Popular streaming platform Twitch is no stranger to controversy surrounding hate speech content. There are hundreds of thousands of streamers and millions of viewers on the platform. With so many users, it's difficult to moderate and manage everything that is said, so when the website takes action, it sets a rather large precedent.
Which is why it was strange for the website to ban a streamer of color for saying the word "cracker."
With the way the platform operates, these bans usually do not last for eternity. Twitch welcomed Hasan Piker, the streamer in question, back to the platform in a week's time. Still, it left a strange question for him and everyone else to ask: who gets to say what in the age of the internet?
People were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the suspension. Plenty of people on the platform freely say the n-word without repercussion. The rules surrounding such speech are broad and vague.
"Regardless of spelling or pronunciation, slurs used for the purpose of hate or harassment are not allowed," the platform said on Twitter.
So, open-and-shut, right? Piker used a slur for the purpose of hate, so he got punished.
Well, obviously it’s not so simple.
For one, there's a clear reason why I'm writing "n-word" instead of n----- but I write the word cracker without a second thought. One is a term born from contempt and hate; the other is a common household snack. Even among people who would think cracker is a slur, few would ever equate it to the n-word.
But when websites are taking all-or-nothing stances on what they consider hate speech, the room for nuance is almost nonexistent. Since Twitch is taking action without considering such nuances, it leaves many people, especially non-white people, wondering what a solution would be to this issue.
Frankly, I don't have a good answer.
The most egalitarian approach would be to ban all slurs outright. While this would seem fair, in reality, it would just censor Black people on the platform. The topic of racial slurs is almost always focused on the n-word, and it's well known that the word is often used between Black friends. Banning both the n-word and cracker would assume both terms are hate speech no matter the context.
Should the platform take more effort to look into incidents with much more care? Well, in an ideal world, yes. However, as mentioned before, Twitch has millions of active users at any given time. Practicality suggests it would be impossible to monitor every interaction on the platform.
For a website with a long history of overlooked or ignored hate speech, going out of their way to punish a person of color for the comparatively benign use of cracker reads as a waste of time and resources.
For all the work to be done combating hate speech online, the word cracker really shouldn't be a priority.