Left Twitch's Blinding Engagement Chase

The platform made bloodthirsty beasts of its political actors, and the rewards so far don't seem to justify the costs.

It was April of last year since I’ve last spoken about Left Twitch and how perpetuity of conflict–supercharged by fans lustful for drama and creators hungry for engagement–was not going to advance the medium beyond a glorified platform for heated debate between ideological opposites. Today, spurred by a wave of animosity thrown BadBunny’s way by Destiny’s orbiting cluster of viewers and content creators, I’ve come to realize that the problem is different altogether–it’s not only that the Left Twitch ecosystem is of the sort to see red where there’s none; they’ve also created an entire incentive structure around it that makes it seem as if indulging their worst instincts is the slingshot that may catapult them to Twitch’s summit, as purportedly evidenced by prior patterns in conservative political media.

To paint a full picture, conservative talk radio—perhaps the first iteration of such a format—hedged its bets on provocation and the violent stirring of ideological waters even when the benefits of such an approach did not always seem so obvious. Listeners then were satisfied because of what they perceived to be a crack in the post-Civil Rights era liberal consensus, but this was all in service of a cultural link our collective political consciousness has since come to forge of cutthroat speak somehow being equal in kind to the difficult task of truth-telling, compassionate persuasion, and the conception of a larger political project not as an exclusive club only the self-described enlightened may join, but one that encompasses and welcomes all regardless of provenance or method.

While being all-inclusive is of paramount importance, no project of great magnitude can be achieved without selflessness and a shedding of the individual ego, and needless to say Left Twitch hasn’t always been the best at it. Save for a few actors, it feels like the space subordinates its own perception of worth to clout, one accentuated by hopeless pleas for the bigger fish’s admiration. This is currently most evident with Destiny, where creators will latch on to some of his mannerisms in the aims of praise reciprocated, but knowing Steven Bonnell’s stature right now, he probably couldn’t care less what his fandom—between producers and consumers of content—are doing to seek his favor–Bonnell is repeatedly sat with the bigger boys at the table, and his riches become further untethered from the petty ongoings of Left Twitch as time goes on.

Some may scoff at the notion of streamers adopting another strategy other than to fan the flames of conflict—after all, those at the platform’s cutting edge now had embraced the devil’s ways in yesteryears—but it would be my belief that Twitch is going through a major cultural shift where that is not the case anymore, and in fact, another path forward may exist for those who wish to not be ever-entrapped by endless drama.

There isn’t a case made without a subject, and on Left Twitch, the finger could be pretty quickly pointed at Hasan Piker as an example of what could be achieved when all conventions of virality are thrown out the window and an altogether-different palette emerges. Hasan isn’t a stranger to the Destiny way of doing things—in fact, he mirrored those mannerisms pretty intensely back when he was still at the Young Turks—but what was perhaps an inadvertent break from the malaise of confrontational politics turned into a successful experiment in evolving the medium–for a brief period in November of last year, Hasan topped the Twitch charts, and much of it rode on coverage not heeding the head-butting wisdoms of old.

But as much as Hasan deserves credit for democratizing a unique style that a lot have come to reliably enjoy well-past Joe Biden’s triumph over Donald Trump, there’s no denying that sheer luck–to the extent that it is at all an actionable factor–plays the most important role in any streamer’s ascension to greatness. Put that way, it equalizes the playing field between forceful persuasion and its easy-going counterpart, so what’s left to consider are their distinct rhetorical qualities, and well… There is no better way to steep your audience so deep in antagonism and resentment of any foreign ideas than to treat them as hounds, something a disconcerting number of Left Twitch streamers don’t seem at particular odds with.

Beyond the considerations of growth, there’s something deeply unsettling about any political streaming ecosystem refusing to shed its cocoon of cultural elders and deciding instead that what worked for the most staunch and rabid of conservative ghouls back in the 70s and 80s would be a winning formula in today’s environment. Right-wing politics swiftly saw such methods bear fruit because they derive power from cruelty and othering, but a leftist one with its empathetic core stripped out just sounds like the ramblings of a recently-reformed /pol/ contributor–the edge is there, but it doesn’t do much unless it is honed and handled with care.

To that end, it isn’t simply the imperative of a Twitch streamer to follow a lighter script in search of an audience—some do it in less-than-tasteful ways, and depending on the content and format, that might be the best fit—but we should about be through pretending like it has done anyone any good to forever remain in a fighting stance against inside dissent, stifling all urge to take risks, which may very well have been the reason someone like Hasan was able to reach stratospheric heights in less time than Destiny has been streaming for his entire career.

Those are some harsh words to be on the receiving end of, but they’re merely the foundational pieces of an approach that puts the explicit chase of engagement last given its haphazard nature and instead focuses on fostering good community that consistently turns out in support against those wronged, no matter how lopsided the power dynamics are. Much has been said about the well-tempered minority in Left Twitch and how they’ve not exactly looked beyond the horizon for pastures greener, but less spoken about is their ability to cultivate an environment in which viewers and fellow creators alike feel welcome and are reliably a valuable source of mutual encouragement and reassurance–the same could not be said about someone like Destiny, whose associations feel conditional at best, thus their company not as intellectually enthralling as one would otherwise be led to believe.