Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee markup of "Protecting Our Kids Act" in Washington, D.C., US, on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz decided to try his hand at Twitch—and was greeted with digital dick pics and users calling him a pedophile.The Florida congressman launched his stream Thursday with a 30-minute ramble about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot with Darren Beattie, an ex-Trump speechwriter. In a live recording of Gaetz’s Firebrand podcast, the two went on about Ray Epps, the man at the center of a right-wing conspiracy claiming undercover FBI agents led the mob of Trump supporters into the Capitol on Jan. 6, known as “The Fedsurrection.” The Jan. 6 congressional committee concluded Epps was just a guy from Arizona with no ties to the government at all. The stream ended with Gaetz bashing the defunding of police, “wokeism” in public schools, and blaming “The Squad” of four progressive congresswomen for just about everything.
Gaetz’s stream setup looked like Boomer-auctioneer-turned-sportscaster with clunky headphones, and in true amateur gamer style, Beattie joined with a headset and laggy internet connection.The live part of the stream barely attracted notice, peaking at a mere six viewers.Then Gaetz went offline. And that’s when the digital dick pics started.It’s common for streamers to leave their chat rooms open to let their community flourish while still they're offline. Moderation is usually light and typically done through blacklisting certain words and slurs.But this was clearly a bad idea for Gaetz.The messages started flooding in, with the user who goes by “LiterallyJustVibingHere,” saying, “hey fuckin bitch matt whats up dumb fuck,” and “you dumbass imbecile.” Then more creative trolls rolled into Gaetz’s chat and began to type in ASCII art. At one point an ASCII AmongUs Character with a penis scrolled by on screen, and then some of Pepe the Frog with “COCK” written underneath, followed by an ASCII Shrek.
The chat also targeted subjects directly tied to Gaetz, who has been under investigation for child sex trafficking and having sex with a minor. ASCII posts like “GAETZ IS A PEDO” trickled through chat, as well as some that said, “MATT PogChamp GAETZ PogChamp TRAFFICKS PogChamp MINORS PogChamp MATT PogChamp GAETZ PogChamp TRAFFICKS PogChamp MINORS PogChamp.”
PogChamp is arguably Twitch’s most popular emote, and a common saying in internet and gaming culture. Usually, it denotes a moment that’s exciting, thrilling, or “clutch.” But it can also be used sarcastically when people want to “troll,” or make fun of a streamer for doing something bad.
A new ASCII penis or similar type of art sprang into chat every few seconds on Thursday afternoon. The ASCII dick pics and bashing of the congressman continued hours after his stream went offline and continued relentlessly into the morning—with everything from more sarcastic “PogChamps” to “ResidentSleepers,” used when a chat deems a streamer is boring and putting the audience to sleep. Many of the users and streamers in Gaetz’s chat were seemingly “subs,” or hyper-dedicated fans who pay money to a streamer monthly for a subscription, of leftist bastion streamer Hasan Piker. Many were typing Piker’s signature emote, a picture of him holding a red flag in Soviet agitprop style, in Gaetz’s chat after the streamer got into a quick Twitter bout with the congressman. “This is certainly what we needed on the platform,” Piker sarcastically tweeted in response to Gaetz’s announcement. “I agree,” Gaetz tweeted in response. “Thanks for tuning in, @hasanthehun. Don't forget to subscribe!”Piker, one of the most popular streamers on the platform, who regularly streams political commentary, changed his name to “gaetz pedo fbi investigation,” on Twitter and at the time of this writing was still visible on the congressman's official Twitter account.
To keep the drama going, the congressman seemingly slithered into Piker’s chat during a livestream Thursday to simply type ”America First is inevitable! us,” and “MAGA!” in rebuttal to the streamer’s tweet. “One of his staffers is going buckwild,” Piker said on stream Thursday during the beef. “I love our wonderful little platform, man.”Hindsight is 20/20, but it was probably a bad idea for Gaetz to announce his Twitch channel only one day after an investigation by Bloomberg exposed how child predators can use the platform to track down kids who are streaming. Chat was also quick to highlight the unfortunate timing. “I honestly didn't think it was possible for you to become any more creepy than you already are,” lazy_lightning_73 typed just after midnight on Friday. “But then I learned you joined Twitch one day after Bloomberg published a report about how child predators are using Twitch to track and engage with kids and teens.
The past week has been a tumultuous one for the platform, starting with controversy over gambling streams (which Twitch has in turn banned) and ending with sexual assault allegations between streamers, according to the internet culture site Kotaku. Follow Samir Ferdowsi on Twitter.