KFC emote leads to another Twitch chat racism mess

Last weekend Twitch added a new KFC-themed emoticon to their stream chat – but it didn’t last long. After a few days it became clear the emote was untenable, and it was quickly removed from the service once again.

The fully-branded, pixelated bucket of the Colonel’s Original Recipe was originally added to the service to celebrate a special PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds tournament that was in-part sponsored by KFC. It’s really a smart tie-in thanks to the game’s now-iconic use of the old saying ‘Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner’. It was the perfect match – or at least it was until Twitch chat got hold of it.

During the tournament, fans were encouraged to use the emote in order to be in with a chance to win a real chicken dinner from the fast food giant, but pretty quickly it became a tool for racist jokes. It got so bad that, after just a few days, Twitch was forced to remove the KFC emote entirely.

This is pretty predictable on Twitch, which has a long history of emotes being used in such ways. The earliest instance I personally remember was back in 2013 when Twitch streamer Bwana, a black man, had an emote of his own face which was inserted into chat by typing ‘BrainSlug’. Whatever was going on in Bwana’s own stream community with the emote quickly became irrelevant, as BrainSlug began to widely be referred to throughout Twitch as ‘BigNig’. Tired of the association, Bwana ultimately pulled the emote entirely, something he had the right to do given that it was an image of his face.

One black emote that remains is ‘TriHard’, the grinning image of prominent speedrunner Trihex. It’s a great emote of an entertaining streamer, but one that’s soured by its usage throughout Twitch. I remember people in the BrainSlug days referring to it as ‘LilNig’, and it’s basically become ‘the black dude emote’. If a black guy appears on stream, the chat spams it. Let’s be honest: it sucks.

A Google image search for TriHard reveals a range of meme images around the emote – many tame – though the first cheap fried chicken joke also arrives within the first fifteen images. An image of the TriHard emote with a pimp hat superimposed atop it isn’t far behind, because of course not. Yeah. It really sucks. None of this is Trihex’s fault either – like Bwana, all he did was upload a quirky emote of his face.

Recently, Overwatch League host Malik Forté even jokingly nodded at the problem as he appeared on stream. Soliciting opinions on a recent match, he encouraged viewers to post their thoughts in the chat – “when you’re done with all the TriHard emotes.” It’s a thing. Everybody knows it – and in the wake of an Overwatch League player being disciplined for spamming TriHard to chat when people like Forté appear on screen, Overwatch League stream mods have started dropping bans on users for TriHard overuse.

Trihex himself was pretty quick to weigh in on the KFC issue, given his face was frequently the one being spammed alongside the bucket of fried chicken. “Come on,” he said on Friday during a stream. “I’m laughing because I’m dying inside. Do no black people work at Twitch? What do I even say to that?”

He went on to elaborate on Twitter. “While I don’t find the emote racist, it *is* problematic w/ enabling trolls having MORE tools that will be abused endlessly site-wide,” Trihex wrote. “Connotation of racial tropes (Blacks love Chicken) doesn’t phase me cuz I don’t identify em as valid (Everyone loves chicken, plus KFC is low-tier trash anyway), BUT that doesn’t stop this from being an issue combined w/ streamer accountability of their communities w/ new TOS.”

Later, he retweeted a particularly prescient comment from another streamer, one which is well worth embedding in full:

As threads cropped up on Reddit accusing Twitch of becoming complicit in exactly the type of behavior it’s been desperately trying to curb through aggressive Terms of Service updates and making Streamers more liable for the actions of their communities, the community began to take action. Some streamers banned the phrase that’d create the emote entirely.

Catching on, Twitch soon fully removed the emote itself, but the questions highlighted ever brighter by its initial addition linger, and nowhere is that probably better illustrated than in the words of Félix ‘xQc’ Lengyel, the Overwatch player released from his team for his use of the TriHard emote.

“I wish someone just said something, man,” Lengyel said after his suspension, explaining that he didn’t realize how offensive what he was doing was. “I was fucking born and raised by Twitch chat, dude.”

The question raised is obvious – just how much responsibility does Twitch have to ensure its audience, many of them young and impressionable, don’t pick up offensive or regressive views from the memes and inside jokes that dominate stream chat? Do they ban the racists or the emotes? Just how much moderation is really required? The questions keep coming, and after a weekend of Trihex’s face being spammed next to a KFC bucket, it’s clear they’ve still got a way to go.

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