Are Twitch’s Nudity and Attire Guidelines Sexist?

Ella Glover looks into Twitch's updated broadcasting guidelines to see if they affect both males and females equally.

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Ella Glover looks into Twitch’s updated broadcasting guidelines to see if they affect both males and females equally.

In April, global streaming platform Twitch updated its nudity and attire policy. The Amazon-owned platform saw a need for transparency surrounding its expectations for viewers and streamers alike due to the recent growth of the platform, which has grown by 14.3% in the last year and is estimated to reach 47 million viewers by 2023.

The guidelines included the prohibition of nude or partially nude streaming, including the exposing of genitals or buttocks, the visible outline of genitals, sheer or partially see-through clothing, and the broadcasting of nude or partially nude minors. These same rules apply for embedded media, games with a sexual focus, and user-generated sexual in-game content. However, users of the platform still found the rules too ambiguous, leading to the rolling out of a further policy update on 21st April.

In order to combat confusion and loopholes, Twitch further updated its policy to include “contextual exceptions” including swimming, beaches, concerts, and festivals – providing genitals are completely covered, IRL streaming, for which passers-by are not held to the same dress code requirements but broadcasting of nudity is disallowed, breastfeeding and body art, for which buttocks and genitals must be covered by opaque attire.

In all instances, the exposing of nipples and underbust “for those who present as women” is completely banned, including for those breastfeeding and creating body art (cleavage is fine, though).

While these guidelines are deemed necessary on an ethical level, some users of the platform believe that the ambiguity surrounding these rules, and Twitch’s implementation of them, are harmful to many of Twitch’s content creators – specifically women.

Problems with ambiguity

Twitch has come under fire before for discrimination and sexism. Female streamer, LightChee, believes that, while their new guidelines look “very particular and detailed,” she doubts it means the inconsistency with the platform “following up on rules being broken will change along with that,” which, she says, is “the biggest problem”.

The ambiguity of Twitch’s previous nudity and attire guidelines, which asked streamers to avoid wearing clothes that would be inappropriate in public, has often led to seemingly unwarranted bans.

One popular Swedish fashion streamer, Swebliss, accused Twitch of sexism and clothing discrimination in March this year. After receiving a 24-hour ban, Swebliss took to Twitter to express her confusion and anger, explaining that her content has never intended to be sexually explicit.

After streaming for six years, and consistently trying to adhere to Twitch’s guidelines and keep her streams family-friendly by “taping” her clothes to avoid accidents and blocking any racist and homophobic comments, Swebliss accused Twitch of discrimination. She claimed other users had done much worse –  such as posting racist, homophobic, sexist, and violent comments and streaming sexually explicit games – and faced no repercussions.

Swebliss stated that she never sold naked photos or held a private Snapchat account (or anything similar) and, after streaming for an average of seven hours per day for the last year, has “lost faith” in the platform.

Unwarranted bans like this highlighted the problems with ambiguity in Twitch’s previous guidelines, pushing them to implement the new, more concrete rules relating to body parts and behaviors rather than attire alone.

Ex-streamer Bryan Archilla believes the vagueness of Twitch’s guidelines “feels purposeful,” in that Twitch can “select who to target.” For Archilla, this means that Twitch can essentially sacrifice smaller, less lucrative channels, “to keep the big ones, that are actively being harmful or providing harmful rhetoric alive” while still pushing the idea that they’re “working to keep their community appropriate”.

Why is nudity such an issue for Twitch?

The conversation surrounding nudity and sexually explicit content on Twitch is ongoing, and the platform has struggled to regulate their service following its exponential growth, leaving room for lots of NSFW content – including the streaming of porn. According to LightChee, there is a large number of female streamers who make their chest area a “focal point”, disregarding both “the platform’s rules and its demographic at the same time.”

Controversial streamer, Amouranth, is often criticized for “pushing the boundaries” and “wearing the bare minimum for what is allowed” while streaming her gym workouts and active games such as Just Dance.

The majority of criticisms come from those concerned with the number of underage users accessing and viewing her content – although Amouranth blames the parents for allowing their children to access inappropriate content in the first place – while others criticize Twitch for favoritism, contemplating why such explicit content is allowed from one streamer when other streamers have been banned for much less inappropriate content like streaming in a public bathroom.

Amouranth’s content is likely intended to be sexual, though, given the promotion of her Patreon, where she apparently sells nudes for $100 each and posts “lewd, NSFW” videos. This behavior, when not addressed, can potentially hurt Twitch’s image, states LightChee.

One major ethical concern surrounding female nudity on Twitch is the likelihood of children “stumbling” across mature content and potentially learning to “objectify women at a young age,” says Archilla (although he argues that this is no different to other sites like Reddit or PornHub).

LightChee notes that while famous streamers like Amouranth are bound to receive attention for their inappropriate behavior, “you can only imagine the number of small-time streamers doing something similar,” meaning that the likelihood of young viewers stumbling across NSFW content is pretty high.

Some believe that this type of streaming directly results in the undermining of female gamers by other streamers and viewers, specifically males. LightChee somewhat disagrees, though, stating that, although that streamers who are physically attractive and confident in that aspect will likely find it easier to build a viewership “off the bat,” the biggest factor in “gaining even more viewership and, most importantly, keeping it” is keeping your stream consistently interesting and entertaining.

Archilla suggests that Twitch’s handling of its nudity policy directly results in the perpetuation of this ideology “that men deserve to be on the platform more than women because men do it ‘legitimately’ without resorting to cleavage bouncing or being hot,”

He believes that while there is a necessity for some guidelines regarding nudity “lest it turns into a cam-site”, the vagueness surrounding these guidelines are hurting creators not intending to abuse them.

The Verdict?

Twitch’s updated policy is definitely a step in the right direction. By creating more concrete guidelines, the platform has protected itself from claims of favoritism and discrimination while continuing to enforce the rules created to protect its younger and more vulnerable users.

While Archilla agrees with the use of Twitch for sex work, on the grounds that women have finally “found a way to monetize their bodies on their own terms” and to profit of the objectification they have endured at the hands of men “from the beginning of civilization,” it is clear that this was not the platform’s original purpose, nor is it the main factor in usership.

These policies are inherent in making the platform a safe place. But, with the ability for these rules to be manipulated in a way that harms female creators, it is vital that Twitch continues to monitor the validity of reports and be as transparent as possible in setting boundaries for streamers.

For PC Guide Ella has contributed features on trending tech topics as well as news coverage, versus pieces and Black Friday deals digging.