EDM artist Deadmau5 is suspended from Twitch for using a homophobic slur on stream, then deletes his account in protest.
Here’s the thing. If you use a word that has offensive connotations – whether that’s racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or anything else – you’re still using the word. You might not be meaning it in that context. You might just be using it in place of an interchangeable curse word.
But that doesn’t mean you’re not in the wrong.
Case in point, this Tweet that appeared towards the end of January:
— Funko (@OriginalFunko) January 23, 2019
That word, the one in between “exclusive” and “plastik”, is a very offensive term in the UK. It’s a word that has been used to deride and abuse people with disabilities, but when I was at school? People just used it as a generic insult. It was interchangeable with other words, like knobhead and wanker. Funko didn’t mean to cause offence, but it really needed to run that one by some international audiences. (Ditto, this advert for Pop Tarts.)
Then, when we all grew up a bit and realised how offensive a term it was, we stopped using it immediately. We all just dropped it out of our vocabulary. It wasn’t difficult to do.
The same is true of racist and homophobic slurs. Where once they were commonplace in language – and often used entirely devoid of context, just as an interchangeable bad word – we now know better.
Well, most of us do. Which brings us back to Deadmau5.
When streaming PUBG on Twitch, Deadmau5 – real name Joel Zimmerman – was killed by a suspected stream sniper. Stream snipers, if you haven’t been keeping up, use a player’s very visible location on streaming platforms like Twitch to hunt and kill them.
It’s quite annoying, to be fair, so nobody was surprised when Zimmerman dropped an expletive-laden rant at the stream sniper. What did surprise people? Was his use of a homophobic slur.
Now, we’re not suggesting that Zimmerman is a homophobe. There have been reports of similar bad behaviour in the past, but we don’t know him personally and can’t speak to his character. If he’s not wearing his big mouse head, we couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.
But the fact that a homophobic slur is so readily available in his vocabulary is an issue. Zimmerman is a celebrity and his audience is, in many areas, young and impressionable. The last thing minorities need is famous personalities normalising hate speech and passing it off as general language.
Twitch, which last year introduced more robust guidelines on hate speech, was swift to act on them. Zimmerman’s account was suspended, but before the suspension had time to pass, he deleted his account. This was then followed by a since-deleted post on Reddit, decrying the suspension and vowing never to partner with Twitch again:
Twitch has banned @deadmau5 for 'hate speech' for using a homophobic slur against a stream sniper in PUBG.
In a response on Reddit, deadmau5 says he will likely no longer partner with or stream on Twitch due to the platform's double standards on censorship and suspensions. pic.twitter.com/fRI9ogF64j
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) February 13, 2019
So here’s the thing. Zimmerman does have a point, insofar as a lot of other offensive behaviour does go unpunished by Twitch. He’s right. Horrible stuff does slide by on Twitch – and other online platforms, like Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube – all the time.
But a lot of that awful behaviour comes from people with a far smaller platform than Deadmau5. They don’t have the reach of a global superstar EDM producer (and thank goodness). But if they did, then you would like to think that Twitch would have noticed and taken the exact same steps. Nobody is picking on Zimmerman because he’s famous, but his fame no doubt led to a far higher number of complaints to Twitch that ultimately led to his suspension.
The important news here is not Zimmerman’s suspension or subsequent fallout. The important thing is that Twitch is not only drawing a line against hate speech in its terms and conditions, but crucially, it’s enforcing them as well.
Well played, Twitch.
Update: 14th February 2019
In an update to this story, Zimmerman has made a second statement on Reddit, simply titled “Read please”. We’ve taken a screen capture of the statement, in case he feels like deleting this one as well:
That’s a better attempt at an apology.
It recognises both that he was in the wrong – because he absolutely was – and that Twitch, which was just enforcing its safety guidelines, absolutely wasn’t.
It’s a shame we always have to go through the dismal non-apology, where the perpertrator blames everyone but themself every single time, but at least Zimmerman has recognised that mistake.
Image source: Wikipedia.