A short while ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) stood before the House of Representatives and told the world something shocking: the United States military is targeting 12-years-olds for recruitment.
“Right now children on platforms such as Twitch are bombarded with banner ads that link to recruitment sign-up forms that can be submitted by children as young as 12-years-old,” said Ocasio-Cortez in her condemning speech addressing the 2021 federal spending budget.
To combat this, the representative from New York proposed an amendment to the new Pentagon budget forbidding such practices and calling on Congress to enforce the rules already in place governing military recruitment practices. The amendment was voted down.
It’s no mistake that the military is using social media and streaming platforms such as Twitch for recruitment; in fact, it’s intentional.
“We’re targeting the ‘Gen Z’ audience to recruit into the Army, right? And that’s where they live. They live online, so we’re trying to go where they are,” said Laura DeFrancisco, a spokesperson for the Army’s Enterprise Marketing Office, in an interview with Politico. The article went on to say that DeFrancisco expects to spend upwards of “$15 million across multiple platforms this fiscal year” in digital marketing.
This isn’t the first time the military has been caught doing questionable activities regarding their esports teams. Military esports teams have posted fake contests that lead to recruitment pages, banned users for calling out the military for war crimes, and had their streams paused for violating the First Amendment to the Constitution.
This is indicative of a larger issue regarding the use of military recruitment practices. The military has had a long history of targeting specifically underserved and minority communities for enlistment. There have even been calls to get military recruiters out of high schools, as critics feel it is unfair to target children during formative years.
Now, with Twitch, military recruiters can directly communicate with their audience in a way that seems relatable. The cost to generate these esports teams is estimated to be an investment of over $1 million.
And it’s working.
“The military exceeded its 2019 recruitment goal and is on track to meet its 2020 target, despite the current pandemic,” writes Mason Sands in an article for Forbes. “This success is, in large part, due to the strength of digital marketing that reaches a wide swath of people that may be uniquely qualified for military service.”
The coronavirus pandemic has actually strengthened streamers’ abilities to connect with their audience and subscribers, as Twitch reported over five billion hours were watched collectively between April and June of 2020. With that kind of engagement, a streamer has more reach than ever before, and when the streamer is the U.S. military, they’re able to recruit people like never before.
It’s also important here to note how military recruitment relates back to income and socioeconomic status. With reports of anywhere between 20 and 40 million Americans unemployed due to COVID-19, the military can seem like an especially enticing choice to those out of work. While there were talks to ban COVID survivors from enlisting, those talks never became policy.
The world of esports is a powerful tool that has a massive following, and if the right people are able to market within that world, they’re able to accomplish record sales and brand recognition. The U.S. military has used this to promote their brand, and while for some it just provides entertainment and allows their followers to watch a stream, for others, it’s an effective tool for enlistment.