Twitch Orders U.S. Army to Stop Using Fake Promotion that Sent Viewers to Recruitment Form

A U.S. Army gaming channel on Twitch has been told to stop redirecting viewers to a recruitment page by using a fake "giveaway" promotion.

The Amazon-owned streaming platform, home to multiple military eSports teams, had to step in and end the practice after it emerged the channel was displaying a prompt in its chat section which falsely suggested people could win an $200 Xbox controller.

An automated message claimed to be a link to a page they could enter the promotion but, in reality, it would redirect users to a recruitment form without any mention of the contest, according to an investigation into the channel by The Nation.

The U.S. Army eSports channel—where members play popular games including Call of Duty and Apex Legends while also competing in competitions—is increasingly active on Twitch, partnering with popular streamers including @StoneMountain64.

"Per our Terms of Service, promotions on Twitch must comply with all applicable laws," a Twitch spokesperson told gaming website Kotaku on Thursday. "This promotion did not comply with our Terms, and we have required them to remove it."

For the military, it's viewed as a way to directly reach an audience, discussing service opportunities via Twitch's comment section and associated chatrooms.

As a platform, Twitch has about 28 million unique users per month in America. Pitching advertisers, it claims to have an "80 percent reach of teen males in the U.S."

But the seemingly underhanded approach to recruitment did not sit well with people in the gaming industry and live-streaming ecosystem, who called for action.

"Hey Twitch, is using your platform to run scams always against the [terms of service] or does the US Army get a special exception when they're after kids' blood instead of money," game designer Bruno Dias tweeted, attracting more than 1,000 shares.

"Imagine ANY other channel doing that. Feel free to manipulate your viewers as much as you like, I guess?" wrote streamer Jayson Love, as reported by Kotaku.

The fake Xbox controller giveaway wasn't the only recruitment tactic being used by the U.S. Army's channel until Twitch took action, according to The Nation.

On Twitter, the project had also been linking to a page claiming people could "register to win"—without details of what the promotion was about. A form, however, included a disclosure that signing up would eventually result in a recruitment call.

Last week, Vice reported the channel has been caught up in controversy on Twitch for banning viewers who asked about war crimes during a Call of Duty stream.

Video of the incident was shared on Twitter by Rod Breslau, an eSports consultant and insider who is also known under the pseudonym "Slasher." Yesterday, Breslau noted a stream led by the U.S. Navy's channel had thousands of viewers but no chat.

just having a good time with the US Army esports twitch stream @JordanUhl

— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) July 8, 2020

Broadly, Twitch lets administrators moderate based on their own preferences, however the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggested that because it is a government project, bans may have violated speech protections in the first amendment.

"Calling out the government's war crimes isn't harassment, it's speaking truth to power. And banning users who ask important questions isn't 'flexing,' it's unconstitutional," the ACLU tweeted July 10, a position that was "liked" more than 5,000 times.

"If the Army run Twitch channel is a public forum, deleting comments or blocking people from commenting based on their viewpoints... would violate the first amendment," Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney with the Knight Foundation, told Vice.

A spokesperson for the Army eSports team said the channel follows Twitch guidelines. "The team viewed the user's question as a violation of Twitch's harassment policy and banned the user," the official statement read. "We fully support users' rights to express themselves, but we will not support harassment of our soldiers on our forums."

U.S. Army eSports Team
U.S. Army eSports Team competes in competitive gaming matches and has an active presence on Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch. U.S. Army eSports Team/Facebook