Turner "Tfue" Tenney has once again used racist language while streaming on Twitch, and how the platform decides to deal with the popular Fortnite star could determine the future of the website. Twitch has made headlines recently for all the wrong reasons, whether it's because of its large stable of content creators acting up - in particular, Dr. Disrespect getting banned from E3 2019 was a terrible start to the summer - or because of it's own mistakes, like allowing dead game channels to be used to broadcast pornographic or other problematic content.
Nothing sums up Twitch's summer quite like its mega star, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, up and leaving altogether to pursue an exclusive streaming deal with Microsoft's Mixer platform. While the lucrative deal hasn't been in place long enough to see if it will have long-term implications for both platforms, the fallout immediately after has already been enough to sink Twitch's reputation a little further. Twitch immediately unverified Ninja's channel following the announcement, a decision many viewed as petty. Then, Ninja's channel was used to promote porn, something that many believed to be too coincidental to have been a true "accident" on the Twitch end of things. Either way, the company has seen its most important streamer leave and has been criticized for lax moderation ever since, with the spotlight burning even brighter after Ninja's channel was hijacked.
Now, Twitch is at a crossroads. Tfue was caught using a racial slur during a live stream of him playing Minecraft, where he let loose a stream of coarse language that was interspersed with a quick "y'all motherf**kers killed them n****s." A Twitter user (via The Verge, who first reported on the incident) managed to capture the incident as it has since been deleted by Tfue, which appears to be clear acknowledgment that what was heard was indeed the use of offensive, racist language. There's even a brief pause after he says the word - he knows he's messed up, but then proceeds to attempt to ignore it. Here's the clip - obviously, an offensive content warning applies:
The biggest issue for Tfue - apart from the fact that this language is apparently in his vocabulary at all - is the fact that it isn't his first offense when it comes to using racist language on stream. He's earned a Twitch suspension before for calling another player a "coon," which is a dated racial epithet that is commonly accepted as a derogatory reference to black people. He also received a ban for the behavior of his chat, which was apparently enacting toxic behavior on another streamer, though no one seems to have the exact details on that incident. That's two bans, for those keeping track, and that's where Twitch will find itself at a crossroads. Twitch employs a three strikes rule that sees the first two bans as temporary suspensions, with a third violation resulting in a permanent banning.
Clearly, Tfue messed up again. That's not up for dispute. Given the hard evidence, Twitch's reputation will now be on the line. The platform has yet to respond to the incident, and it appears Tfue isn't taking it very seriously, either. His most recent tweet is simply this:
sad music hours 🎶— Tfue (@TTfue) September 5, 2019
Tfue has nearly 7 million followers on Twitch. As of the beginning of this year, he claimed to have over 50,000 subscribers, providing evidence in a tweet to back those figures up. He's undeniably one of the biggest content creators on Twitch - perhaps the biggest, now that Ninja has left - and he has a rabid fanbase that certainly rivals the one that may have followed Ninja to Mixer. Twitch can ill-afford to lose another mega-star so soon after Ninja left the platform, and it seems almost guaranteed that if Tfue was banned from Twitch, he would jump ship to Mixer.
With all of that said, though, there's no guarantee Twitch will act on its policies. There's a growing sentiment that Twitch provides special treatment to its more popular content creators, going so far as to ignore offences so that they don't lose streaming time and Twitch doesn't lose the viewers. Ignoring Tfue's third offence will only fuel that speculation further, and could sink the platform's reputation - but so will the banning of Tfue, which would possibly incite even bigger losses. It's a tough situation for Twitch either way, but it's also a malestrom of its own making. Twitch has been criticized for its lax policies and unwillingness to accept responsibility for how it influences viewers before, and tightening those rules up might have prevented this situation from happening.
Whatever happens, Twitch is facing a test that will prove where its resolve lies. Will the company choose bigger numbers or the moral high-ground and sticking to its own rules? Consumers will find out shortly, but until then, every minute of inaction from Twitch speaks volumes about how it will handle itself in the future, too.