Warning: This story contains multiple links to graphic content.
Several recent incidents concerning streamers' and YouTubers' treatment of animals are raising questions about these platforms' responsibility to address these actions.
A few weeks ago, Alinity Divine visibly picked up her cat, which had walked past her while she was streaming, and appeared to throw it over her head. The streamer also once gave what she claimed was alcohol to her cat on stream. Though her local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) initiated an investigation into the matter, Twitch has not publicly reprimanded Alinity for her actions. Alinity has since apologized.
Then there’s Brooke Houts, a YouTuber who uploaded a since-deleted video that appears to show her hitting, aggressively pushing and spitting on her Doberman. Her local law enforcement is investigating the situation, but for now, she has retained custody of her pet and her profile remains active on YouTube. She, too, has apologized for her actions.
Several months ago, a YouTube gamer named OnlyUseMeBlade thew a dog while in a visibly drunken state. In the video, the person recording is audibly upset by his actions. While the actual source video appears to have been removed due to graphic content violations, OnlyUseMeBlade's YouTube profile remains active. The clip is apparently taken from a livestream directly broadcast from the creator's own profile. There is no information on whether law enforcement conducted an investigation in this incident.
And last year, streamer and gamer Simone Scott, who goes by the names Aqua and Aquadora, revealed on a livestream that as a veterinary technician, she had once purposefully killed a dog. At the time, what she said was not technically in violation of Twitch's guidelines. She later claimed it was a joke and still maintains an active profile on Twitch.
Finally, just this week, a teenager on Instagram Live put her dog in a dryer while streaming. The police are investigating that case, but there is little additional information available due to the fact that the streamer is a minor.
It's hard to know why streamers would commit these actions on stream or would think them acceptable to upload as videos. Certainly, in the case of the Instagram Live stream, the streamer likely wanted to evoke a reaction, and in the cases of Brooke Houts and Alinity, they both initially seemed to think that behavior was normal or even cute.
There's not a lot of direct research on the topic of why people might engage in such outlandish behavior and broadcast it to the masses, but an article from Vice describing why reality TV stars lie on camera offers a viable theory.
“Sometimes when people are taking part in a show, they themselves see it as being not real, what they’re actually taking part in,” British psychologist Honey Langcaster-James shares in the article. “That detaches them a little bit from the normal rules of social engagement, so they start to think that the normal rules don’t necessarily apply because they’re doing it in the context of a TV show. And that can sometimes liberate people from the conscience that the rest of us might feel.”
On the other hand, it's also possible that these are the streamers' natural tendencies, and these behaviors are simply a reflection of them slipping and showing a negatives aspects of themselves, momentarily forgetting they have to answer to their viewers.
In any case, all streaming platforms have established terms of service. In some cases, the people making judgment calls as to violations of these terms are extremely overworked and possibility desensitized content moderators. But suffice it to say that terms are often broad enough that most of these platforms could make a case to ban almost any of these streamers if they truly wanted to pursue it.
Unfortunately, this means results in a series of vague content guidelines that ultimately reflects a grey area. While most platforms can ban users for showing illegal content, it's not even necessarily clear that what was shown in most of these streams meets a minimum legal defined standard of animal abuse, even if it's clearly unacceptable behavior.
The Twitch team would be wise to work with animal groups to better understand why something like Alinity throwing her cat, which was apparently unharmed by the action, is still a form of cruelty that should carry consequences. Allowing someone to engage in these questionable activities, especially while on a live stream, sets a bad precedent. One major issue is that many of these streamers and YouTubers have wide audiences, and this serves to normalize this behavior.
Consider the story of DaddyOFive, the YouTubers that used their children as the subject of "pranks." These so-called pranks racked up thousands of views on YouTube until YouTuber Philip DeFranco, along with others, publicly decried these pranks as child abuse. Police launched an investigation, and the couple behind the videos lost custody of three of their children and were convicted of abuse. It's alarming to think of how many people watched these videos under the guise of "entertaining content" before someone called attention to the matter, compelling the authorities — and YouTube — to take it seriously.
While it's acceptable to demand streaming platforms hold these services to higher standards in monitoring potential depictions of animal cruelty, the viewers are the ones who truly hold the power. It's perhaps obvious that audiences should elect not to support streamers who commit these acts, which extends to also boycotting events such as co-streams that feature them.
But sometimes, getting corporate executives' attention means taking even bigger steps. People who don’t support a platform’s tolerance for possible animal cruelty can make a statement by moving to new platforms that deem these activities unacceptable and hold their creators accountable. When outrage causes corporations to lose money, that's often when their employees begin to truly listen to the masses.