Image: Twitch

Ice Poseidon. Sweet_Anita. Trainwreckstv. “Twitch thots.” “Boobie streamers.” If any of these names and phrases ring a bell, you may have a subreddit called Livestreamfail to thank—even if you’ve never heard of it.

With nearly 400,000 subscribers, Livestreamfail has become one of the biggest external hubs for Twitch content. Maybe even the biggest. Users generally post short clips of funny, embarrassing, or otherwise notable moments from Twitch and other streaming services. If a Livestreamfail posts gets popular, that usually results in a bigger audience for the streamer in question, sometimes permanently. For big streamers and smaller streamers alike, Livestreamfail is a megaphone—even when they don’t want it to be.

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Much of the subreddit’s growth has occurred in the past year and a half, which has forced its senior moderation team to examine what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how their choices can lead to unintended consequences. To hear longtime moderator TTVRaptor tell it, the mods didn’t expect the massive rise in popularity of Livestreamfail, which emerged from the ashes of a similar, much smaller board three years ago.

“We just kinda figured, it’s gonna be a fun subreddit,” TTVRaptor, who asked that we not use his real name, said to Kotaku during an interview last month in San Jose, California. “People are gonna post silly clips. It’s not gonna gain that much traction because it’s basically a clone of the previous one.”

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In a day and age where the stream of content is more like an infinite number of firehoses, Livestreamfail is a useful way to get a general sense of what’s going down on Twitch. Well, on certain parts of it, anyway. As its name implies, Livestreamfail was originally focused on “fail” moments in which streamers did something funny, embarrassing, or shameful. Over time, the board has made allowances for clips of streamers succeeding, stirring up drama, or just generally being interesting, as well.

These days, the subreddit’s front page is whiplash-inducing in its breadth of content. As of writing, the most upvoted clip was Dr Disrespect singing the Ducktales theme song. But most of the comments on that thread were people discussing a racist version of the song that they previously learned about on Livestreamfail that “ruined” it for them. Next, there was a clip of Fortnite pro TSM Hamlinz getting eliminated in devastating fashion—by somebody who named themselves “TSM N*****.” After that, a clip of popular streamer Sodapoppin encountering surprise in-game nudity (though, it should be noted, surprise real-life nudity is also a very popular genre of Livestreamfail clip). Beneath that was a clip of one streamer learning that another streamer had subscribed to him for a whopping 61 months ages ago and not told him because he just wanted to be cool and give his friend money. Wholesome as heckin’ heck, in other words. This is Livestreamfail in a nutshell: funny moments, embarrassing moments, exciting moments, racist moments, sad moments, gross moments, and cute moments all crammed together side by side by side, like sardines in a popularity tin.

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But the bedrock of Livestreamfail’s community was formed when a bunch of people came together to point and laugh, and this mean—or at least, not always 100 percent nice—streak unavoidably informs the types of posts that get traction, and thus the type of streamers who draw its attention.

One group that rose to prominence on Livestreamfail is the Cx Network—controversy magnet Ice Poseidon’s loosely affiliated group of IRL streamers known for gimmicky Jackass-like stunts, edgelord humor that verges into low-key racism and homophobia, occasional run-ins with the law, and an especially rowdy community. They’re perfect fail fodder, given how often members of the group say weird or embarrassing things, break stuff, and have weird run-ins with stream snipers.

Frequent promotion from Livestreamfail’s massive audience makes the Cx Network influential on Twitch in a way they might not otherwise be, especially given that multiple members, ringleader Ice Poseidon included, are actually banned from Twitch. Despite that and a subsequent move to YouTube last year, Ice Poseidon and his community continued throughout most of this year to be mentioned by prominent Twitch streamers and viewers on a regular basis, in part due to his relevance on Livestreamfail. But after people accused him of manufacturing scripted moments and trying to pass them off as real, IcePoseidon content got banned from Livestreamfail, too.

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“We’ve got to make sure that things that are being posted are not just people creating bullshit,” said TTVRaptor. Livestreamfail, like Twitch, thrives on perceived authenticity.

While Ice Poseidon and the Cx Network don’t command the influence they used to on Livestreamfail, streamers with a similar, if more reined-in, sort of sloppy, edgy presence—people like Greekgodx, Andy Milonakis, Mitch Jones, Forsen, xQc, and Trainwrecks—continue to be stars. Livestreamfail, however, also occasionally surfaces streamers who don’t fit that mold—most recently Sweet_Anita, a woman who says she has Tourette Syndrome and rocketed to popularity both despite and because of her frequently vulgar vocal tics.

Image: Jim Cooke (Sweet Anita

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For Livestreamfail’s moderators, it’s a delicate dance atop a tightrope suspended over a pit of slavering crocodiles to figure out what’s allowed and what’s crossing the line. The subreddit has rules, but some (no self-promotion by streamers) are more ironclad than others (no politics). For example, when does detonating a powder keg of untapped drama—something Livestreamfail, by virtue of its size, is very good at—stop being fun and start causing harm?

“We had a spirited debate about this too among the senior moderation team, about what is too far,” said TTVRaptor. “We very, very strictly follow Reddit’s own rules,” he said, like “no confidential information” and no “involuntary pornography.”

“But we also realize that if people start talking about a certain streamer and there’s a clip associated with it, it technically is a stream fail,” he said. “It’s like they said something stupid, or they did something stupid to warrant a drama sort of reaction from an opposing party or the sub community as a whole. We allow some of those clips to go through, but we can definitely kind of sniff out when people are doing it to be nefarious and take it too far.”

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One particularly extreme example, he said, involved a controversial streamer named Mitch Jones.

“There was a Discord dedicated to basically, literally, trying to get Mitch Jones to kill himself,” TTVRaptor said. Members of Livestreamfail’s moderation team got access to the Discord and lurked. Then they matched what they found there against what was happening in Livestreamfail threads, and “straight-up banned” anybody they found to be involved with the Discord, TTVRaptor said.

“We are always on the lookout for people who definitely have an ulterior motive when they post a clip,” TTVRaptor said. “We don’t want people posting drama clips because they hate that person. We want people posting clips that may cause drama because it’s just something that’s interesting, something that’s relevant. But we have our ears wide open making sure that people aren’t using the subreddit for strictly nefarious purposes.”

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But ill intent isn’t always a necessary ingredient for a firestorm. If you get enough people together, it’s a fire hazard pretty much no matter what else is going on. That’s a problem Livestreamfail deals with on a near-constant basis—especially given that it only takes one highly upvoted thread for the subreddit to go from passively observing the carnage to actively contributing to it. At that point, streamers notice and, oftentimes, react to the fact that their little blow-ups are suddenly much bigger.

Livestreamfail’s moderators deal with those sorts of situations on a case-by-case basis. Or they try to, anyway.

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“We had one instance—and I’m going to leave the streamer’s name out of it—where that streamer was being falsely attacked by particular people in the community, who were posting clips extremely out of context,” said TTVRaptor. “We spoke to that streamer and we said, ‘Hey, you know, you need to calm down on stream. Because people are posting these clips and basically taking them out of context, posting them on the subreddit and people are feeding into this hate. You need to take this step back from the situation.’”

That situation is exemplary of multiple structural issues that plague Livestreamfail. For one, it constructs community discourse from out-of-context clips. People’s entire perceptions of some streamers are born of brief minute-long windows into their worlds, with only explanations from other users—often heavily judgmental or painfully shallow—to fill in the gaps. On top of that, these clips regularly depict streamers experiencing low moments, which further skews people’s perceptions of them. And yet, Livestreamfail is one of the only places somewhat comprehensively chronicling Twitch’s present and, as a result, its past as well. It’s incredibly useful, but also fraught with peril.

Then there’s a question more specific to this particular incident: Why did the moderators go outside Livestreamfail and tell a streamer to chill instead of cracking down on offending threads on the subreddit they, theoretically, have complete power over? TTVRaptor pointed to an ethos he would return to throughout the rest of our conversation.

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“It is a difficult situation to be in,” he said, “because we as moderators are not the moral arbiters of the Twitch community.”

TTVRaptor said that he personally does not agree with a lot of things that get posted to Livestreamfail, and he sympathizes with streamers who end up having their worst moments spotlighted—especially when it involves their mental health.

“I think you see a lot of these streams being posted on our subreddit because people are like ‘Wow, this person’s having a mental breakdown,’ like ‘Hahaha, this is so funny,’” he said, pointing to streamer Reckful as an example. “And coming from somebody who has battled mental health issues throughout my life, it’s like, ‘Wow, I really feel for these people. This sucks, to be on a public stage like this.’ But yeah, at the same time, you’ve got to wonder why they put themselves in a situation where they’re constantly on air, airing their mental health stuff.”

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Illustration: Jim Cooke

And so, as long as Livestreamfail community members aren’t actively attacking or harassing others, they get to have their say. It’s a policy that’s informed by his experiences as a user of the notorious 4chan message board, of all places.

“Everyone has been on 4chan at one point or another,” he said, talking about how the once-edgy elements of its culture have become almost mainstream. “I find it comedic, where it’s like, these people don’t agree with me and I think this is silly, but as long as they’re not being hurtful in what they’re saying, and as long as they’re not being ultra-divisive to the point of being political, falling under that political category or falling under harassment categories, we’ll let them say whatever silly thing they want to say.”

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This is especially pertinent given Livestreamfail’s user base, which tends to skew male and right-leaning. Since I started checking the subreddit on a near-daily basis about a year ago, I’ve seen plenty of threads railing against SJWs, mocking women streamers’ “white knight” fans, and of course, continuing the eternal debate about women on Twitch. TTVRaptor, who describes himself as left-leaning in his views, claimed that this is more than anecdotal: One of the single biggest crossovers in Reddit traffic, he said, happens between /r/Ice_Poseidon and /r/TheDonald. Ice Poseidon’s subreddit, in turn, has a lot of crossover with Livestreamfail, even though Ice Poseidon himself is banned. This means Livestreamfail’s community includes many people who also frequent the Donald Trump subreddit.

Livestreamfail, then, has also played a large role in propagating derogatory terms for women who stream, like “boobie streamer” and “Twitch thot.” Conversations about how these women are allegedly stealing viewers from more deserving male streamers crop up on a semi-regular basis, both on Livestreamfail and on Twitch at large. That doesn’t sit well with TTVRaptor.

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“It’s frustrating, because I don’t hold any of those views,” he said. “So seeing those views perpetuated on the subreddit, on a personal level annoys the shit out of me. But, because I’m one moderator out of a group, I tend to have those discussions with the moderators and go, ‘We understand that people are frustrated about this, this, or this, but you have to watch people’s language. You’ve got to watch people how they’re perpetuating certain stereotypes and the way that they phrase certain hot button issues, because some of these people are literally just refugees from, like, /r/Incels. You need to watch these people very closely.’”

He said that users who toss around derogatory terms like this get flagged and, eventually, banned. (He made sure to note that left-leaning people who’ve crossed the line have gotten banned, too.) But other moderators don’t always care as much as he does, so it’s an uphill battle. “They’re just like, ‘Whatever, it’s the internet. They’re edgy teenagers. They’ll grow out of it eventually.’ But yeah, it’s disturbing to me, especially in our climate right now, just the incivility towards other people is really ridiculous. So we definitely have discussions, we have had more discussions, and I think we’re going to have more discussion about this issue as the years go on, and especially as we reach 400,000 subscribers.”

Illustration: Angelica Alzona

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Livestreamfail’s rules and moderation have gotten stricter over time, TTVRaptor said, and he believes that complaints about “Twitch thots” are becoming more and more unpopular on the subreddit, if only because of how sick everybody is of hearing them. But Livestreamfail’s size does sometimes leaves the moderation team paralyzed when it comes to acting quickly on important issues, he said.

“I think we’re one of the biggest subreddits in the world now, other than the ones that are default,” he said. “Anything we do, if we implement some sort of rule, we’re going to get huge pushback. If we take away a rule, we are going to get huge pushback. And so you kind of have to balance the huge pushback with the cost-benefit analysis of like, ‘Is this going to cost us more moderator hours to put in?’—because of pushback, not because of the rule implementation. We have to measure that on a case-by-case basis. It’s really tough.”

As more and more eyeballs are drawn to Livestreamfail, hopefully it can evolve into something that acts as a louder megaphone for the good—and less of the bad and the downright ugly.