This newsletter is designed to make you the smartest person in the room on any given internet topic, whether it’s a meme, a TikTok star or very specific Eurodance parody.
Today, in a special edition, we’re going to help you understand this Mad Lib: A mega-famous Twitch streamer promised millions of fans that he would give away PlayStation consoles in New York City. Thousands of people showed up, and violent chaos ensued.
Here’s what you might sound like at a cocktail party, dazzling your friends with your internet knowledge and savvy.
Wait, sorry, I got here late. Who are we talking about?
Kai Cenat! He’s a 21-year-old Twitch streamer who lives in Atlanta.
Oh, then I’ve definitely never heard of him.
Where have you been! His audience definitely skews younger, but it’s important to know that streaming is a robust and highly lucrative online ecosystem. To many, many, many people these are A-list stars.
Cenat has 6.5 million followers on Twitch, the Amazon-owned video livestreaming platform, making him one of the most followed people on the platform. He’s got another 5.6 million followers on Instagram and four million on YouTube.
What, exactly, is he streaming?
All kinds of things. He often livestreams himself playing Call of Duty, Fortnite and other video games. He does live chats with fans and posts stunt videos like “I Lied on My Tinder Bio & Went on a Date.” (That one was on YouTube, the platform where he got his start in 2018.) Celebrities like Drake and Ice Spice sometimes make appearances. He even makes money by streaming himself while sleeping.
Yep. He has also repeatedly gotten in trouble with Twitch, for incidents such as filming himself passing out after taking a marijuana edible and showing “simulated sexual activity.” He has been banned from Twitch so many times (and subsequently reinstated) that the site GameRant made a list of all of them.
So what happened on Friday?
Cenat promised to give away PlayStation 5 consoles at Union Square Park. (Another streamer named Fanum with just over a million followers also told his followers about the giveaway.) An hour before the giveaway was scheduled to begin, the crowd was already bustling. What happened next was kind of a disaster.
It was chaotic and people got hurt, according to my colleagues Ed Shanahan and Wesley Parnell on the Metro desk.
As the supposed giveaway time passed, people in the crowd began to throw objects, including building materials, rocks, bottles, basketballs, a computer and fireworks. Videos show people climbing onto cars, stopping traffic and banging on vehicles.
Police made about 65 arrests, nearly half of them of juveniles. Multiple people were injured and there was extensive damage to stores, food carts and police vehicles, according to officials. Cenat was charged with first-degree rioting, inciting a riot and unlawful assembly.
Was it really that bad?
Let me show you a video and you can decide.
How did people react online?
“How you lock Kai up for giving back to his fans….New York be trippin!!!” the rapper Offset posted on social media. “Giving back to fans, while they destroy midtown New York. Sounds about right,” the YouTuber Def Noodles wrote in reply.
Some people have called for consequences for Cenat while others have defended him. And in true internet fashion, some have turned the incident into memes.
What happens now?
Cenat has been given a court appearance date. It remains to be seen how his followers will react. If I had to guess, this will only galvanize his fans further.
Didn’t the mayor say something about this?
“Our children are being inundated by influencers, by those who consider themselves to be credible messengers,” Mayor Eric Adams said on Saturday. “We are further looking into where there’s some even outside agitators. You don’t come to get free Game Boys and bring smoke bombs and bring M80s and bring other disruptive items.”
Has Cenat said anything?
Not directly, but Any Means Possible, the Black creator collective that Cenat and Fanum are a part of, posted an apology in a now-expired Instagram story (The Verge has a screenshot).
“We are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct that affected innocent people and businesses, and do not condone that behavior,” the statement said. “We apologize to all of those impacted. We are fully cooperating with local authorities.”
The group added, “We recognize that our audience and influence are growing, and with that comes greater responsibility.” A representative for Fanum declined to comment. Cenat and AMP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Has this kind of thing happened before?
Well there was that time Logan Paul — a YouTuber perhaps best known for callously posting a video in 2017 of a dead body he found in a forest in Japan — lit his swimming pool on fire. His neighbors is Los Angeles reportedly didn’t take very well to the crowds of fans regularly swarming their street to get a look at Paul’s antics.
But that’s not really the right comparison. Don’t think about internet celebrities as distinct from other “real” celebrities. There is no hard line between offline and on: A celebrity is a celebrity, now more than ever.
Here’s what else is happening online this week.