The streaming community is under the magnifying glass once again after Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, arguably the biggest Fortnite streamer, dropped a racial slur during a Twitch stream.
Blevins later apologized on Twitter, saying he didn’t want to offend anyone and chalking it up to a giant misunderstanding. Unlike other streamers and YouTubers who have been called out for using racist language during a stream, Blevins wasn’t using it against a player or referring to anything specific in his Fortnite match.
Welp...looks like Ninja already dropped the N-word...smh and I had high hopes for him ughh @Nadeshot get ya mans ♂️ @Ninja pic.twitter.com/tETY8OunYQ— J.D. (@jdwitherspoon) March 28, 2018
Blevins was rapping along to “44 More,” a popular song by Logic, but even that proved to be an uneasy answer for people. “44 More” doesn’t include the word Blevins used. He explained, “I wasn’t even trying to say the word—I fumbled lyrics and got tongue tied in the worst possible way.”
Questions have now turned to what type of behavior can lead to a suspension or ban on Twitch, and whether Blevins will face action himself. Other popular streamers, like Steven “Destiny” Bonnell and WehSing “SingSing” Yuen, have faced retaliation over the use of the word. Then again, other streamers who have let the word slip, have it played in a song they’re playing on stream or even see it flashing by in their chat haven’t gotten suspended.
It can be confusing, and Twitch’s own community guidelines aren’t very helpful in discerning the correct answer. Asked for clarification, a Twitch representative told Polygon that this is the best way to understand when a streamer might face punishment for using of an offensive or derogatory term: “When reviewing reported content or activity, we will consider its intent and context.”
The use of a racist or derogatory term falls under the hateful conduct and speech section of Twitch’s community guidelines — a subsection that was recently updated to ensure that community members understood Twitch was taking a more strict stance on hate speech and harassment. The company defines hateful conduct as “any content or activity that promotes, encourages, or facilitates discrimination, denigration, objectification, harassment, or violence based on the following characteristics,” and notes that using terminology that falls under any of the characteristics is strictly prohibited.
The first one listed is “race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
The guidelines also state, however, that Twitch’s team will “consider a number of factors to determine the intent and context of any reported hateful conduct” to ensure that suspensions and bans are properly handled. This allows for certain terms to be used on stream in certain context without streamers facing a suspension.
The best example of this is lyrics. If someone is rapping along to a song and drops the term, Twitch’s moderation team will take that into context. That doesn’t necessarily rule out the chances of Twitch taking action, though, and people are asking for Twitch to make the rules clearer. Essentially, Twitch’s code of conduct boils down to a case-by-case basis. The company doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all rule for holding streamers accountable for the language they use on their streams.
Blevins acknowledged in his apology on Twitter that using the word, even in music, is wrong. He asked his fans to forgive him, and promised to do better.
“The best way I can explain it is that I promise that I understand how much pain that word causes, even if it gets used a lot in music and elsewhere,” Blevins said. “It’s a word historically used to divide people, and I’m about bringing people together.”