Like many others across the United States and the world, I tuned into the US election intensely watching the results from the comfort of my laptop. With an array of tabs open, I had various maps spread across my screen, scouring rural and urban counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada awaiting election results. While I was doing my cartographic analysis, I would tune into various streams for political commentary. Occasionally I would go for CNN, then switch over to Fox News and go on to MSNBC to even out my coverage.
The apparatus of cable news is built for an election. It has the resources, the infrastructure, and the experience to be on the ground wherever possible. But I also had another live stream that I was watching, Hasanabi’s on Twitch. As Gita Jackson, a journalist at Vice that has extensively covered the rise of political streamers, has written, there is something comforting about Hasanabi’s streams, specifically in the manner that he interacts with the internet. Hasan Piker, his name when not on Twitch, streams for 8 hours every day, and capped his coverage of this political cycle with a 16-hour marathon stream.
There is a familiarity about watching Piker stream, like he’s a friend in your living room offering his 2 cents on the day’s issues. His interactions with the internet mirror the ones happening behind my laptop screen as I hear him call out hypocrisy and delusion on all sides of the political spectrum. One of the biggest separations from streamers like Piker and traditional media is his engagement with his audience. I watched one stream where he was crafting a scathing Tweet to Ben Shapiro, taking suggestions and editing his diss with input from his 50,000 viewers at any given point.
The streaming revolution is not one confined to the left side of the political spectrum, which Hasan squarely stands in. Piker is part of a greater ecosystem of streamers from the left that have found homes streaming on Twitch. Political pundits, who in the past may have been guests on cable news, hosted their own election coverage streams. Steven Crowder, a popular right-wing figure in North America, hosted his own election night coverage and claims to have had over 500,000 streams at a certain point. Joe Rogan hosted his own election night coverage, a tradition for him after his 2016 stream and garnered over 9 million views. Across the political spectrum, left, right, and center, pundits that not only understand the culture of the internet, but are woven into its tapestry, are more adept at catering to their audience than their television counterparts.
With growing distrust of traditional media amongst the population, streamers like Piker are poised to become Generation Z’s anchormen and women. Piker’s finger is also firmly on the pulse of the internet and the political trends originating from cyberspace. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar garnered nearly 430,000 viewers, tapping into an online political audience that has blossomed on platforms like Twitch. Early in the night, media outlets were shocked by the results in Florida, a projected Biden victory by polls. Even though Piker had no independent pollsters, correspondents in Florida, or a giant touchscreen, he was able to explain the probable reason for Trump’s victory in Florida.
Piker had been and is currently following the QAnon conspiracy and other internet phenomena with microscopic precision, archiving and noting its influence on Trump supporters and the alt-right. Piker and his community tracked QAnon’s popularity and saw that the conspiracy theory had massive influence amongst Florida’s Cuban-American population. Coupled with misinformation and fears over socialism, a historic and emotional sore spot for the diaspora in America, Cubans voted overwhelmingly for Trump, reducing Democrats’ lead from the last election in key counties like Miami-Dade. While it was noted by some major media outlets prior to the election, there was delay and confusion amongst cable news pundits about why Hispanics in Florida voted significantly for Trump, while Piker was pointing to it as precinct results came in.
While live streamers will probably not replace journalists in the future (much of a streamer’s work includes reading articles and watching pieces from traditional media sources and journalists), streamers can disrupt pundits that have made cable news their prime habitats. The streamer’s primary product is commentary, often tailored to the political leanings of their audience, more so than the off-the-rack commentary that cable news has foisted upon its audience. A streamer’s commentary is malleable, something with which the audience can interact. Will this further divide and separate us into echo chambers? Quite possibly yes, exacerbating the problems resulting from the divisiveness of cable news.
Whether this is a trend that is confined to American politics or one that will foray into the European sphere is yet to be seen, but given the success that streamers have had with the US election, it appears inevitable. The internet has become a cultural sphere, a limitless forum for political debate. It influences and shapes politics sparking groups like the Proud Boys, spreading ISIS propaganda, and creating avenues for misinformation and conspiracy theories. Traditional media will always be around in some form, but the internet itself has become a new dimension of both our culture and politics. If we wish to better understand the world around us, maybe it’s time to tune into a live stream.
Chang, E., 2020. QAnon Is a Cauldron of Deceit, Says Media Matters President. Bloomberg.com . Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-10-30/qanon-is-a-cauldron-of-deceit-says-media-matters-president-video [Accessed November 24, 2020].
Hsu, T., 2020. They Watched the Debate … on Twitch. The New York Times . Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/business/media/twitch-trump-biden-debate.html [Accessed November 24, 2020].
Jackson, Vice. Vice. (2020): Hasan Piker’s Twitch Stream Is the Future of Election Night Coverage . Available at: https://www.vice.com/en/article/qjppy7/hasan-pikers-twitch-stream-is-the-future-of-election-night-coverage (Accessed: 24 November 2020).
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Kirchoff, C., 2020. Louder with Crowder Election Live Streams Raked in MILLIONS of Views. Look Out, Mainstream Media… Louder With Crowder. Available at: https://www.louderwithcrowder.com/louder-with-crowder-election-live-streams-raked-in-millionsof-views-look-out-mainstream-media [Accessed November 24, 2020].
Piker, Hasan. Available at: https://www.twitch.tv/hasanabi [Accessed November 24, 2020].
Rogan, Joe, 2020. JRE End Of The World #2. Youtube. Available at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkjxSKrcbOg&feature=emb_title&ab_channel=PowerfulJRE [Accessed November 24, 2020].
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