Sixteen Twitch staffers came forward and accused the Amazon-owned company of indifference to a culture of sexual assault, sexism, harassment, and racism, according to today’s report by GamesIndustry.biz.
The accusations span the entirety of Twitch’s lifespan, even dating back to its early days as Justin.tv. Allegations include a “definite bias” where women weren’t given the same opportunities as men, forced kisses, groping, slut-shaming streamers, and one woman even being called a “cunt” and “spat on by a co-worker.”
“It just didn’t feel safe there ever,” one woman told GamesIndustry.biz. “Nobody ever really took responsibility for anything and there was nobody to go to if you were threatened, or felt threatened, or were harmed in some way. HR was not on the side of the employees, for sure… if you went to HR, that would just ruin you even more.”
Many of the people who came forward felt Twitch’s HR department didn’t support their employees, would sweep allegations under the rug, and, in some cases, make the issue even worse. One person alleges that they were retaliated against by the person they reported to HR, physically and verbally, according to GamesIndustry.biz.
The gaming and esports world underwent a much-needed #MeToo moment in June, where allegations of sexual assault and harassment swept the scene. Since many of the alleged offenders were Twitch streamers, the company released a statement saying it was “actively looking into” the accusations and would “work with law enforcement where applicable.” The company also began permanently banning streamers involved in the most severe allegations.
Samantha Wong and her husband, former Twitch VP Justin Wong, called the company out for its “empty words.” Samantha Wong claims Twitch “minimized and dismissed” her sexual harassment and “continued to let the predator” attend events. And even with such a high position, Justin Wong’s reports to the “relationship-owning VP, the head of HR, and the CEO” were futile.
Twitch’s former director of strategic partnerships, Hassan Bokhari, was accused by streamer Vio of using his position to manipulate her into performing sexual acts in June. Bokhari has since been permanently banned from Twitch and fired, according to esports journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau.
A Twitch spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz that the company is “dedicated to building communities” and that many of the allegations are “years old.” Since then, the company says it’s taken “numerous steps to better protect and support” employees and the community.
“We have invested significantly in our HR team, bringing in new, diverse leadership and reducing the ratio of employees to HR business partners so they can provide more support and better foster inclusivity,” the spokesperson said.
Employees are allowed to confidentially report through an anonymous website or hotline that uses third-party investigations to look into allegations and take action when appropriate.
Twitch was also being accused of brushing off safety concerns on its platform for racial and ethnic minorities, women, and people from underrepresented groups because the “decision makers have been predominantly white and male,” according to one employee.
Hate speech on the platform was allegedly dismissed, as well as racism within the workplace. One early employee claims that they had to fight for a year to get the N-word banned.
More recently, former lead product manager Olivia Grace said she requested the removal of a raccoon emote that was used for “racist harassment.” Twitch CEO Emmett Shear allegedly said no.
Update Oct. 9 8:25am CT: Twitch shared a statement with Dot Esports regarding the employee accounts and what the company has done and will continue to do to support its community.
“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.”