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December 20

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  • Twitch Nudity Policy Changes Underscore More Issues Facing Content Creators

Twitch Nudity Policy Changes Underscore More Issues Facing Content Creators

Livestreaming, Performing, Twitch

 

The Twitch nudity policy fiasco underscores broader concerns facing content creators — and not just on the most popular livestreaming platform in the world. Now, some streamers are left more confused than ever, while additional concerns around AI-generated imagery take hold. 

The Twitch Nudity Policy Situation, Summed Up

Twitch has never allowed nudity or sexual acts on stream. That changed on December 13, 2023, when the company issued a broad new update (which can still be read in full here as of time of publishing). In the update, Twitch said that streamers could now do a few key things. The update allowed the following things: 

  • Content that ‘deliberately highlighted breasts, buttocks or pelvic region,’ even when fully clothed. Streamers found it difficult to determine what was prohibited and what was allowed and often evaluating whether or not a stream violated this portion of the policy was subjective. In addition, the former Sexually Suggestive Content policy was out of line with industry standards and resulted in female-presenting streamers being disproportionately penalized. 
  • Fictionalized (drawn, animated, or sculpted) fully exposed female-presenting breasts and/or genitals or buttocks regardless of gender. There is a thriving artist community on Twitch, and this policy was overly punitive and did not reflect the impact of the content.
  • Body writing on female-presenting breasts and/or buttocks regardless of gender. The Twitch Attire Policy already allows body art on breasts and buttocks, so this change makes these policies consistent.
  • Erotic dances that involve disrobing or disrobing gestures, such as strip teases.

 The company also noted that its old policies were out of date and disproportionately put female-presenting streamers at risk for punishment. However, streamers are still not allowed to engage in sexual acts or masturbation. 

Just over two days later, Twitch reversed course on much of this policy. On December 15th, CEO Dan Clancy published a blog post stating, "Moving forward, depictions of real or fictional nudity won’t be allowed on Twitch, regardless of the medium."

Why Twitch Reversed Its Nudity Policy Decision

In rolling back the policy changes, Clancy states that the original updates to the policy were meant to "allow the thriving artist community on Twitch to utilize the human form in their art." He noted the consistent feedback from the Twitch community indicating that the original nudity policy was very vague, particularly for artists. 

However, Clancy says the changes ultimately led to clear violations, for which users were penalized. But he somewhat punted the issue back to Twitch users, stating, "Much of the content created has been met with community concern." Clancy also noted that artificial intelligence makes it incredibly difficult to differentiate what is a legitimate artistic use of nudity and what is just photorealistic nudity created for the sake of showing nudity on Twitch.

"Digital depictions of nudity present a unique challenge–AI can be used to create realistic images, and it can be hard to distinguish between digital art and photography," Clancy said. Twitch representative Elizabeth Busby also told Polygon.com that ultimately, the policy changes weren't being used the way the originally intended them.

It was, perhaps the fastest significant whiplash policy change we've seen from a major platform outside of the Musk-era Twitter.  

The Deeper Layers Behind The Policy Changes

Twitch's nudity policy changes certainly didn't happen in a vacuum. Streamers have been trying to find ways to capture eyes ever since the early days of the platform, including flirting with viewer expectations and more sexually suggestive content. 

In the recent months, a relatively small but still impactful trend known as the "topless meta" began to take hold. Essentially, streamers would create overlays on their stream or do other camera manipulations to make it appear as if they were streaming topless. This trend, much like the hot tub trend from 2021, was meant to push boundaries and test the rules. And for one brief moment, it looks like it actually created a tangible rule change. (Worth noting that the hot tub trend did result in the creation of an entirely new Twitch category). 

However, the trend has created a backlash among some users who allege these streamers are manipulating the rules to get a leg up on other streamers. (There is, of course, plenty to debate about the use of suggestive themes in content and whether or not it's "unfair"). That, in turn, leads to allegations of mass "reporting" campaigns designed to target streamers — even if they aren't violating Twitch policy. 

Twitch has also acknowledged this and says it's working to determine which streamers actually violated rules and which streamers were unfairly targeted. But the whole ordeal reveals some deeper issues facing livestreamers (and in several cases, content creators as a whole).  

The Bigger Issues At Play

So now we get to how Twitch's specific "jk, lol" policy moment underscores broader issues facing streamers and content creators. For starters, to the surprise of no one, policy differentiation and enforcement varies wildly. Streamers are allowed to play games with nudity and sex scenes, but artists aren't allowed to draw nude characters or show nude characters on stream. 

Policies around body art and what actually constitutes "artistic" nudity plague many platforms. Instagram's nudity policy is pretty "clear," but there are plenty of examples of content on the platform that don't adhere to it. At the same time, Patreon famously doesn't allow its creators to offer nude content despite that platform offering paywalled communities and what feels like a fairly safe way to do it. 

There's obviously way more to dissect here than we have time for — or that is really helpful for content creators. Debating the relative societal harm of freely available nudity versus freely available violence or discrimination (particularly under the guise of "free speech") isn't really going to make any of these policies more clear. 

But the Twitch change is probably the most direct example we have of the murky waters and double standards content creators tread when using third-party platforms. 

Community Policing Is Only Helpful Until It Isn't

Community feedback — especially from a community like livestreamers — is always critical, and often conflicting. But when you give a community the power to police itself coupled the general anonymity afforded some Twitch users, you're bound to end up with unfair and retaliatory content violations. 

Unfortunately, streamers on Twitch have a history of having to put up with certain levels of "trolling" that are genuinely criminal. In fact, using the word "trolling" may feel contextually appropriate since we're talking about Internet community culture, but it's much more serious than a simply "troll." Really, it's often targeted harassment that can have damaging effects on streamers, both emotional and financial. 

Twitch knows that certain streamers get targeted for erroneous reports and harassment more than others. Especially women and minorities. We've seen it in the past with things like "hate raids." And while the vast majority of the Twitch community is supportive and helpful, with many adopting unpaid roles as moderators with a streamer's best interest at heart, there are still enough ways for relatively anonymous bad actors to perpetrate a genuinely disruptive, sometimes criminal act against others. 

This is, again, not exclusive to Twitch. There are even instances where individuals will target an artist on Spotify by paying to have one of their songs loaded with fraudulent streams, which can lead to seriously negative consequences for the artist. Platforms need better guardrails to protect against these kinds of targeted violations.

Artificial Intelligence Is Going To Continue To Present More Problems

And this is where we get to a sort of culmination of these issues. As Clancy briefly mentioned in his post reversing the nudity policy changes, artificial intelligence is going to make it virtually impossible to create distinctions between what content qualifies under many platforms' protections. 

In this case, we saw a lot of people intentionally violate Twitch's new nudity policies by creating photorealistic nudity. Was it to try and prove some point? To be provocative? To do it just because they could? It doesn't really matter — the point is, people will do it, and it will have serious consequences for others who are trying to play by the rules. 

This is just one of the additional ways we've seen generative art sew chaos in systems that are currently unprepared to address it. It's forcing a scenario in which nuance is policy is an enemy. And for many content creators, this could be more harmful than helpful.

While the Twitch nudity policy fiasco is certainly a major moment in understanding some of these growing issues facing content creators, it hasn't really created any new ones. It's just shining a lot on problems that every platform will need to address in order to create a truly equitable and valuable space for both content creators and regular users. 


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