Are Twitch streamers Gen-Z’s future for political interactions?
In the ever-evolving landscape of politics and media, teenagers are increasingly flocking to unexpected platforms to discuss politics and current events. As more young people have gotten politically engaged over the last two years, platforms like Instagram and Tiktok became powerful political tools. And recently a new player has entered the field: Twitch, a live-streaming site predominantly used for video game streaming and Esports. More recently, the site has become the meeting point for a steadily growing audience of young people looking to learn about current events, elections, political theory, and even complex legislative actions.
The political power of Twitch gained mainstream recognition in the fall of 2020 when Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar took to the platform to play video games with popular creators to raise money and appeal for support (here are stories from CNBC and The Washington Post). One popular streamer the representatives played with was Hasan Piker (game tag: HasanAbi). He is one of Twitch’s top streamers and a good example of how political action and commentary are growing on Twitch.
At 2pm recently, I logged into Twitch to check out HasanAbi’s daily scheduled ten-hour stream. (Yes- he stays on for ten hours.) His content spans politics, breaking news, and of course gaming, as well as just about everything in between. Hasan perfectly encapsulates what young people are looking for on Twitch. He began his stream with a casual intro full of swearing and inappropriate jokes. Within the first five minutes, the message of his channel was clear. This is political commentary like no other, meant for teenagers and young adults who revel in the chaotic online world of Twitch rather than more traditional online news or social outlets. Hasan spoke eloquently about the newly-negotiated bipartisan infrastructure deal before promptly switching the discussion to Britney Spears and video games.
The live chat function, an essential part of the Twitch viewing experience, was filled with the same broad range of topics and emotions. Some viewers shared questions or opinions on politicians and congressional bills, while others merely spammed emojis and hate comments. When faced with a nasty comment about his casualness, Hasan explained his brand and appeal by saying: “I like to have fun. I think the internet is full of intellectual commentators who are not fun. If you don’t want to have fun, don’t watch me.” The fusion of casual entertainment and politics is one that most traditional outlets lack.
Hasan has mastered the fast-paced casual content that successfully captures the attention of teenagers. His record-breaking numbers and 1.3 million subscribers attest to that. He understands the wishes of Millennials and Gen-Z and offers a glimpse into the future of reporting and commentary. Hasan’s daily news recap gives teens the ability to learn and laugh at the same time. On camera, he scrolls through the day’s top headlines and videos on Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, NBC, and countless newspapers while providing his explanations and personal opinions. For his viewers, these recaps make reading the news themselves unnecessary.
Twitch shows immense potential for helping teenagers like me educate ourselves politically. However, it is also fraught with danger for us. Twitch is full of young impressionable viewers and objective analysis on current events and politics is hard to find there. Twitch is a live streaming platform, making it virtually impossible to fact-check or regulate content. As on all social media platforms, many Twitch streamers happily spread fake or exaggerated news to boost their views, bits, and gifts. On Twitch, “gifting a subscription” is the term for buying a subscription which takes away ads for the viewer. A person can also give a larger “gift”of multiple subscriptions as well, which gives subscriptions to multiple viewers. “Bits” are Twitch’s own in-game currency. A Twitch Bit is worth $0.01, and they can be given to streamers through the platform’s cheering mechanic. Twitch streamers make their money hrough a combination of Bits, Gifts, donations, and influencer marketing.
Streamers on Twitch also come from across the political spectrum. While Twitch has mainly gained attention from progressive professional politicians, many alt-right and Q-anon conspiracy theorists also spread their beliefs using Twitch. Many users are drawn to Twitch’s atmosphere of anonymity, money, and little to no censorship.
Most importantly, Twitch’s political world is new. The platform is still predominantly used for gaming and it might stay that way. The company’s power in news and discussion has yet to be fully harnessed or seen. Amazon has owned Twitch since 2015, but its presence there is hard to detect for this user. How that company exerts control as Twitch grows as a political force will be interesting to see. But this teenager living in the digital world hears more about Twitch every day. So keep your eye on its potential.