Twitch and politics: Upheaval in the gaming and live streaming community

The insurrection at the Captiol on Janurary 6th, 2021 has led to the canceling of one of the most recognizable emotes on Twitch, the world’s largest live streaming platform.

ollowing the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol on January 6 by a violent mob of “Stop the Steal” Trump supporters, the popular streaming service Twitch has taken measures to cut ties with the face of PogChamps, one of its frequently used emotes (Twitch-specific emoticons that viewers and streamers use to express feelings in chat).

SorensBlade, a streamer based in NYC, has witnessed firsthand how emotes can be misconstrued . “Like a lot of Twitch culture, emotes and their meaning evolve overtime within the community to the point where most don’t even know who the emote is of.”

PogChamp, or “poggers,” has become synonymous with Twitch and gaming culture as a whole. The emote is generally used to express surprise and excitement.

The PogChamps emote. Photo credit: Pixabay

Twitch’s decision came after Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, the man behind PogChamps, tweeted his sympathy for rioters and disdain for how Capitol Police responded to them.

He later protested big tech censorship and shared a graphic video of Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot and killed on the Capitol grounds. Gutierrez, former commentator for the fighting gaming community and co-founder of Cross Counter TV, has previously spread conspiracy theories on social media.

Twitch quickly took to Twitter to announce the banning of the emote.

As recently as December, Twitch has been updating its community Hateful Conduct and Harassment guidelines to “better protect the community,” which included banning the Confederate flag and violence.

Twitch’s move comes after Facebook and Twitter disabled President Donald Trump’s accounts to stop more incendiary remarks.

Last year, Twitch suspended Trump’s account for “hateful conduct” following the rebroadcast of an inflammatory anti-immigrant speech.

The recent ban and guideline additions highlight the platform’s growing role in politics.

SorensBlade believes the Trump administration has forced more political based discussions on Twitch to bubble to the top. “A majority of streamers tend to have the rule “no politics in chat” with the intent of creating a fun “escape from life” setting where people can detach themselves from the daily news cycle. With the administration’s handling of COVID-19, the rise of more people streaming/watching streams, the conversations about the issues and how they were being handled were pretty difficult to avoid. Once people had their foot in the doorway speaking about COVID-19, it opened up avenues for more political discussions.”

Leading up to the 2020 election, Twitch attracted social activists and politicians, from New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to President Trump himself. Ocasio-Cortez has used Twitch in the past to boost voter turnout and fundraise for food pantries, legal services protecting people from evictions, and nonprofits helping families who are struggling during the pandemic.

On January 6, the storming of the U.S. Capitol was Twitch’s top stream. Photo credit: Tyler Merbler/CC 2.0, via Flickr

Following the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests around the country, The New York Times reported that Twitch “transformed into an unexpected hub of social activism,” as BLM protestors used the service to stream their demonstrations.

On January 6, the storming of the U.S. Capitol was Twitch’s top stream. Trump loyalists also used the platform to live broadcast their experience throughout the day. Over 200,000 watched the situation with political streamer HasanAbi as he commented on cable news feeds on Twitch.

On January 8, Twitch announced it would adopt the community-based suggestion of replacing PogChamps every 24 hours with the faces of different streamers making the same “Pog” expression.

Originally published on January 6th, 2021.

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Laura Kondourajian

Passionate storyteller. Certified public radio nerd and news junkie. Part-time açaí bowl bandit.