Trends in live streaming tend to come and go, and not all of them make sense from the outside. Gambling, hot tubs, otters…and other such topics have risen to prominence, but this month a new star subject has emerged on Twitch, that being the Amber Heard defamation case being brought in Virginia’s Fairfax County Courthouse, by her ex-husband Johnny Depp.
For those who have been living under the rock of Gibraltar, the trial relates to some rather unsavoury allegations of domestic abuse that have circled the former couple ever since they split. It’s not Depp’s first time suing for this either, with his case in the British courts, brought against the Sun and Heard, having ended in defeat for the Pirates of the Caribbean star.
This time though, the case is in the US, meaning cameras are allowed in the courtroom and the wider world can observe and dissect every minutiae of the evidence, and that’s just what has happened. Some of the biggest names in streaming are weighing in with their takes on the case, even occasionally engaging in minor forensic breakdowns to demonstrate their points.
The numbers are great for streamers too, with Asmongold, whose real name is unknown, pulling over 120k for his stream of the trial and Félix "xQc" Lengyel getting 113k just for watching it on stream. Even smaller streamers are able to get above average views if they are willing to engage with the content, which doesn’t seem to have any effect on their income or ability to monetise.
A whiff of hypocrisy
Some of the streamers' commenting on the case have been well received in their work, with examples like Youna "CodeMiko" Kang's below being relatively uncontroversial. The streamer took a bit of time to play with photoshop while looking at a couple of photos from the case, and offered her opinion as to whether they were in fact different shots.
However, others have slightly come unstuck with their moral judgements, especially the ever-controversial xQc. A clip of him decrying moral flexibility and claiming to be an expert on integrity quickly rose up the ranks on reddit, with many users pointing out how hypocritical that was of him to say having loudly explained the evils of gambling last year, before returning to gambling on stream this week.
We’ve also seen Asmongold weighing in on the sartorial choices made by the defendants, which is probably the safest way to comment on an ongoing defamation case related to domestic violence. All in all, the trial has provided a lot of free content for a large number of streamers, which has also probably brought the issue to a new audience.
The value of that new audience remains to be seen, especially on such a divisive trial that has occupied so much media space. More mature viewers may enjoy hearing the takes of their favourite talent without reading too much into that, but fans of xQc and his ilk are likely to be younger and more impressionable.
Whether Twitch have a responsibility to address this is currently up to you to decide, but the company itself has so far shown no inclination to address people watching this or other trials live on stream.
Other outlets have decried the streamers, and ‘React Andys’ in particular for making light of the case. The choice to use a Twitch meme to criticise someone else for not treating serious topics with respect aside, it is a valid point, that the case addresses domestic abuse, substance abuse, mental health and other fairly heavy topics.
It’s hard to know where the blame lies in that case, either with Twitch, who some feel should step in and deal with, or the streamers themselves. The American system is somewhat atypical in allowing TV cameras into courtrooms, and as we saw last year with the Rittenhouse case these trials can generate huge amounts of views, for better or worse.
With the trial set to end May 27, there are still a good few days of content left, but if cases like this become more common it may require Twitch to step in. Whether that is limiting ads on streams to prevent sensationalist behaviour or simply verifying certain users as being approved for legal streaming remains to be seen, but what we’ve seen so far suggests more thought on the topic is required.