Is It Right to be Sponsored by the US Military?
US Army moves to YouTube gaming sponsorships after being exiled from Twitch
By Archie O'River
Image courtesy of US Army
Last year the US Army started growing its presence on the Amazon-owned video-game streaming website Twitch. This included the Army, Navy and Air Force, which slowly established their brand in the space. With dedicated esports teams competing in games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and streamer personalities in other games, they grew their sphere of influence persistently, either with sponsors for existing streamers, or with special streams by established servicemen. Nonetheless, it’s been estimated that this effort has reached about 28 million Twitch users a month (80% of US teen males) according to Forbes.
On the face of it, these streams paint themselves as a safe space for self-improvement and fun. But, behind the scenes, you might not be surprised to learn, they’re really a military recruiting device. The façade slipped last year when their mainstream hosted fake giveaways. Users would have to enter their details and enlist in the army via a recruitment form for a chance to win a new Xbox controller. The moderators of various US Army streams also started banning people who mentioned the many, many war crimes of US Army regimes.
Back in July 2020, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a bill to bar the US military from streaming on Twitch. It was blocked by the House, but nevertheless raised questions as to the US Army’s involvement online. Twitch itself had to step in to fan the flames upon realising the ethical nightmare that is advertising war to teenagers. Today, many people would say that the US military mission on Twitch has failed. So instead of prying on teenagers on Twitch or in low-income schools, the mighty military boys set their sights over to the next obvious target: YouTube.
“Gaming influencers”, as they call themselves, are now receiving sponsorships from the Marines in their videos. Not as wee popups or end-rolls, mind you: as entire videos centres around training for the Marines. Their audiences typically consist of teenagers or young men who probably aren’t entirely sure of their life’s direction; impressionable young people who often enjoy combat games. The perfect target. I’m sorry for bringing up a stereotype, but I wouldn’t say it’s controversial to mention that idle men who play a lot of video games are more likely to be unhealthy. Hence why the military bags itself up as if it were the best intensive fitness course money could buy. “Reinvent yourself”, “get into shape” they say.
I’ve found that often these YouTube channels they sponsor are ones who have turned down gambling sponsorships in the past because they find it immoral to advertise towards kids in such a way. Yet they’re perfectly content with advertising a regime that tortures, rapes, and murders prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. They’re fine to promote to children the war machine that murders thousands and thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. But, it’s those colourful loot boxes that are the real problem!
I was expecting to see a lot of disappointment towards these personalities. But no. The support they receive is overwhelming. That’s when you remember that YouTube is a much easier site for kids to navigate through as opposed to Twitch. Kids who know no better. A kid can start watching a video about Fortnite and end up watching a military sponsored video pretty easily—probably just from the autoplay feature alone. Whereas on Twitch, you really need to look for the content yourself. In the past, they have allowed more to fly on their site in terms of “edgy” content, thus likely gathering a slightly older audience. On top of that, it’s easier to control your own image in a YouTube video; after all, the ‘live’ element of livestreams on Twitch is what leads to it all going wrong. Users would tirelessly remind other viewer’s about US war crimes, and teams of moderators would have to be dedicated to fighting it in real time. This is much less required on YouTube.
These YouTubers, and platforms alike, need to reflect on the hypocrisy they’re espousing. Why is it that they don’t support advertising gambling towards kids, racism, and other hate speech, join in solidarity towards causes such as Black Lives Matter, but allow military propaganda to reach millions of kids, teenagers, and young adults?