In Brief: Using Twitch to Reach Potential Voters; Understanding How to Stop Misinformation

February 2021
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The Emergence of Twitch to Reach Potential Voters

Twitch, an online platform for live-streaming video games, is emerging as a medium to convey messages to potential voters who might otherwise be disengaged from politics. 

U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) hosted a popular livestream game on Twitch last fall to encourage its users to vote in the general election. The platform reportedly has an average 2.1 million people watching its live games at any given time, most of them males ages 18–34.

In political advertising generally, “The gap between TV and digital is narrowing each election cycle,” Audrey Haynes, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, told Wired. “And as campaigns become closer and targeting particular groups more important, we should see more activity in digital.” Most political-ad dollars still go to TV, which has a wide reach, but online ads can better target niche audiences, she said.

Still, video-gamers see through the “smoke and mirrors” of advertisements and influencers, said Malik Forté, who hosts video game events. Professional gamer Mychal Jefferson, aka “Trihex,” said most politicians “would be terrified to be in a live environment [such as streaming video games] that can only be rehearsed or polished so much.” 

More Journalists Turn to Writing E-newsletters

Frustrated by social media algorithms that bury posts and exhausted by constant pressure to produce viral hits, some journalists are turning to Substack, a startup that lets them create email newsletters and sell subscriptions. 

“All I have to do is find a few thousand people who will pay me $10 a month or $100 a year and I’ll have one of the best jobs in journalism,” tech reporter Casey Newton tells NPR. Newton, who left The Verge last fall, reportedly joins other journalists who have started their own newsletters via Substack after ditching staff jobs at established magazines such as New York, The New Republic and Rolling Stone.

San Francisco-based Substack, which says it now has more than 250,000 paying subscribers, takes 10 percent of a writer’s earnings from subscriptions. Credit-card processor Stripe takes another 3 percent. However, paychecks are not guaranteed. For writers who already have a following, “The Substack model works really well,” says Meredith Broussard, a journalism professor at New York University. But “it doesn’t work that well for everybody else.”

To Stop Misinformation, Ignore It, Researcher Says

When people see information on social media that they think is false, they often feel compelled to argue with it. But as the academic news site The Conversation writes, research suggests the best response to fake news is none at all.

Engaging with false stories online, even to dispute them, means spreading those claims “to our own networks of social media friends and followers,” said Tom Buchanan, a professor of psychology at the University of Westminster in England.

Often designed to deliberately mislead people, misinformation and disinformation on the internet can exacerbate divisions in society, leading to social unrest and violence. Buchanan said a recent report had found evidence of social media campaigns being organized to manipulate political processes in 48 different countries. Social media users also regularly encounter false information that may discourage them from receiving a coronavirus vaccine, Buchanan said. 

Studies suggest that the more often people see a piece of information, even if it’s false, the more likely they are to believe it. 

Study: For Social Interaction, Phone Calls Are Better Than Text

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the phrase “social distancing” has really meant “physical separation.” 

But as Scientific American reports, social interaction is essential for our mental and physical health. In fact, a lack of social support ranks with smoking as a risk factor for morbidity and mortality, epidemiological studies say. And for maintaining a sense of connection from a distance, phone calls are better than texts or emails, researchers have found.

In a paper for the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers at the University of Texas discovered that people expect phone calls to be awkward, so they often choose inferior, text-based communication such as texts, email or Slack messages instead. But people overestimate the costs, and underestimate the benefits, of voice-based communication.

Experiments demonstrated that phone calls produce a more positive interaction. Compared to reading messages on a screen, the human voice appears to better fulfill our need for human connection, and our well-being improves as a result. 

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