FGC veteran Gootecks tweeted remarks on Jan. 6 about the takeover of the U.S Capitol Building, used the #Magamartyr hashtag, and shared a graphic video of one of the perpetrators being shot by police. This caused a powerful wave of online criticism and inspired Twitch to remove Gooteck's face from the PogChamp emote in favor of a rotating PogChamp that would change every day. Full story here.
Twitch's response was to take on a community idea: use a new PogChamp face every day — an idea that turned sour in just a few days.
PogChamp isn't just a random smiley face or emote — it is someone's face. On Jan. 6, that face was Twitch Partner CriticalBard, a black and gay gamer that commonly expresses political and racial beliefs online. In this case, CriticalBard is an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. Users were quick to pull up Tweets from CriticalBard that, to them, showed clear examples of racism and hypocrisy on the side of Twitch.
"Why remove Gootecks yet allow this language?", the critics protest loudly.
What followed was a social media barrage of hate across CriticalBard's Twitter, Twitch, and a wildly popular thread on the LiveStreamFails subReddit filled with heated debates on whether or not CriticalBard is a racist, all tying back to a 28x28px Twitch chat emoji.
"Contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between talking out about what is real and what needs to be said. Like the fact, you know, that white privilege is fucked up and we need to combat that.
And saying 'your white life doesn't matter because white lives don't matter in general.' People's lives matter and yes, all lives matter. We know this. We know this as a fact. No one ever said they didn't — literally, no one ever said that all lives don't matter. Y'all said that because we said black lives matter. So, there is a difference between me speaking out about those issues that black people face, versus someone calling someone a 'MAGAmartyr' and uplifting the insurrection that they did. There is a big difference..."
In changing PogChamp from one face to another, Twitch may have inadvertently opened up a whole new problem that sounds like a PR nightmare.
For starters, the new sensitivity surrounding the PogChamp emote is a whole lot of US political drama that an international streaming service probably doesn't want to be a part of.
While the US does makeup Twitch's largest viewer base compared to other individual countries (24.3%), the rest of the world's gamers watching likely don't care too much what happened at the Capitol building or who decided to tweet about it. Any increased conversation regarding PogChamp and the political affiliation of the face behind isn't the type of PR Twitch is trying to cultivate, especially through a campaign that will happen every day of 2021.
In addition, as CriticalBard faces increasing vitriol online, the question of how Twitch's responsibility towards the safety and mental health of streamers emerges. What is stopping the "lucky" PogChamp of the day from becoming just another target of politically inspired online harassment? Will all future PogChamps also have their Twitter history searched and posted online in an attempt to call out Twitch for hypocrisy?
You may agree with CriticalBard, but what happens if the PogChamp of the day is someone you don't agree with? Is it on Twitch to choose wisely and pick only the least controversial streamers for the PogChamp initiative? Does any of this even matter?
Can't escape politics
It is exhausting writing about this story because, in many ways, it isn't a story. It isn't new to remind people that the Western world is deeply divided across political, cultural, and racial lines that are both invisible yet so obviously in plain sight. Every day spent online is another reminder that our world is becoming more complex and that complexity doesn't make social cohesion easy.
However, Twitch's original decision to remove the Gootecks as PogChamp wasn't a frivolous one. That was news and it was a clear message from that anyone promoting violence at the Capitol building shouldn't represent Twitch. It also created a precedent that all future Twitch emotes will be subject to, whether Twitch likes it or not.
10 days into 2021 and Twitch inadvertently created a political battleground around the PogChamp emote. If that doesn't get you excited for the new year, I don't know what will *Kappa*.
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