Last night's Twitch stream with US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and streamers Pokimane, Hasanabi, among others, demonstrated one of the Democratic Party's huge missed opportunities: the internet.
There's a cottage industry of lefty streamers on Twitch. Streamers and YouTubers like Hasan Piker, HBomberguy, Hutch, and Vaush have grown their audience through being unabashed about their politics. On the right, figures like these have ridden their internet fame into careers in punditry. Ben Shapiro rode viral internet clips of him "owning" college students into one the most popular podcasts in the country and appearances on Fox News. The Rubin Report, a right wing YouTube talk show, regularly attracts high profile Republican guests like Donald Trump Jr., Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz.
What Republicans have figured out long ago is the obvious fact that millions of people don't watch or don't care about what establishment talking heads say on CNN and Fox News. They watch and care about what their favorite YouTubers and Twitch streamers are saying. After watching AOC play Among Us with members of the Twitch left, which had over 400,000 viewers, you really have to wonder why Democrats haven't been appealing to the left wing's burgeoning internet stars.
The most significant reaction to last night's stream was that it was refreshing to see Ocasio-Cortez just vibing and being normal. At the top of the stream, she credited Hasan Piker, who streams left wing content daily, for putting the event together. Piker streams games, but also streams himself talking over news stories and talking about politics. Piker seems like the exact kind of ambassador that the Democratic Party should want; he's incredibly charming, savvy about the internet, and an outspoken leftists. The main issue is that he's critical of the DNC in a way I can't see jiving with establishment Democrats. Piker is also the kind of person who has a stream highlight video on his YouTube channel of him "reacting to Joe Biden's brain."
In a way, it's a demonstration of the entire problem with the DNC. Pokimane and Hasan Piker alone have enormous audiences that the DNC could leverage, but neither of them are exactly in step with the Democratic Party line as espoused by their Presidential nominee Joe Biden. At the same time, it's clear that neither of them are above working with the DNC either, and this would be a great opportunity to reach voters that the party may otherwise miss. Figures like Shapiro are sometimes critical of Donald Trump (In 2016 Shapiro even said that he wouldn't vote for him), but that's never stopped the GOP from taking advantage of his popularity.
"Organizers are supposed to meet people where they are—and a lot of people are playing video games with their friends through this pandemic," Waleed Shahid of Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee, told Motherboard. "The next generation of Democrats thinks and looks a lot more like AOC than Joe Biden. Going on Twitch to talk about voting and progressive politics reflects those larger dynamics."
Last night's stream is now the third most watched broadcast on Twitch. By the end, one of the streamers, Myth, thanked AOC for the opportunity, because it would be his first time voting. Missing out on that because these politically engaged voters have questions for their party not only seems like a political misstep, but a great way to alienate the young voters this party needs. In an ideal world, streamers like Piker and Pokimane would have already been utilized by the DNC, but at the moment, it's not clear that they even know that they have this ace in their back pocket.