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Congressman Under Investigation For 'Sex Trafficking' Caps Off Twitch's Worst Week Ever [Update]

·4 min read
Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz asks people to subscribe to his channel at a convention that drew neo-Nazis.
Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz asks people to subscribe to his channel at a convention that drew neo-Nazis.

First Amazon-owned Twitch was ravaged by a major gambling scandal. Then it revealed a new, worse revenue split for creators because it had to charge itself too much for servers. Next Bloomberg reported that the platform has a major problem when it comes to potential predators using it to target children. And now Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who’s being investigated for human trafficking and allegedly having sex with a minor, has announced his plan to use the platform to spread his racist dog whistles. “Is it Friday yet?”asked someone at Twitch, probably.

As a platform owned by a monopolistic logistics company known for squeezing competitors and union-busting its workers, and which is regularly scrutinized over how it handles instances of misogyny, racism, and other hateful behavior that occur on it, Twitch is no stranger to controversy.

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But even in that context, this week has been a particularly bad one. The backlash over gambling spurred it to hastily announce some murky new rules, and somehow led to one streamer getting suspended over an alleged sexual assualt cover-up. Streamers have also been raising hell over Twitch’s decision to pay them less money, with threats to boycott TwitchCon 2022 next month.

In the middle of all this Bloomberg reported that, according to a study shared with it as well as its own research, a total of 1,976 users had potentially targeted 279,016 children on Twitch over the span of two years. “Even one single instance of grooming is abhorrent to us,” Twitch’s chief product officer, Tom Verrilli, told Bloomberg. “If it’s valid, the data you reference demonstrates that we are not offering the level of protection we strive for yet—which is deeply upsetting. This work is vitally important to everyone at Twitch, and we’ll never stop.”

How could things get any worse for the social media platform that generated $2.6 billion in revenue last year? Enter Matt Gaetz.

“I’m joining Twitch to bring my America First message to a new generation of viewers,” he announced on Twitter Thursday. “Twitch will join the lineup of platforms I livestream on, including Rumble, GETTR, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.”

The news comes less than a week after The Washington Post reported that the Florda Congressman asked President Trump for a pardon relating to a sex trafficking probe underway by the U.S. Justice Department. Giving background on this probe, The Post writes:

The Justice Department investigation into whether Gaetz paid for sex, paid for women to travel across state lines to have sex, and had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, was opened in the final months of the Trump administration with approval from Attorney General William P. Barr. The probe stemmed from a federal investigation of Gaetz’s friend who is now a convicted sex trafficker. Gaetz has denied paying for sex or having sex with a minor as an adult.

Having sex with a 17-year old is considered statutory rape in Florida. But Gaetz is probably not coming to Twitch to discuss that.

Instead, he’ll likely use the platform to peddle white replacement theory, the racist ideology referenced earlier this year by the Buffalo mass shooter, talk about how women are too ugly to need abortions, make transphobic tweets, or spout other aborhent nonsense to troll himself into another two years in office. A spokesperson for Twitch declined to comment on the record, but directed Kotaku to its community guidelines and plans for addressing misinformation and “off service conduct.”

The company has banned streamers for less. We’ll see how long it takes this time.

Update: 9/23/22 3:06 p.m. ET: The Washington Post now reports that career prosecutors at the Justice Department have recommended against charging Gaetz in the sex trafficking probe because of “credibility questions” with two of the key witnesses. But that did not stop some Twitch users from flooding the congressman’s chat with ASCII dicks and memes about the alleged sex trafficking.

As Motherboard reports, Gaetz briefly streamed with a setup that “looked like Boomer-auctioneer-turned-sportscaster” for only six viewers. After he went offline, however, the chat continued filling as people came by to dunk on him.

“I honestly didn’t think it was possible for you to become any more creepy than you already are,” read a comment by lazy_lightning_73. “But then I learned you joined Twitch one day after Bloomberg published a report about how child predators are using Twitch to track and engage with kids and teens.”