On Tuesday, Twitch removed graphic video of Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s death, shown during the trial of his alleged murderer Derek Chauvin — the latest test of how Amazon’s live streaming platform handles newsworthy events.
Nonprofit news site Unicorn Riot said its Twitch account was suspended for 30 days during the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murdering Floyd. Trial witnesses were shown footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, an act of apparent police brutality that led to months of protests. That footage apparently ran afoul of Twitch’s guidelines.
Unicorn Riot cofounder and producer Dan Feidt says the outlet had run protest footage for days and wasn’t expecting the suspension. “We had just started getting into Twitch in the past few months,” says Feidt. The outlet streams through services like Periscope and YouTube, but Twitch let them reach a different group of viewers and become less dependent on a couple of major platforms. “We were essentially trying to build up a new audience, and this seemed like a great opportunity to get material out there.”
Twitch declined to comment on the specifics of Unicorn Riot’s ban, but it offered more general guidelines on violence. “Our community guidelines prohibit any content that shows gore or extreme violence, and we remove this type of footage when it is reported to us,” a spokesperson said.
Other social platforms like YouTube and Facebook have similar policies about graphic content. But these sites make exceptions for content with news value — like a recent live stream of a mass shooting in Colorado, which YouTube said didn’t violate its rules. A spokesperson noted that Twitch has no such exception, echoing statements the company has made before. So while Unicorn Riot streamed the video on YouTube, Facebook, and Periscope without issue, it won’t be returning to Twitch for a little while — although it isn’t dropping the platform. “My personal opinion right now is that it would still be good to use as many of these services as we can, including Twitch, in whatever way possible,” says Feidt.
Twitch, like most online platforms, has become a venue for political commentary in recent years. And it was one of several platforms to ban former President Donald Trump after the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. But so far, it’s dodged much of the criticism and regulatory pressure that YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have faced. As cases like the Chauvin trial crop up, Twitch will have to balance the value of keeping out potentially controversial material with the opportunity to offer users a platform for broader political expression.
Update 2:15PM ET: Added comment from Unicorn Riot producer Dan Feidt.