Twitch Staff Cite a Workplace Culture Steeped in Sexism, Racism, and Abuse

"Twitch, are you ready to take action and finally listen to their stories?"

In a scathing report published on GamesIndustry.biz earlier this week, 16 employees from every era of the company exposed Twitch as an organization rife with systemic sexism, racism, and abuse. Among the allegations made are claims of sexual harassment, physical assault, and more.

The allegations surfaced after the video game industry’s most recent reckoning with sexual misconduct, harassment, and abuse. That #MeToo wave began in June of this year. Among those accused of abuse were many Twitch streamers. “There’s been a lot of important conversation happening over the previous couple days, and I’ve heard your voices,” tweeted Twitch CEO Emmett Shear in response on June 22. He attached an internal email he sent to the company on the topic.

In that email, he stated that Twitch was, “looking into all the incidents and will be taking action … actions may include banning, removing partnership, or removing people from promotional opportunities and activations if we have concerns based on credible accusations and their historical behavior on Twitch.”

(On Oct. 9, a member of the Twitch community found out that the company has partnered with Onision, who has been widely accused of child grooming and abuse.)

“Please know we are taking these accusations very seriously and are working with urgency to address them so that Twitch and the broader streaming and gaming communities are safer for everyone,” he continued. “We support people coming forward, commend their bravery in doing so, and know there are many others who have not … the status quo needs to change.”

The report on GamesIndustry.biz alleges that, if anything, Twitch has been a massive perpetrator in that very status quo.

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“Twitch repeatedly swept accounts of harassment and abuse under the rug: sexual, verbal, physical abuse, and racism,” said the first employee who came forward following Shear’s statement. “And not just my own. It took place in the office. At events. In meetings and behind closed doors. It was rampant and unavoidable. We heard about it in the halls. We saw it at our desks. It was overt and part of the job.”

Employees cite numerous glaring cultural problems. One is “an explicit tolerance for misogyny.” One woman said that women on Twitch, “were held to extreme standards, and it was always blamed on them if they used sexuality as marketing, and it was deeply degrading.” Women streamers were routinely called “boob streamers” by men in the office, who would slut-shame them and even joke about streamers sleeping with people for favors. Constant harassment was handled with an attitude of, “what do boob streamers expect?”

Multiple women report they were sexually and verbally assaulted by men at the company. When these incidents were reported to Human Resources or senior management, they were not handled appropriately. One woman says she was told to continue working with her abuser and to “show him respect.” A former HR team member stated that HR wasn’t, “a source of support for employees. If anything, they just worked to minimize the complaining person and their complaint. They were always in favor of and working for the person with the most power.” While some had positive experiences with individual HR employees, those HR members were not able to see things get handled properly despite trying their best.

If a company has a sexism problem, it also very likely has a race problem, and vice-versa. According to the report, Twitch is no exception. The company’s decision-makers have been predominantly white and male, and have dismissed the safety concerns of racial and ethnic minorities. Hate speech has been seen as teenage edginess rather than real racism.

During Twitch’s Justin.tv days, a former employee recalled Shear insisting the Ku Klux Klan was allowed to stream as long as they adhered to the platform’s rules. An early employee said individuals within the company, “had to fight for a year to get the n-word on the global ban list.”

The lengthy report includes much more information, allegations, and evidence of an extremely toxic culture. One person even says that an employee was once so angry over a policy change that they, “defecated and spread it all over the walls. This individual was caught on video entering the men’s room. And there was a big debate about how to handle it, which a lot of us thought was kind of odd, that there would be any debate between therapy and firing him.” A former HR employee states he was ultimately not fired.

The report concludes with a statement directed to Twitch from the first employee who approached GamesIndustry.biz. The statement is as follows:

This is about a broken company, toxic culture, and unsafe environment for women and the fact that these men continue to be rewarded and move up within the industry while the women that are targeted continue to be held down. I challenge you to stand by your word and prove to this community that you aren’t just reacting to public pressure through an empty-worded tweet, and show your commitment to stand by creating a safer workplace and community for women.

Create a non-biased HR.

Clear out the offenders and hire people that live by the principles you wish to see on your platform.

Just be good people.

Believe women when they tell you they don’t feel safe. Give women an equal opportunity to shine. Hear them. Create a diverse perspective within the company so that the platform represents an accurate view of the world. Follow through with your Terms of Service and act on bad behavior.

I am only one of thousands of women in this community that has a story like this. The time is now for change. We’ve had enough. Twitch, are you ready to take action and finally listen to their stories?

Twitch responded to the report in a statement sent to sites like Kotaku, Gamasutra, and Dot Esports. A spokesperson said:

It’s deeply disappointing to read accounts of toxicity from people who had negative experiences at and on Twitch. Clearly, some of the processes and policies we had in the past did not do enough to make our employees and community members feel safe and valued.

While we are not without fault or above criticism, this article does not adequately acknowledge all the ways in which our company has evolved and the numerous steps we’ve taken over the years to build a company that protects and supports our employees and community.

We’ve invested heavily in our HR and safety teams, brought in new, diverse leadership and will continue to invest time and resources in this area. We take any allegations of this nature extremely seriously, whether on our service or within our company, and work swiftly to investigate and address them as appropriate, bringing in third parties to ensure impartiality when needed. Any claims to the contrary simply misrepresent our culture and values.

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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