutes into the stream, Twitch user “elitepeanutbag” asked “what’s everyone’s fav obama era war crime? Mine is when we refueled Saui Bombers that were leveling Yemen.”
Later, Twitch user “justintime4763” and “elitepeanutbag” had a conversation on the stream's chat while an artist sketched out Kamala Harris’ face. “Very excited for nothing to fundamentally change!!!!! #biden2020,” justintime4763 said. Then a moderator for the channel banned both justintime4763 and elitepeanutbag from the Twitch stream and erased their comments.
Moderating Twitch channels is a common practice. The U.S. Army and Navy possibly violated the first amendment when they banned users from their Twitch stream for asking hard questions. But Biden isn’t currently a government representative and it’s not a first amendment violation for his campaign to ban people from its Twitch chat.
“I wasn't incredibly surprised that I got banned as I was criticizing Biden quite a bit, but as I looked at my last messages I was shocked that those messages would warrant a ban from them,” justin4763—who wants his real name withheld to protect his anonymity—told Motherboard over Twitter DM. “As they don't have any clear rules posted, I didn't realize that my ‘controversial’ opinions were not allowed on their channel. I hope in the future, if they continue to stream, they can be more clear with their rules.”
"Frack" is a good example of the unclear rules. Like many other Twitch channels, Joe Biden’s stream has an automated moderator that prevents users from posting certain words. Until yesterday afternoon, a user could type “fracking” but not “frack.” After Motherboard reached out to the Joe Biden campaign to ask about the ban on the word and the banning of users in the stream, “frack” was removed from the list of banned words.
The Joe Biden Campaign declined to comment on this story.
It’s possible that “frack” was banned from chat because it’s a semi-popular stand-in for "fuck." In 2004, the TV Battlestar Galactica popularized the substitute as a way of getting around basic cable censorship.
For elitepeanutbag—who wanted their name withheld out of a fear of retaliation at their workplace—it’s about more than just clear rules.
“It's important to bring up the issues of our military involvement in the [Middle East] because American imperialism is a matter that both parties fail to curtail or address,” they told Motherboard in a Twitter DM. “In this election the Democratic Party sees it as a referendum on Trump, however the Democratic Party's priorities and platform are often inline with American imperialism...my reaction to the ban is that it was expected and evidence that the Biden campaign is interested more in discussing abstract ideas like ‘Battling for the soul of the nation’ than it is in addressing material changes in our nation's international policy.”
“I believe it’s incredibly important to address the blatant human rights abuses that happen and continue to happen inside the Middle East,” justin4763 said. “By banning people who brought up U.S war crimes, it shows how willing they are to cover up their own administration's misdoings, no matter ethical concerns.”