Congress Refuses to Kick the Military Off of Twitch

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Congress debated on Thursday whether to end the US military’s use of esports teams to recruit teenagers, following a Nation report published two weeks prior about the practice. Shortly after publication, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced an amendment to the year’s defense spending bill which would have barred the use of funds on military recruiting efforts “by any of the Armed Forces for [Twitch] or esports activities.”

“I believe that we should act with reservation and caution first rather than entering with both feet in and then trying to undo damage that could potentially be done,” Ocasio-Cortez said while speaking in support of the measure on Thursday afternoon. “That’s why I believe we should, again, restrain and restrict ourselves from explicit recruitment tactics, not others, but recruitment, specifically, on platforms that children are using to play games like Animal Crossing—from Animal Crossing to Call of Duty.”

Originally, congressional staffers close to the issue expected the amendment to be grouped with several other non-controversial amendments and voted on en bloc and passed via voice vote. Instead, to the surprise of many staffers and advocates following the amendment, this was singled out and voted on separately. The amendment ultimately failed to get enough support after 103 Democrats joined with 188 Republicans to vote against it. The final tally was 126-292. No Republicans voted in favor of it.

“Imagine trying to explain to your colleagues who are members of Congress what Twitch is,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in a thread while the vote was happening. “Congress is voting on legislation regarding Twitch today. It’s totally fine if you don’t know what Twitch is. But tech literacy is becoming [a] growing need in Congress so we can legislate to protect people’s privacy, etc. When our legislative bodies aren’t sufficiently responsive to tech, then that means we don’t have the tools required to protect people.”

Her comments on colleagues misunderstanding of the issue are perfectly encapsulated by a statement Representative Max Rose of New York gave to the New York Post.

“This is incredibly insulting as it perpetuates the limousine liberal trope that soldiers are idiots who only get duped into enlisting,” Rose, an Army veteran, told the Murdoch tabloid about the amendment designed to keep military recruiters away from minors online.

But even without passage of Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment the military’s online recruitment efforts have been curtailed. A day after publication, the Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch told the Army it must immediately stop using deceptive giveaways to collect personal information. After the Army booted me from its Twitch channel for mentioning US war crimes, First Amendment lawyers also started speaking out, arguing that my ban constituted a violation of free speech rights. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University even sent a letter to the Army and Navy demanding an end to speech prohibitions in military Twitch channels.



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