A group of Twitch employees “from every era of the company dating back to when it was Justin.tv” have accused the platform of fostering a toxic work environment as well as mishandling cases of sexual assault, harassment, and racism within the company. Many accounts point to an inner circle of “predominantly” white and male executives led by CEO Emmett Shear as the big cause of the problem as well as an HR department eager to brush claims from women and employees of color under the rug.
These accusations came to light in a new report from Gamesindustry.biz, in which “multiple women said they’d been sexually assaulted by men at the company, including forced kisses, groping, and inappropriate massages” while others described being verbally assaulted. In cases where employees reported their abusers or the misconduct they witnessed, these employees were allegedly “retaliated against for making the report, both by the manager and the company itself.” One person said they were retaliated against “both physically and verbally” by the person they had reported. Several women said that many of the men they reported were regularly promoted regardless of the accusations against them.
The report also points to “an atmosphere of casual sexism in the office that ranged from ignorance to outright misogyny” at Twitch, one where women were — at least in the company’s early days — commonly referred to as “bitches.” Behind the scenes, women streamers using the platform were also held to “extreme standards, and it was always blamed on them if they used sexuality as marketing, and it was deeply degrading,” according to one woman.
Women streamers were often referred to as “boob streamers” by the men at Twitch, according to GI.biz. One early employee told the outlet that complaints of harassment from women streamers weren’t taken seriously by the company, which allegedly did little to moderate or protect the women using the platform.
“Women streamers’ concerns were not taken seriously,” this employee said. “There was never any talk about ‘Should we make a formal system?’ or tools of any kind to help them manage the constant harassment. There was an attitude in the office, especially among the partnerships team, of ‘What do boob streamers expect?'”
In some cases of misconduct within the company, victims chose not to report anything because they knew leadership wouldn’t address it or that they’d be punished for speaking up at all.
“If I were to report [to management at another job] something that was done to me, I know something would be done about it, that it was not OK, and that these would be the next steps,” one person told GI.biz. “That is not something Twitch was set up to handle in any situation.”
Many of these employees said that part of the reason Twitch had such a toxic workplace was due to an HR department bent on protecting leadership at the company as opposed to helping employees and investigating instances of misconduct.
“Nobody ever really took responsibility for anything and there was nobody to go to if you were threatened, or felt threatened, or were harmed in some way,” another woman said. “HR was not on the side of the employees, for sure. They were on the side of the executive team. That was the sense; if you went to HR, that would just ruin you even more.”
One woman said she was told by the company to continue working and “show respect” to the man who had sexually assaulted her. Another person was told “if they don’t feel safe here, they should just leave.”
“It just didn’t feel safe there ever,” one woman told GI.biz.
The report comes just months after Twitch announced in a blog post its commitment to creating a safer streaming community after several high-profile streamers were accused of sexual misconduct, including popular Destiny 2 streamer Lono “SayNoToRage” as well as Tom “Syndicate” Cassell. Following a week of allegations in late June, Twitch confirmed that it would begin investigating and banning streamers it found had violated its community guidelines. Streamers iAmSp00n, BlessRNG, WarwitchTV, DreadedCone, and Wolv21 have all been banned as a result, according to Polygon.
“We strive to ensure that Twitch as an employer provides a supportive environment where all employees feel valued, engaged, and safe to express themselves, regardless of their gender, age, race or abilities,” a Twitch representative told GI.biz in a statement ahead of the report’s publication. “We have invested significantly in our HR team, bringing in new, diverse leadership and reducing the ratio of employees to HR business partners so they can provide more support and better foster inclusivity. We also have a number of highly-engaged employee Guilds that provide space for employees to connect, produce, and engage in celebratory programming, and tackle complex issues.”
Several people also accused Twitch of having a culture of casual racism. One person alleged that the “predominantly white and male” employees cast in leadership roles regularly “brushed off safety concerns of racial and ethnic minorities, women, and people from other under-represented groups.”
One employee described how a former executive made “repeated racist comments” to an Asian woman on staff, while another early employee said it took Twitch leadership a year to ban the “n-word” from the streaming platform. One person said that in the early days of the company, Shear was adamant that Justin.tv “needs to be a service that has no opinion,” suggesting that even the Ku Klux Klan should be allowed to stream on the platform “so long as they adhered to the platform’s rules.”
“Hate speech was dismissed as teenagers being edgy and thus not as serious,” one person said. “It was almost like it was dismissed as not being real racism.”
A Twitch representative told GI.biz that the company “is made better when diverse voices of all kinds are represented on our service and have robust guidelines in place to help ensure everyone feels safe and welcome. These guidelines include, among other things, a zero tolerance policy against hate speech and hateful conduct of any kind. As a part of this, we deny emotes that are designed to abuse or demean others, or can be misused for such behavior.”
Yet, many of the employees GI.biz spoke to were skeptical of the actions Twitch was taking to create a better work environment and safer streaming platform. While some of the people GI.biz spoke to say that things have improved at the Twitch offices, with an increased focus on professionalism, since Amazon bought the company, others say not enough is being done, especially with Shear still at the helm.
“[That’s] absolute bullshit,” one said of Twitch’s public commitment to create a safer community back in June. “Show me your budget. You can spend all the money in the world on hoodies and a primo cafeteria for the San Francisco office. But what are you actually doing from a systems-level standpoint to encourage diversity? That work wasn’t happening.”
A Twitch representative reached out to Den of Geek with a statement defending the company’s current efforts to address misconduct and abuse in the workplace and on the streaming platform:
“It’s deeply disappointing to read accounts of toxicity from people who had negative experiences at and on Twitch. Clearly, some of the processes and policies we had in the past did not do enough to make our employees and community members feel safe and valued. While we are not without fault or above criticism, this article does not adequately acknowledge all the ways in which our company has evolved and the numerous steps we’ve taken over the years to build a company that protects and supports our employees and community. We’ve invested heavily in our HR and safety teams, brought in new, diverse leadership and will continue to invest time and resources in this area. We take any allegations of this nature extremely seriously, whether on our service or within our company, and work swiftly to investigate and address them as appropriate, bringing in third parties to ensure impartiality when needed. Any claims to the contrary simply misrepresent our culture and values.”
The full report from GI.biz can be found here.