US Army Esports team potentially violated First Amendment rights by chat banning Twitch viewers asking about war crimes

Two attorneys weighed in on the matter.

Image via Activision

The U.S. Army recently ventured into the streaming world. But things have been a bit rocky.

The U.S. Army chat banned a viewer last week for asking “what’s your favorite u.s. w4r cr1me,” according to a tweet by esports journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau. The act of silencing the viewer can potentially be deemed a violation of free speech protections, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) staff attorney told VICE.

“It looks like what happened was a violation of the First Amendment,” Vera Eidelman said. The staff attorney explained that a government can’t determine what comments it does and doesn’t allow on a public forum.

The law firm that successfully sued President Donald Trump for blocking people on Twitter, the Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia University, also weighed in.

“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,” senior staff attorney Katie Fallow told VICE.

Since the Army-run Twitch channel is a public forum, Fallow continued, deleting comments or blocking viewers because of their viewpoint violates the First Amendment.

The U.S. Army’s Twitch channel lists a set of “chat rules” to “encourage a respectful, enjoyable, and harassment-free viewing experience.”

“Messages that are not constructive, topics outside the scope of USAE, and pushing personal agendas will be reviewed if they are deemed as harassment and moderated,” the channel says.

A U.S. Army Esports representative said the viewer’s question was considered a “violation of Twitch’s harassment policy,” leading to a chat ban.

“We fully support users’ rights to express themselves, but we will not support harassment of our Soldiers on our forums,” the spokesperson said.

Twitch’s FAQ on chat bans asserts that channel owners and moderators are “free to ban anyone for their channel, regardless of the reason.”

While a typical streamer can remove someone from their channel without cause, the U.S. Army is a government entity. If they ban a viewer from speaking in chat, it can be considered a violation of their free speech.