Racisim in Twitch emotes usage

Twitch.tv is a streaming site where the streamers will broadcast their content on the internet to the million-viewer base. Each stream also has a “chat room” feature where the viewers write text or send emotes to interact with the streamer and the other viewers. Twitch emotes are usually customized and uploaded by the streamers themselves. They usually consist of a facial expression of either a real person or a fictional character. They are often used as a reaction to what is currently happening during the stream similar to how reaction gifs are used.  But the emote spams can also take on the form of the voice for internet trolls and become offensive and dehumanizing. Some of the popular emotes such as “triHard”, and “MingLee” have often been associated with racist slurs and discriminative connotations.

“triHard 7” spams during the Overwatch League Broadcast

For the mass, the true meaning of the emote “triHard” is obfuscating. The emote itself was uploaded by the streamer Trihex with the intention to introduce an emote that can be used to express happiness. Despite the initial intention, the common usage of the emote is often seen when a black person has appeared on the stream.  But people usually just spam the emote with the majority without knowing the connotation of the emote. Recently, the emote has often been used along with the number “7” to resemble a black person doing a salute, which is used to express “black person reporting for duty”. This tokenization of black people is without a doubt dehumanizing and offensive. But the innocent nature of the emote has disguised the racist undertone for most of the viewers on Twitch. The overwatch league, a video game tournament, has shed the light on the issue. When the African American host Malik Forte has appeared on the stream, the chat section of the stream has seen a long-lasting spam of the emote “triHard” with the number “7” right next to them. The spam became so distracting that Malik had to address the situation by saying “you guys let me know when you are done with all those triHard emotes”. This spam of emotes even brought the attention of the twitch staff. After this incidence, several emote spammers including another huge streamer who goes by the name “XQC” got banned from using twitch for several days.  Malik tweeted the following day “When you make a mistake like this, it’s best to just take accountability and be quiet. He apparently didn’t know that the TriHard spam was used in such an insensitive manner but kept trying to defend it as ‘his salute’.” targeting at XQC for his insensitive act and lack of acknowledgment for his mistake.

The similarity between the insensitive use of “triHard” and the digital black face phenomenon in animated gifs is uncanny. They are both innocent forms of communication that later are turned into something malicious. The moral of the story is that the caution is always necessary when it comes to the usage of forms of emotes and other communication forms on the internet even when it appears innocuous on the surface.

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