Stream: Communities and Social Media
Topic: Live-streaming Services
This paper explores live-streaming with a focus on Youtube and Twitch. It shows some of the societal issues surrounding the act of live-streaming, touching upon the fear of missing out, how digital social presence varies between live-streaming and other forms of social media, and how platforms take advantage of the limits of personal social interaction during live-streaming for financial benefit, making comparisons with the findings of other researchers to show how live-streaming can be addictive and predatory in a way unique to itself.
Live-streaming, the social media sub-type that pairs online video streaming with a live host or hosts (a streamer), is currently a major form of social media, with Twitch.tv boasting 1 trillion minutes watched in 2020 (Twitch Interactive Inc., 2021a). Youtube offers both this and non-live media streaming, but it’s statistics are unclear about how these two services compare to one another. Alternative streaming services are also acknowledged, but not relevant to this paper. The real time nature of live-streams creates a limited period of time in which the media can be interacted with meaningfully, with the ideal outcome of being noticed and responded to by the personality hosting the live-stream, affecting the media in a way that is both measurable and permanent. Standing in the way of this is the common method of interaction in live-streams, that being the real-time text chat log. The chat log displays short messages from viewers to both the viewers and the streamer themselves, and serves as the primary method of interaction between viewership and streamer.
It is my intention to show that participating in live-streams during the live period is desirable, and also how the desirable outcome of participation is acted against by the act of participation, using established material to justify these points.
How Live-streaming Affects Viewers
The defining element of social interaction present in live-streams and other live-media that is not easily replicated by other forms is the strength of it’s digital social presence. Digital social presence is defined by Gundawardena (1995, as cited in Diwanji et al., 2020) as “the extent to which the other person is perceived as a ‘real being’ within a computer-mediated environment”, whereas Ijsselsteijn et all (2000, as cited in Diwanji et al., 2020) defined it more as a feeling of “being together”, or togetherness. In most forms of social media, this digital social presence is limited by the use of recorded video, or written text messages, occurring asynchronously. O’Donnell (1974) provides evidence that a person’s writing is typically significantly distinct from their spoken language, giving cause to believe that written social media may come off as less realistic, and more scripted, even when a post may be entirely off-the-cuff, especially when the viewer is familiar with their speech. Live-streaming offers a more synchronous experience, with a clear audio-visual interaction with the streamer, allowing complex body language and social clues to come through. While this may suffer from technical limitations (bandwidth, processing speed), this provides complex near-real-time interactions with what is readily perceived as a human, building a psychological connection between the streamer, as well as other commentators (Diwanji et al., 2020) in a way that other social media platforms may have difficulty achieving.
In terms of social interaction, live-streams are inherently short-lived. A professional streamer will typically declare the stream’s start time beforehand through some social media interaction (@moricalliope, 2021), and must end at some point, with the content of the stream reliably being unique due to being a live performance. JWTIntelligence (2012) defined the fear of missing out (FOMO) as the “uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out-that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you”. It is then easy to follow with the assumption that people who are part of a social group invested in a live-stream host would feel a strong sense of FOMO due to the foreknowledge of the event taking place. This should then greatly drive engagement more than other types of social media.
Combining these two ideas together, we have reason to believe that live-streaming provides a more convincing and engaging social interaction than other digital media, as well as possessing a strong FOMO effect, creating a comparatively strong emotional impetus for engagement. It is important to be aware of this as FOMO has been determined to be a signficant risk factor in Social Media Addiction. (Blackwell, et al., 2017)
How Viewers Affect the Streamer and Themselves
In popular live-streaming, the viewer is commonly granted access to a chat window. A single frame containing the most recent comments, with a text box to add the viewers on. This interaction with the streamer is an evolution of the audience participation programs of the past, such as live audiences and phone-in opportunities, and brings it’s own positives and negatives. The chat is restricted to sentences of text and ideograms (emotes). As the chat window is limited in size, new messages remove old ones from view. This creates an inverse relationship between audience and stream – the audience increases out of a desire to engage with the streamer, and to express emotions in the moment (applause, encouragement, anger), but increases in the audience’s size sabotage the ability to make nuanced interactions.
This interaction can be likened to real world crowds. As the size of the crowd increases, the ability for members within the crowd to express themselves meaningfully, outside of the simple group consensus, is highly restricted. Where the real world case may give way to the loudest voices taking control of the conversation, in the digital space this can only be achieved by repetition of the message. However, it is possible to restrict repeated message spamming in Twitch (Twitch Interactive Inc., 2021b) and Youtube (Google, 2021) placing further focus on group consensus.
Live-streaming may be more readily applicable to traditional crowd psychology, however the restricted interaction between viewers in the immediate moment shows value in connecting the concept to existing online crowd theory. Most research on online crowds tends towards being focused on real-world action, and asynchronous social media of Twitter’s sort, Stage (2013), focused on the effects seen in blogging, claimed “‘online crowding’ refers to the affective unification and relative synchronisation of a public in relation to a specific online site” (p. 216). This quote is quite applicable to the current topic, as we can approximate the requirements. The online site is the live-stream, the relative synchronisation is a result of the time frame being real-world, and the affective unification can be achieved through emotional response to stimuli. Stage (2013) engages with LeBon ( 2002, as cited in Stage, 2013) who’s description of crowds is primarily as de-individualised people, which connects well with how the live-stream crowd seemingly behaves.
In contrast to that statement, LeBon’s views on crowds may not connect well with the behaviour of the physically isolated individuals that make up the crowd, and I must acknowledge that this is a subject that requires more research, a perspective acknowledged by various researchers, who also focused on asynchronous social media. (Freelon et al., 2018; Lin, 2015)
Regardless of the aforementioned complexity, this behaviour has already been identified and monetised, enabling users to purchase special messages to make their specific individuality stand out, as Twitch Bits, and Youtube Super Chats. Youtube recommends reminding the audience about Super Chats at the beginning of streams, and to reward this behaviour by acknowledging each donation. (Youtube Creators, 2020, 3:17) Considering Social Identity Theory (McLeod, 2019), it is plausible, even likely, that this an attempt to normalise monetary donations as standard practice for viewers.
Limitations and Alternatives
This essay has focused on how users interact socially with live-streams while live, but this is admittedly not the only available method. There are three to four alternative ways to interact, which allow users to engage with content in a fulfilling way without being bound to strict time and date requirements. Youtube live-streams, after their conclusion, feature both playback of the text chat during video replay, as well as comments that can be left by later viewers, allowing the content to be interacted with as per “normal” for Youtube. It is also common for fans to create secondary social media collectives, such as subreddits focused on live-stream personalities. Finally, the uploading of specific segments of streams by third parties, and a personality’s edited and streamlined versions of their own content, create easily consumed, time-efficient content that still permits users to absorb the media and engage in post-stream social interaction.
This availability of media may heavily mitigate the impact of FOMO. Because the entertainment value of the media is not limited, much less emphasis may be placed on the need to engage with the media in real time, though this is far from saying that it is not significant. Live performances are still commonplace in a healthy society, despite the immense effort that goes into media recordings. What still possesses value in this situation is the novelty of perceiving oneself as being in state of digital co-presence with the personality.
These “secondary” sources of engagement can also be used to promote the personality’s products and media first-hand, providing the necessary motivation to engage with the material on release in the first place. In this case, the fear of missing out would be caused by an interest in digital co-presence inspired by the recordings, and not limitations on the media itself.
This paper finds it’s limitations in considering the sheer scope of the modern streamer’s social media networks in sufficient detail, as these networks incorporate multiple different social media sites, styles of media production, and variety of ways to engage audiences, both directly and indirectly.
Live-streaming shows itself as a powerful, but inflexible form of social media, creating strong ties between the crowd and the streamer. The amount of research done in the field of entirely online crowds seems very limited, and we identify this as an interesting avenue of research in the future. In contrast, live-streaming companies have quickly learned how to make use of this form of social media for their own benefit, and those ideas have spread to streamers. In conclusion, streaming is advanced and well-established and we recommend caution be advised for those vulnerable to the benefits and feeling of belonging of this form of social media, more so than that of less visibly monetised forms.
David, B., Carrie, L., Rose, T., Ciera, O., & Miriam, L. (2017). Extraversion, neuroticism, attachment style and fear of missing out as predictors of social media use and addiction. Personality and Individual Differences, 116, 69-72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.04.039
Freelon D, McIlwain C and Clark M (2018) Quantifying the power and consequences of social media protest. New Media & Society 20(3): 990–1011.
JWTIntelligence. (2012, March). Fear of missing out (FOMO). http://www.jwtintelligence.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/F_JWT_FOMO-update_3.21.12.pdf
Lin Y-R (2015) Event-related crowd activities on social media. In: Gonçalves B and Perra N (eds) Social Phenomena: From Data Analysis to Models. Cham: Springer, pp. 235–250.
McLeod, S. A. (2019, October 24). Social identity theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/social-identity-theory.html
Moderate live chat. (2021). Retrieved from https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/9826490?hl=en&ref_topic=9257792#zippy=%2Cslow-mode
@moricalliope. (2021, 6/04/2021). !! STREAM SCHEDULE !! ♡♡♡♡ April 6th ~ April 11th ♡♡♡♡ (●´ω｀●) [image attached] [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/moricalliope/status/1379116627648634887
O'Donnell, R. C. (1974). Syntactic Differences between Speech and Writing. American Speech, 49(1/2), 102-110. https://doi.org/10.2307/3087922
Stage, C. (2013). The online crowd: a contradiction in terms? On the potentials of Gustave Le Bon's crowd psychology in an analysis of affective blogging. Distinktion (Aarhus), 14(2), 211-226. https://doi.org/10.1080/1600910X.2013.773261
Twitch Interactive Inc. (2021b) Chat Commands. https://help.twitch.tv/s/article/chat-commands
Twitch Incorporated Inc. (2021). Press Center. Retrieved from https://www.twitch.tv/p/press-center/
Vaibhav, D., Abigail, R., Arienne, F., Jonmichael, S., Victoria, W., & Nicholas, S. (2020). Don't just watch, join in: Exploring information behavior and copresence on Twitch. Computers in Human Behavior, 105, 106221. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.106221
Youtube Creators. (2020, 8/4/2021). Super Chat & Super Stickers: Setup and Tips for Using Them. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXwpWEbAmd0
14 thoughts on “Live-streaming: The Real-Time Crowd Community Social Media”
Awesome read mate! I believe that fear of missing out is dramatically decreased with live streaming as viewers who can’t make it in person have another means of viewing the program. Live streaming has also allowed for the stream to be viewed on demand whenever the view wants to (so long as the streamer allows for it to be viewed after the stream has taken place) further decreasing viewer FOMO as they have access to the stream at a click.
I think in recent times live streaming has definitely brought communities closer together (weddings, DJ live sets, product launches and fashion weeks are all being broadcasted more regularly).
I find live streaming ‘crowds’ are also very interesting. Obviously the streamer wants as many people connected to the stream as possible. Streamers with only say 50 streams may perceive that as poor performance, but if 50 people were to come to their house in person and watch them play a video game on their computer, the perception changes!
Again, awesome read – all the best!
Great read! As someone who isn’t particularly educated on the whole live streaming thing, I found your paper really helpful in breaking it down along with some of its effects (both positive and negative). After reading your paper, I would think that a lot of people utilise these live streaming platforms in order to feel a closer connection to the social media influencers or celebrities that they follow. Would you agree with that?
Additionally, do you think that the live aspect of these platforms creates an unnerving sense of the unknown for, say, parents of children utilising live streaming platforms?
I really enjoyed reading your paper, my paper is also focused around streaming platforms etc.. But I never even considered FOMO when writing my paper, so this was very interesting to read! As a streamer myself and I avidly watch Twitch, I definitely experience FOMO if i cannot tune in due to work and feel like I am missing out on new content.
I think Twitch has tried to reduce this in their platform as they hold previous vods viewers can come back to and engage as well as the clip creation which is a great tool. It happens from the streamer side as well, as the majority of my streaming friends are in America I miss out a lot of the time on playing or streaming with them and as a result I usually tune into their streams because I am missing out on the playtime.
Thanks for the read, and sorry it took me so long to respond, Jessica.
I’m glad I was able to bring up a unique point that others did not consider. Especially when those people can validate it to some degree.
I think you’re right that Twitch is recognizing the post-stream/rewatch market is worth investing in, though I think they’re a bit more restricted in terms of related features. But I suppose that’s a simple trade-off. Twitch’s stream-focused design makes VODs less visible, but allows even the small streamers to have visibility by focusing on the immediate, and Youtube does roughly the opposite.
Overall I found your paper quite interesting as in my own readings and experience I had focused heavily on the affordances of the platforms themselves and how those affordances shaped the overall environment rather than focusing on the impacts on the individual users.
In particular I found your discussion of FOMO interesting as I would agree that this plays an important role in drawing viewers in and encouraging them to engage with the stream itself both of which are important to the success of streamers on streaming platforms.
The interactions between platforms, developers, creators, and audiences are all pretty complex, multi-directional, and not very similar at all. It’s good that we have two papers dealing with similar topics in different directions – there’s far too much for one paper. Even without the word count, handling it in a single paper would quickly show how you can’t lump it all together. I’ll make sure to look up and check your paper out later.
FOMO is pretty much integrated into community. When you’re invested in the community, having the community “happen” without you is pretty off-putting. I’d think it’s more about “encouraging to engage”, but having friends who talk about it, and wanting to experience what your friends do, is pretty similar, I do admit.
Great paper! I completely agree that live streaming offers a way in which the streamers can connect with their viewers. Live-streaming has definitely become a huge part of social media, whether it be on platforms such as Instagram, Youtube, or Twitch (I’ve seen a lot of influencers go live on Twitch nowadays), especially during COVID-19.
Social Media has allowed us to idolize or even become fans of influencers on Instagram and YouTube because we like the sort of content they release and watching live streams of these individuals, gives us a more intimate relationship and makes us feel connected or closer to the people we watch. I think a lot of people resort to live streams now for either entertainment purposes as there’s not much to do because of COVID or because they feel the need to be at every life because other people are there too (basically FOMO like you’ve mentioned).
This also allows the fans to see that these people they idolize are just ordinary people like themselves.
Thanks for reading, Saranya.
I’m glad to see you’ve read it through, and agreed with it’s main points, so at least I’m thinking in the right general direction.
Covid lockdown was a great time for live streaming and building social media engagement through those live videos. I participated in quiz nights, tasting packs, educational forums, all through Instagram Live streaming. I didn’t have much else to do and the brand was making the time to come online at a convenient time for their followers, so I made the effort to tune in. It was great to just watch and listen to the streamer discuss their topic, plus I could write in the chat, and have my handle read out along with my question, then have it answered. It felt more personal than perhaps a reply to a standard comment on an image post. You mentioned FOMO and I agree with you that I felt like if I couldn’t tune in, I was missing out on unique ‘free’ content that others were subscribing to. Do you think that video rather than static images, is the way social media is heading?
Great paper, thanks!
As has been attributed to Howard Moskowitz, “there is no perfect pasta sauce, only perfect pasta sauces”. It doesn’t seem plausible to claim that several different systems with different use-cases would entirely consume each other until only one is left – or even that most people would use only one on a regular basis.
Some content creators will want live, some will want prerecorded, and all of them will want some way to tell viewers what’s going on now or in the future, which neither of those is especially good at. (Though Twitter doesn’t provide much of a monetization model, so content creators will push video as their main product by default.) Peer-to-Peer is also a very different beast, which this style of live-streaming isn’t particularly compatible with. The sheer speed of information processing that text and image based social media provides is invaluable.
In short, I see no reason text and image chat should become redundant. It’s a matter of who, why, and what features each product can offer.
Excellent reasoning, love your explanation!
I would also like to say, with the increase in video based platforms like TikTok I think it has allowed users to have fun with video. I’ve noticed more small business owners going live, posting stories or reels, and not taking themselves too seriously. I’ve enjoyed the inside peak or behind the scenes into peoples lives. It’s entertaining to watch!
I can’t claim to have used Tiktok much. I checked it out not long ago, and was pretty surprised that there was a lot of editing. I’m not sure if that’s implemented into tiktok, or some external app, though. I also found the inability to see comments unless you sign up, and the lack of fast forward to be… a little off-putting.
That said, I can see how it’s shorter lengths, and heavily mobile-based platform, makes it more accessible to mobile social media users, and also how that would restrict it’s ability to handle larger projects.
It’s an interesting example of how two video-based social media systems have completely incompatible use-cases.
Thanks for your paper!
Like you mention in your paper, live-streaming offers a way for a streamer and their viewers to connect (Although, somewhat limitedly). I feel like this is the key reason that streaming has become so popular.
I think we as media consumers have always wanted the ability to interact with those who we see, and sometimes even idolize, in the media. I think this is why, classically, forms of media that give us a further insight to the lives of those who we see on the television or movie screen (Such as celebrity gossip magazines) had such a popularity. They provided people with the ability to feel like they knew the famous personality past their television or film personas.
I think live-streaming takes this a step further and allows people the ability to actually interact with an entertainer personality, give them the feeling that they can connect with the personality themselves, not an abstracted report or persona of that personality.
What do you think about this?
Thanks for the response, Jordan.
You’re right, it does feel like it brings them closer in a way that people have spent a lot of time and effort trying to do in the past. I feel like it would interesting to see how it stacks up against classic idolatry, like music idols. Beetle Mania, for example, as well as the ravenous crowds seen in rock idols. Japan’s even had concerts by Virtual Idols (like the artificial singer Hatsune Miku, which is a voice bank developed by a Japanese company), and streaming idols. I suspect there’s a deep pit of potential investigation branching off of this subject that doesn’t seem popular in mainstream sociology.
I didn’t really consider the idea of gossip magazines, and it seems like an interesting avenue of consideration, though I’m hesitant to believe there’s a wealth of articles about it.