It began on Monday with a simple question: “Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote?” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked on Twitter, and nearly every even vaguely left-leaning streamer on Twitch answered. Mere hours later, AOC had a verified Twitch channel with hundreds of thousands of followers. Tuesday night, she streamed with some of Twitch’s biggest stars, resulting in a raucous audience that topped out at around 439,000 concurrent viewers on her channel alone.
AOC streamed Among Us, Twitch’s out-of-nowhere sci-fi deception mega-hit, alongside fellow representative Ilhan Omar, as well as online personalities Hasan Piker, Pokimane, Dr Lupo, Disguised Toast, Moistcr1tikal, Myth, Mxmtoon, and Jacksepticeye. Later in the stream, they were joined by others like Valkyrae and Corpse. Between their own channels, these streamers added another 200,000+ concurrent viewers to the series of Among Us games, bringing the full total up to over 600,000 concurrent viewers. AOC’s 439,000 alone, though, means that she now holds the record for third-most concurrent viewers on an individual streamer’s channel in Twitch history. For comparison’s sake, recent streams by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both topped out at around 1,000 viewers, while a stream by the US Army esports team that ran around the same time as AOC’s pulled in [sad trombone sound] viewers.
AOC began her stream by saying she was “super nervous,” but quickly found her rhythm, laughing and joking with everybody else. After Omar had some technical issues, the group began playing Among Us, a game in which up to ten players work together to get a spaceship up and running, but some are secretly designated “impostors” who are out to sabotage the ship and kill other players. Impostors, then, must lie and deceive their way to victory, or else other players will catch on to what they’re up to.
“I really don’t want to be impostor. Please don’t let me be impostor,” AOC said.
The game immediately made her one of the impostors, at which point AOC said “Noooooooooo.” She did well, however, even if it pained her.
“I can’t kill Poki,” she said as she crept up behind Pokimane. “She’s so nice.” Upon killing Pokimane, AOC gasped loudly at the horror she had wrought.
Eventually, the streamers caught on to AOC’s innocent act, but she still managed to convince Omar not to vote her out the airlock. “Are you really gonna do this to me, Ilhan?” she asked, declaring Omar her “ride or die” after she replied “No.”
Throughout a series of matches, AOC did in-game tasks, joked, revealed that her League of Legends skills have sadly deteriorated, talked about healthcare, and got betrayed by the first person ever to host her on a stream, Harry “Hbomberguy” Brewis. It was legitimately enjoyable viewing—buoyed, certainly, by an all-star cast of streamers, but AOC only felt like a fish out of water at the beginning. Once she got settled in, she was a natural. Before long, she was regularly doing things like accusing Disguised Toast of “marinating” her by following her around the map so as to eventually kill her. In one especially entertaining moment, she got him thrown out the airlock by suggesting that it’d be an “evil genius” move for him to do it two matches in a row, because nobody would expect something so obvious.
“I was protecting youuuuuu,” Toast shouted as his character drowned in a lake of lava.
In chat, viewers largely reacted to AOC’s actions in the game, though some made harassing and violent comments, which were quickly moderated out of existence, while others dropped mentions of Trump, “Maga,” or how the US will “never be a socialist country,” which were evidently allowed—much to some viewers’ chagrin. This led to a back and forth between viewers, with many speaking out in favor of AOC, Biden, and Trump fans getting “better hobbies.”
All the while, a chat bot periodically implored people to vote. AOC, however, did not lock eyes with the camera mid-game and talk about how only voting can change the world or anything like that. She just played the game, though she did at one point join in on a group joke about how “Orange is sus,” referring to one of Among Us’ in-game avatars and, of course, Donald Trump. Eventually, Piker brought up voting, which prompted a discussion of how Myth, who is 21, voted for the first time this year via mail-in, and how AOC is planning to vote early in-person so as to ensure her vote is counted day-of. She also ended her stream after nearly three and a half hours by encouraging everyone to “participate in this election and save our democracy” and talking a bit about voting plans and supporting progressive candidates.
The 24-hour lead up to this stream was frenzied. Yesterday, AOC didn’t even have a Twitch channel. She had appeared on Twitch before as part of Brewis’ 2019 stream in support of trans rights, but never on her own channel, nor to play games. But as soon as she expressed interest yesterday, mobilization was startlingly rapid. Big names like Hasan Piker and Pokimane, who featured in today’s stream, immediately volunteered to help. So did a truly enormous number of other Twitch stars. Twitch itself immediately got involved, as evidenced by the fact that AOC’s channel is verified and named, well, “AOC.” (Twitch no longer allows normal users to create three-letter account names. These, according to three sources speaking to Kotaku on the condition of anonymity, have to be repossessed from old inactive users or created by Twitch admins.) Shortly after, fellow rep Ilhan Omar’s team also began exploring the idea of streaming on Twitch.
What followed, according to sources, was an effort on the part of AOC’s team to procure necessary streaming equipment and figure out how an AOC Twitch channel would even function. Who would she play with? How would her team approach the tall task of moderating her chat, an element of Twitch that can get extremely rowdy in its best moments and downright racist and sexist in its worst? The latter was an important question, one that, streamer and activist Jordan Uhl told Kotaku in a DM, led both AOC and Omar’s teams to consult “with top streamers and other experts in the community to quickly adopt best practices while respecting the guidelines they must abide by under the First Amendment.” (Kotaku reached out to AOC’s team for more information but, as of this publishing, did not receive a response.)
They could not simply follow in the footsteps of other politicians who’ve streamed on Twitch, like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. What AOC aimed to do was fundamentally different. Sanders and Trump have effectively stranded themselves on their own little islands, rebroadcasting rallies and panels and treating Twitch as an extension of preexisting campaign efforts. Twitch, however, is a community platform, one built on personalities and chat interaction. Put another way, there’s a reason why Piker is far and away the biggest leftist on Twitch—not internationally famous politician Bernie Sanders. From the get go, Piker collaborated with preexisting Twitch stars while injecting his own flavor into the proceedings.
AOC, unlike literally every other politician and extension of the U.S. government, evidently recognized that, putting out a call to streamers and industry experts rather than trying to reverse-engineer another slick, tediously sanitized streaming operation. This meant that she immediately had a gargantuan audience of people who actually wanted to watch her stream. But she still couldn’t just behave like any other streamer. She is a government representative, which means that wantonly blocking rowdy chat users could constitute a First Amendment violation. To wit: In 2019, AOC ended up settling a lawsuit filed by Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who accused her of violating the First Amendment by blocking him on Twitter.
More recently, AOC sought to prevent the U.S. military from funding recruitment efforts on Twitch, something legal organizations like the ACLU and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (though notably not AOC) argued against by saying that the Army and Navy violated the First Amendment by banning viewers who asked critical questions about war crimes. This forced the Army and Navy to publicly publish revised rules that included strict procedures around timing out and banning users, and even then, only when viewers engage in harassing behavior—not questions or criticism. AOC’s measure ultimately did not succeed, but she still inextricably became part of that discussion.
AOC’s team, then, ended up yesterday rushing to consult with experts and put together a moderation team with the knowledge and savvy to navigate these extremely choppy waters, with that team formulating detailed rules of their own. Originally, it seemed like AOC was going to go live for the first time last night, but in a particularly relatable moment for anybody who’s ever tried their hand at streaming, getting set up took a very long time. After viewers and mods waited in chat for a few hours, AOC eventually tweeted that she “spent tonight setting up accounts, mods, streaming & run throughs” and she was “hoping to go live tomorrow night.”
All of which culminated in Tuesday night’s stream, which by most measures took over Twitch. It is abundantly clear that AOC has cracked the code on Twitch in a way that far outstrips attempts by other politicians and public figures. Will it translate to votes in any meaningful way? Will she continue streaming regularly? Will people continue to care? And what are the broader ramifications of the sort of parasocial relationship Twitch can engender when it involves a politician who, no matter how relatable, is a public servant first and foremost? How might this kind of relationship interfere with people’s ability to consistently hold politicians accountable, a necessary evil of our deeply flawed political system? These questions, for now, are impossible to answer, because all of this is unprecedented.
But clearly, all eyes are on AOC, and imitators are inevitable. Case in point: Shortly after AOC signed off, Piker pointed out that libertarian politician Justin Amash is already trying to get up to speed on Twitch. AOC and others will learn from this stream, and one way or another, we’ll get answers to those questions.