So, yesterday Ninja, arguably the world’s most famous streamer, told the New York Times that it wasn’t his job to educate children who make racist or sexist comments.
Naturally, being the type who doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut and prevent yet another obvious barrage of abuse, I tweeted about it.
Man whose job title is literally 'Influencer' says it's not his job to influence people https://t.co/4Msi5D2dDb
— Chris Scullion (@scully1888) January 26, 2021
As often happens in situations like this, my tweet was retweeted enough that it eventually came to the attention of Ninja fans who leapt to the guy’s defence (many of whom told me to “shut the fuck up”, sort of proving my point that this particular influencer could be influencing them a bit better).
When things like this happen there’s usually a single main argument that 99% of my responders jump onto and use. It’s almost as if they’ve all agreed among themselves that this is the silver bullet counter-argument and, yet, they all seem to think they’re the first person throwing their “AHA!” tweet at me, as if I haven’t already shot it down 20 times earlier that day.
It seems that this time the most common response I’m getting to my tweet about Ninja’s claim that it isn’t his job to speak out against racism and sexism is that “well, that’s because it’s the parent’s job to teach their child about that.”
I promise this is one of the very few times I will play the “as a parent…” card, but I would imagine most (if not all) parents know that’s a slightly annoying argument, because for starters it’s completely unrealistic.
A parent absolutely takes the lion’s share of responsibility for raising and nurturing their child, but the reality is that they can’t be with their child 24/7 every day of their lives until they turn 18. As the phrase says, “it takes a village to raise a child” – parents also rely on other external influences to make sure their child’s development is a positive and healthy one.
They rely on their children’s teachers to be understanding and inspiring, they rely on their wider family to play supporting roles (I have a racist uncle who Serena has never met and probably never will, for example), and they rely on a host of other members of the community, no matter what role they play – doctors, dentists, lollipop people, neighbours, religious figures if they practice a faith – to also provide a positive environment for their kid to thrive in.
There are also two other things that can shape the way a child is raised: the friends they hang about with, and the media they consume. The former is the most obvious at first glance: if your kid hangs around with the ones who skip school and smoke behind the bins, there’s a better chance they’ll end up doing that too.
The latter is becoming increasingly more important, though (especially just now while we’re all at home and there’s no bin-smoking to be found). Anyone with even a moderate degree of experience using the internet will know how toxic enormous swathes of it can be, and these days it’s all too easy for a kid to be linked to something funny their pal saw on a dodgy site – you probably know the one I’m thinking of right away – visit the site themselves and become a regular visitor.
Naturally, parents won’t want their children exploring such sites. Parental controls and locks are great, but they aren’t flawless: you can outright ban social media all you like but all it takes is for the kid to go to school and their pal to take out their phone and say “seen this?”.
Many parents these days, then, are relatively happy with their children watching streamers and other ‘influencers’ instead. They know their kids love video games, and they know that if their kid is watching Ninja, Pokimane or whoever, then at least they know where they are instead of worrying they’re knee-deep in some other grotty shit they’ve stumbled upon online. The problem is, as I said way back at the start, no parent can be with their child 24 hours a day, so they have to rely on these streamers to be positive role models for their children.
The reason I specifically singled out a child’s friends and the media they consume as two crucial elements of their upbringing is because the two are practically the same now. In this modern era, not only are your child’s friends able to constantly send them media directly to their screen, the streamers they watch are also almost considered their ‘friends’ too.
Naturally, it’s nothing like a group of real friends who you can go to the park with or what have you, but there’s still a sense of familiarity there, and a kid will still regularly ‘hang out’ with a streamer and chat with like-minded followers. And, inevitably, they’re going to see some racist and sexist comments in the chat, and that’s where the problem happens.
It’s all well and good for Ninja to claim that it isn’t his job to teach children about racism or sexism. But there’s a Spider-Man quote that’s so well-known that I don’t even have to say it, and it absolutely applies here. When you’re happy to tell the New York Times that these children – and when your main game is Fortnite you know for a fact that a large percentage of them ARE children – are earning you $500,000 a month before you even take paid endorsements into account, but you don’t want to take responsibility for the racist and sexist shit those kids are being exposed to on your chat, then that’s on you.
You can claim it “isn’t your job” or argue about other semantics until you’re blue in the hair, but the reality is that when you call yourself an influencer (which Ninja happily does), you are absolutely confirming that a pivotal element of your job is influencing people. At this stage, then, the only question is what type of influence you want to have on the people who follow you on Twitch (around 15 million in Ninja’s case, many of them children).
Do you only want to influence people when big companies are throwing money at you to do it? After all, THEY realise how important your words are. THEY know that if you wear a hat with the Red Bull logo on it, kids will suddenly think Red Bull is cool as fuck. Ninja knows that too, of course. He says so in this video (posted to his own official account), where he says:
“By definition we are IN-FLU-ENCERS. It’s what we do. It’s part of the job. If DK starts drinking a bunch of Red Bull on stream, and says how much he loves Red Bull, his audience is more than likely… a good amount of them will probably start drinking Red Bull. And buy Red Bull. It’s the whole point. We’re influencers, that’s why companies pay people who stream to advertise their products. To influence our audiences.”
So let’s not piss around here, he knows full well that his words can have an impact. And he has to know that if he takes a stance against racism, or sexism, or any other form of discrimination and speaks about it as passionately as he speaks about Red Bull or Adidas or Uber Eats or NZXT or any of his other sponsors, he’s doing so in front of an audience of 15 million people, a large number of whom are young children who could be inspired by his words.
Nobody’s asking for the guy to host a 3-hour lecture on the history of slavery, or stream a commentary track over Schindler’s List. All we want is for the guy to address it whenever there’s discriminatory shit in the chat, make a point of calling it out and state that it’s not cool. He doesn’t even need to call out every person by name, because obviously the internet is full of arseholes and that’s just a red flag to a bull: suddenly everyone will be dropping N-words for the notoriety of getting his attention.
All I’d ideally hope for, Ninja my old mucker, is that you would occasionally inform people that discrimination isn’t welcome on your channel, because it’s YOUR channel and your community is an extension of you. Or even better, why not use a fraction of that $500,000 you make a month to pay a moderator to watch the chat and remove the offensive slurs that appear? Then it doesn’t NEED to be your job, it can be someone else’s.
And no, the fact that he maybe called it out once a long time ago doesn’t count. People aren’t always there to see every moment of a streamer’s life, so this has to be a regular thing. After all, he dropped an N-bomb during a stream once in 2018 but I’m sure his followers would bend over backwards to stress he isn’t a racist because that only happened once. Practice what you preach, then: standing up against discrimination doesn’t mean saying it once then going “there, I did it, now leave me alone”. If you believe it, you’ll keep saying it so you know everyone hears it.
Ninja can claim that it isn’t his job to call out discrimination. And if you want to get petty and argue about definitions, then sure, you could argue that on paper it isn’t. But when you have a following that enormous and you have a real chance to make a positive impact not just on the people directly watching you but their friends too, it may not be your job but you’d better believe it’s your fucking duty.
Otherwise, parents – the ones who Ninja’s defenders are quick to claim are the people solely responsible for raising their children – will eventually realise what goes on in the chat area of this guy they entrusted with their kid’s recreation time, and will make sure they never watch Ninja again.
Parents can’t be expected to do due diligence on all the media their child wants to consume, especially when it’s something live that’s happening in real-time. But when they occasionally glance at their kid’s screen and realise it’s a toxic environment and the person in charge isn’t doing anything about it (or at the very least making it clear to the kids watching that their hero doesn’t find it acceptable)? They’ll take their kid away from that shit pronto. THAT’S a parent’s job.
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