Opinion

Gaming platform Twitch may be the best place to watch parliamentary debates

Forget BBC Parliament, the recent political squabbling was better with a live chat, emotes and votes

Twitch Flickr Camknows

As John Bercow said one of his last “ORDAHHHHS!” in the Commons last week he was also being turfed out of Parliament online, sort of.

The Speaker of the House has become a standout star on video game streaming platform Twitch as the extraordinary debates and votes in Parliament found an unlikely audience among gamers.

The ukparliament channel that semi-officially broadcasts debates from the House of Commons became a sleeper hit on the site where you would normally be more likely to see Fortnite and Minecraft. I know – I couldn’t stop watching it.

At the time of writing, the channel has almost 27,000 followers.

Fair enough, it might not be sufficient to worry some of the big streamers on Twitch. But the channel had only a handful of followers as Parliament returned from summer recess – so at least someone has done well out of Boris Johnson’s Number 10 tenure.

On the day when Johnson lost his first parliamentary vote since taking charge, 5,000 people clicked follow. The following day Johnson lost another two votes as the channel added another 11,000 followers, with more than 7,000 viewers tuning in to see the prime minister defeated on his initial bid to call general election.

Twitch parliament
Twitch-ukparliament
Speaker John Bercow's shouts of "Order!" have become a meme on Twitch (Credit: Twitch/Council Stream/UK Parliament)

So what makes watching the parliamentary goings-on on Twitch any different from BBC Parliament?

All Twitch streams feature an ability to chat with a comments section that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Facebook Live.

Twitch chat has its own culture, memes and customs. It is often indecipherable for anyone who doesn’t know their Pepehands from their Poggers and can whizz by at breakneck speed during coverage of esports events like the Overwatch League, which attract thousands of viewers.

It’s interactive too. Whenever there is a division in parliament, you can type “aye” or “no” in the chat to create an instant straw poll among the viewership.

Watching the also-quite-indecipherable and increasingly baffling events in Westminster through the prism of Twitch chat has been fascinating.

But what has been heartening is that, for all the memes and silliness, there has also been debate. Some users have been teaching others about how our democracy functions, more than making up for the lack of a Kuenssberg or a Peston.

To have a community working together to help each other was one of the goals of Council Stream, the group responsible for the stream.

They have been broadcasting council meetings and other political hearings online since 2012 in the name of open democracy.

“Even if people are there posting memes in the chat or posting funny comments or emotes, they’re not messages we’re going to get rid of because they are part of that discourse,” Council Stream founder and CEO John Coles told The Big Issue. “It’s like if you went to the pub and parliament was on the TV, you would hear discussions about what is going on that are potentially not great but it is interesting to see people’s raw, unfiltered views, particularly on a site like Twitch where it is a very different demographic.

“It’s good for more people to understand democracy and politics and how it works.”

Politics has been slowly but surely finding a bigger foothold on Twitch. In the US, the Democrats’ presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has an active Twitch account while The Washington Post set one up last year and has been using it to host their Playing Games with Politicians series.

But back to Bercow. Every time he has bellowed out his signature “ORDAHHHH!!!” in the chamber, it has been greeted with a string of emotes and comments in the chat.

Emotes – think emojis but custom-made for the channel’s subscribers to post in the chat – included the face of Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Jacob Rees-Mogg lying down and, of course, Bercow captured mid-shout.

However, as Bercow bid farewell to the Parliament last week the emotes were pulled from Twitch. Using political figures breached the platform’s terms of service, according to Coles.

But now he’s at a loose end, maybe Bercow himself should set up a Twitch account. Perhaps a career as a streamer follows?

That’s definitely in order.

Main image: Flickr/Camknows

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