The U.S. Army’s esports team has come under fire for separate allegations of advertising fake giveaways and banning commenters who mentioned U.S. war crimes.

Streaming platform Twitch said the allegedly fake giveaways were in violation of their terms of service, and the ACLU is concerned that banning commenters prohibited free speech.

“It looks like what happened was a violation of the First Amendment,” ACLU staff attorney Vera Eidelman told VICE.

The Army denied such accusations, with a spokesperson saying comments regarding war crimes were “meant to troll and harass the team,” and that the giveaways were, in fact, real.

The Army’s esports team, which began in 2018, has never had overwhelming public support. The use of popular shooter and strategy games such as Call of Duty; Counter-Strike: Global Offensive; Fortnite; Magic: the Gathering; and more to recruit gamers was seen as morally questionable by some.

On June 30, the official Army esports Twitter responded to an announcement by chat platform Discord with the text emoticon “UwU” and heart emojis. The emoticon is meant to display a “happy anime face,” and while some sections of the internet use it frequently, others find the emoticon annoying and frown upon its use.

Followers lashed out against the tweet, calling Discord “pro-war” and referencing incidents like Abu Ghraib. But the backlash didn’t stop with Twitter.

Since early July, gamers and internet trolls have been swarming to the Army’s Twitch streams and chat server on Discord to see just how quickly they can get banned for mentioning war crimes or mocking the Tweet that started it all.

As a result of this flood of ban-seekers, the open chat room on the Army’s Discord server was “intentionally disabled” by moderators.

“Following the guidelines and policies set by Twitch, the U.S. Army eSports Team banned users from its account due to concern over posted content and website links that were considered harassing and degrading in nature,” U.S. Army Recruiting Command spokesperson Lisa Ferguson told Military Times.

The Army encourages those who are genuinely concerned about war crimes to use FOIA reading rooms, elected representatives, and public forums with military leaders to engage in dialogue about war crimes, Ferguson said.

An ACLU tweet on July 10 called out the Army for the bans, saying: “Calling out the government’s war crimes isn’t harassment, it’s speaking truth to power. And banning users who ask important questions isn’t ‘flexing,’ it’s unconstitutional.”

Just when it seemed controversy over the bans might start to die down, it was alleged that the team was advertising fake giveaways of an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller, valued at more than $200.

The allegation was first reported by The Nation on July 15.

When clicked, animated giveaway advertisements in the Army’s Twitch stream chat boxes led users to a recruiting web form with no mention of any giveaway, The Nation reported.

Twitch has since put an end to such advertisements.

“This promotion did not comply with our Terms, and we have required them to remove it,” a Twitch spokesperson told Kotaku.

USAREC spokesperson Lisa Ferguson said that the giveaways were legitimate and that the Army’s esports team has given away 10 controllers, gaming stations, and chairs in the past year.

“While the landing page looks generic, each giveaway has its own URL and marketing activity code that directly connects the registrant to the specific giveaway,” Ferguson said.

As a result of recent events, Ferguson added that the esports team is reviewing ways to add clarity and customization to giveaways and has paused streaming to evaluate internal policies and procedures.

Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.

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