The political influence of Twitch
Why this is relevant
Many social networks are changing constantly, others have already used up their potential or found a fixed purpose, Facebook, Instagram or Tinder for example – especially Tinder. When it comes to the streaming platform Twitch, the primary focus on live-streaming gamers and e-sport tournaments had already established itself.
However, just like YouTube, the creators and consumers can change the focus of the content and that’s just what’s happening on Twitch. There is a growing community that’s hungry for discussions on political, ethnical and philosophical questions.
Since most of the viewers on Twitch are rather young and there is a huge chance that they don’t consume a lot of other Media’s on these topics – Twitch, in a sense, has the chance to shape a young generation of gaming enthusiasts. This article is about the chances, pros/cons and possible problems of this development. Let’s start with the basic’s first:
What is Twitch
Twitch is an online streaming platform, founded in 2011 from Justin Kane. It’s primary concept today is to live-stream people playing video games, around 3.1 million unique broadcasters per month to be precise. In January 2018 Twitch had his peak with nearly one million viewers constantly watching streamers. That numbers are comparable with the average viewer counts of CNN. It’s been bought by Amazon for almost one Billion Dollars in 2014 by the way.
The original idea of twitch however had nothing to do with games. The founder Justin Kane started his own justin.tv in 2005 as a kind of “big-brother” streaming experience, where he and other users would broadcast their daily life as a reality show concept – so called “lifecasting”.
In retrospect he admitted it was a terrible idea. The reactions where very mixed too, so mixed that some viewers had the bright idea to call the police and making false reports about things like shootings or stabbings happening at the streamers location, even the founder experienced such an incident.
But there was productive feedback from the community too. Justin got a lot of requests to manifest life-streaming for games and eventually he hired a professional to help him establish the wishes of his growing community. Which would be the decision that turned him into a millionaire in the near future.
Twitch has almost no actual competitors up to date and is more successful than ever. That’s due to the uniqueness of its concept in general and also because other video platforms, like You Tube, lag one major trait twitch can offer.
The big difference between You Tube and Twitch
You Tube is working in a single (mono) communicative way, similar to this blog, there is content created and afterwards consumed, there is an author and a reader – so to speak. Of course, the readers/viewers can criticize and express there opinion afterwards in the comments or maybe even create an opposing article/video about the topic in question. The Creator of the medium however, is not bound by any of that while he creates. Whenever it’s just playing games, talking about personal issues, making political statements, making music or playing pranks.
This is where twitch is everything else than single communicative – it is always live and the interaction between viewers and streamers are one of the central cornerstones that this medium is relying on. There is no text delete on twitch, no cutting swearing words after filming, no monologs for hours in front of the camera until a content creator finally thinks he nailed his punch line.
It’s live; with all the mistakes and failures that just happen, with all the questions from the audience to the producer – coming in Realtime. Especially when it comes to political or ethnical related opinions. Twitch is in a sense A LOT more real than an article or a video, which is exactly why it has so much potential outside of being just a video games streaming platform.
It gets even more exciting when its not just a creator and his audience, but different streamers, with different opinions, combined in one stream – discussing one controversial topic – while including the audience as well!
Sounds chaotic? Oh yes, it is extremely chaotic – is it fun to watch? Hell yes! The following clip is from a discussion between the far-right winged Youtuber and content creator Jonathan Aryan Jafari aka JonTron opposing Steven Bonnell aka Destiny, one of the most famous streamers when it comes to political and ethnical discussions on Twitch (My favorite part is around 45m23s by the way).
Trump politicized Twitch
Getting political on twitch is more of an exception right now. There are many streamers who declare a no politics-rule in their chat, often enforced through moderators. It’s understandable because most full-time streamers are depending on donations and subscribers – declaring their political viewpoints could damage their income drastically.
And there is money alright! Some streamers earn up to 100.000 dollars per year. In 2016 however, the platform started to livestream Republican and Democratic National Conventions and after the election of Donald Trump as the new President of the United States, even streamers who never stated anything political, raised their voice and publicly avowed themselves.
About gaming politicians, anonymity and a cultural gamechanger
There is development in Europe too; less than a year ago a young Swedish politician decided to use the new medium and its popularity with the young audience. In a two-hour livestream whilst playing the popular game Hearthstone, he answered questions from the chat.
Which brings us to one of the controversies of Twitch: The streamer shows his face, name, identity – the viewers however stay anonymous – which makes the live stream of Rickard Nordin extremely interesting from a cultural viewpoint.
That’s because ever since, you have to be a person of influence to directly interview a politician – being a literal Nobody and still get to talk and ask all the questions you desire (you might not get an answer though) is a gamechanger in how politicians interact with potential voters! Imagine this pioneering streamer would cause others to do the same and at some point, it’s expected from people applying for a political position to have a direct discussion with anonym potential voters.
Highly unrealistic though, because politicians mostly dictate the questions they’ll going to be asked during an interview themselves in advance, or at least ask for a question-catalogue before agreeing to attend a show or something similar.
Why twitch has great potential considering reliable sources
Another aspect is the reliability of sources, when a youtuber posts a video about a personal viewpoint on a political topic and the sources are just complete (pardon my french) bullshit, it doesn’t matter because most of the audience won’t take the effort to question the posted content and even if they would, the damage is already done because most the viewers didn’t.
This happens for example in right wing, fascist channels. Where completely fictional numbers or even laws are used to create a certain opinion, for example that it would be a tolerated by law that refugees can rape in Germany or Sweden – I won’t link any of those videos since in my opinion they already got more attention than they should have.
In a discussion on twitch however, shit-posting is not so easy, since either the audience can look up the given information or figures at any time, or the other participating streamers – if there are any – can do it for them. And when it comes to the twitch audience they can be very unforgiving! The carriers of countless streamers got destroyed after they angered their viewers or violated the terms of service. Which is why the chat can also function as a kind of regulator.
Why Twitch need less cleaners than You Tube
Twitch is not a law-free zone. For example, nudity, swearing, content thievery and open fascism is not tolerated and can result in a ban. While You Tube does have similar regulations, its easier on twitch to enforce them. Whilst other social platforms have huge companies, mostly in third world countries with dozens of workers – so called cleaners – who do nothing all day instead of controlling the posted content of any violation against the terms of service.
Those cleaners often develope mental disorders from years of consuming the darkest content one can imagine (I would recommend watching the movie “the cleaners” for more information about the topic), Twitch on the other hand has their own “cleaners” right there watching the stream, hundreds of them – the viewers – but that also carries a certain risk in itself.
How streamers get influenced by their community
They are a lot of examples where streamers did radical things on stream, just to get more successful and rise their viewer numbers; self-harm, pranking random people, offending other ethnics or “just” sexualizing them self. In many cases, instead of being punished for it, they get rewarded by the audience – most of the time through donations.
To be fair though, getting money out of doing offensive stuff on social media is not solely a twitch phenomenon and to be honest, it’s probably easier to keep a “healthy” state on twitch than on similar platforms. Although there is a certain toxic chat culture that established itself over the years. The issue is, streamers can shape their audience to a particular point but that would interfere – at the end of the day – with their income.
The viewers want attention too
Depending on how many people are watching and comment on stream, it’s nearly impossible to interact with the streamer in a modest fashion, so what’s the simplest solution? Provoking them – which is happening especially to racial minorities or female streamers. Not surprising since Twitch can be used anonymously which makes it very easy to “troll” or “trigger” while hiding under a digital mask.
Since everything is live, there is no taking back an emotional outburst. Which is why most professional streamers develop a very thick skin or other coping strategies during their carrier – even playing with the toxic part of their community to use it to their advantage and portrait a fitting character on cam.
Streamers are performers
It may sound strange at first but when you stop think about a professional streamer as a hobbyist, who like to play games, and rather see them as someone who is earning his living – As someone who is depending on appealing to the thousands of subscribers to pay their rent – As the performers that they are. It makes a lot more sense that they play their roles not because they want to – because they have to!
Imagine going to a show of a famous comedian and he would suddenly change his act into a storytelling session –
You would probably want your money back.
I talked with the professional streamer Steven Bonnell aka Destiny about his opinion on politics on Twitch, racism in the chat, the importance of sources and the potential future of this medium as a political instrument.
As always I’m curious about for thoughts on the subject and your feedback. Feel free to discuss and correct me if you think I made any mistakes or fill in blanc spots I might have forgotten. Thanks for reading and have a lovely day.