A blue car pulls up to a stop sign. Against all odds, it briefly, miraculously comes to a halt. Twitch chat goes ballistic. Numerous people spam “I was here” as pogchamp emotes flood in. This is Stopsigncam, a Twitch channel that suddenly has over 125,000 followers even though it’s just a camera trained on a single neighborhood intersection in Salem, Massachusetts.
Ideally, every car would stop at the sign, but that would ruin the fun. Stopsigncam’s stream title says it all: “98.73% of vehicles don’t stop.” That’s almost certainly an estimate, but if you watch the stream, it really is incredible how few drivers stop—or even pretend like they’re maybe going to do a halfhearted roll-through stop. Most drivers just pass right on by, despite how precariously close they come to getting into wrecks with other drivers. It’s an entirely unnecessary game of chicken that makes for weirdly riveting viewing, especially with chat yelling out every stop and non-stop its collective Eye of Sauron sees, doling out nicknames to cars, making memes, and establishing an ever-expanding lexicon of terms like “rollers” and “zoomers.” It’s like watching a gigantic esports event, only it’s cars passing by some rando’s front yard.
With the channel suddenly exploding in popularity, the Stopsigncam stream has also grown more eventful. Earlier this week, somebody got out of their car and did a backflip for the camera. Other people showed up one night and had a lightsaber duel. In just the past few hours today, a viewer walked up to the sign, identified himself in chat, and removed a sticker from the sign, which had previously been applied by some miscreant who sought to deface its purity (or do some advertising). Not long after, two other obvious stream snipers held up unreadable signs of their own while standing next to the stop sign. Some have speculated that the police now use the stream as a means of monitoring the stop.
The stream has a strange sort of intrinsic appeal, but that alone did not propel it to such absurd heights. According to longtime fans, it’s been running since at least last year, but it averaged single-digit viewer numbers, when it had any viewers at all. Then, over the weekend, a couple things happened: The stream got some play on Twitch drama hive turned kingmaker r/Livestreamfail, and probably most importantly, a big name, 100 Thieves intern JhbTeam, promoted the stream to his audience. First he tweeted about it, but it wasn’t until he created a TikTok on Monday that things got out of hand.
“At first, I thought it’d just be a little fun joke between me and my audience on Twitter for only [one] night, because I deleted my tweet hours later,” Jhb told Kotaku in a DM. “When people actually stayed and watched it throughout the night, it made me want to create the TikTok to see if I could make it bigger. I went to bed that night when it had 400 viewers, and woke up to 4,000 viewers as well as my TikTok having 800k views in only a few hours. I’m very happy with the result of the TikTok because it was my ultimate goal to make it popular, and it became more popular than I imagined.”
The TikTok, which implores “bored” viewers to check out the stream and gives a rapid-fire summary of its appeal, now has over 2 million views. Ever since it caught on, Stopsigncam has had a consistent audience of 1,000-3,000 concurrent viewers 24 hours a day. So, for those keeping score, this all came about because a streamer made a tweet and TikTok about somebody else’s Twitch stream. Oh, and he recounted all of this in a YouTube video, as well.
The owner of the channel ended up giving Jhb moderation privileges, which he occasionally exercises to keep the chat he personally turned into an avalanche of screams from getting too rowdy, despite how busy he is working for a major gaming organization: “Since I was the first person in the stream and I was a verified user, the owner put trust into me and gave me moderation privileges,” Jhb said. “I’ll usually have the stream open on the side and if I see an inappropriate message or anything that could link to the location, I’ll ban that user.” (Kotaku reached out to Stopsigncam’s owner, who declined to answer questions for the time being, as well as a couple moderators, who did not reply in time for publication.)
“First person in the stream” might be a stretch, given that others claim to have been watching Stopsigncam for a little while now. One, a writer and financial analyst named Daniel Connolly, says he found the stream last year in Twitch’s travel and outdoors category. “I often leave location cams on as background while I work,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I really started watching this stream during the winter, during a snowstorm.”
As a (relatively) longtime viewer, Connolly said he’s “happy” for Stopsigncam’s owner, but the growth spurt hasn’t impacted his viewing habits, since it’s all just background for him. Others, however, worry that in its transition from obscure curiosity to sensational stream sniper target, Stopsigncam has already lost something essential. One of those people is a viewer who goes by the handle Ilikecorndogs. Buoyed by his love of chat’s reactions to last-second stops and stunts like the aforementioned lightsaber duel, he created a subreddit for the Stopsigncam stream earlier this week. Now, though, he’s on the verge of being done with it.
“Honestly, after two days of knowing about [Stopsigncam], I’ve already grown out of it,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I might hop into a stream here or there, but I feel like it grew too much out of a quirky stream in the corners of Twitch I was told about one night.”
Watching so many people show up during today’s stream clearly aware of the camera, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. Some Twitch sensations stick around and evolve into institutions. Others are just bizarre little moments. Before you know it, they’re over, because they were never meant to be anything else.
There are also more practical concerns: It has not been difficult for locals to figure out where Stopsigncam’s stop sign cam is positioned. What happens if somebody doxxes its owner? PC builder and streamer Robert “OD_Technology” O’Donnell, who says he was one of a few people who were involved in the lightsaber fights, doesn’t think it will come to that, but he acknowledges that it’s possible.
“We were able to find [the house] because we hang out in the bars [in] the area, but we won’t tell specifically where it is,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I put up a Facebook post asking where or who it was, but I took it down immediately after thinking about it because we want it to be fun and not a risk... I really hope [the stream lasts] because the guy deserves it, but if locals ruin it, it will be on them and not him.”
He’s optimistic about the stream’s chances, though: “I think it will last a long time,” he said.
The whole moment has remained remarkably wholesome so far, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay that way, with thousands of people tuning in to watch the daily lives of hundreds of unknowing others. Despite watching for longer than most, Connolly thinks Stopsigncam feels temporary—like a brief roll-through rather than what the unmissable red sign tells everybody to do.
“I assumed people would have moved on by now,” he said. “I suppose it’ll last as long as the chat stays active and friendly. It feels like an ephemeral moment in a tiny, weird corner of the internet.”