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Media coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitch cameo erases Chelsea Manning
AOC’s appearance is important, but it shouldn’t overshadow trans folks.
Last weekend, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dropped into a Twitch fundraising marathon led by Harry “Hbomberguy” Brewis for Mermaids U.K., a trans youth organization under attack by the IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan. But as with all things Ocasio-Cortez, the media seemed to hyper-focus on her every move and not zoom out to the bigger picture. Case in point, a video clip from NowThis simultaneously fixates on AOC’s cameo while calling Chelsea Manning an “unidentified caller.”
The clip, which is over three minutes long, calls the trans rights fundraiser a “gaming livestream” and says AOC came on to “talk about trans rights, legislation, and her favorite games.” While Ocasio-Cortez credits Manning with getting her on the stream during the fundraiser, Manning’s appearance is never disclosed in NowThis’ video. The clip also proceeds to call Twitter user (and self-identified “internet sloth”) Casey Explosion and YouTuber Dan Olson each an “unidentified caller,” even though the two played a significant role in orchestrating the stream behind the scenes.
— Alex Rabinowitz (@alexrab) January 22, 2019
Hi, it's me! [Unidentified Caller]
— [Unidentified Caller] (@CaseyExplosion) January 23, 2019
High five, [Unidentified Caller]!
— [Unidentified Caller] (@FoldableHuman) January 23, 2019
please don't be so lazy that you don't go through the effort of identifying the people who are talking on stream. makes your work seem disingenuous, like you only care about this insofar as it's something to make a video about!
— big cello bitch 🏳️🌈🦁 (@purrloftruth) January 23, 2019
and also, @xychelsea is that very first [unidentified caller]. you know, just *the* chelsea manning.
— big cello bitch 🏳️🌈🦁 (@purrloftruth) January 23, 2019
In response to not being identified, Manning told the Daily Dot that NowThis “just posts slick videos in a hurry hoping they go viral in a shotgun approach.” When asked if she felt insulted or erased by the video, she sent an emoji: “😆.”
“I think it’s pretty hard to insult me—even harder to erase me,” Manning continued. “I mean I get enough press as it is.”
Manning told the Daily Dot that she prefers to “take a back seat to let other voices speak” and “signal boost and amplify.” However, she notes that the NowThis video ignores the trans people seen on the stream and the work done by the stream.
“95 percent of organizing is just behind the scenes work by lots of organizers,” Manning said. “The clip kinda glosses over the trans voices we had on and the incredible trans gamer community we’re building.”
“Weird? No,” she told the Daily Dot over Twitter DM. “Lazy? Probably.”
Olson, on the other hand, said it was “professionally insulting” that he wasn’t identified in the video and that it still “stings,” although he has “gotten more than enough credit elsewhere.”
“The comedic thing, however, really is the ‘[unidentified caller]’ thing because it shows that they really, really just didn’t care,” Olson told the Daily Dot. “Everyone involved is still extremely active in wrapping things up, and even a quick visit to [Hbomberguy’s] Twitter quickly gets you a list of the mod team. It would have taken mere minutes to find someone who could identify all three ‘unidentified’ participants, so the fact that they didn’t, means they didn’t even try.”
On Twitter, Hbomberguy was quick to point out NowThis’ blunder on his timeline.
“I’d like to thank [unidentified caller] for their incredible work,” he quipped on Twitter. Others followed Explosion, Olson, and Hbomberguy’s lead. (The Daily Dot also reached out to Hbomberguy for comment and is awaiting his responses.)
I'd like to thank [unidentified caller] for their incredible work
— H.Bomberguy (@Hbomberguy) January 23, 2019
im like 90% sure that "unidentified caller" is Chelsea Fucking Manning and lmfao https://t.co/4UaQ1b4GSe
— 🌙alicia🖤 (@trgrrl) January 23, 2019
[UNIDENTIFIED CALLER]S RISE UP
— Griffon Kaye (@iamGKMV) January 23, 2019
I stan an unidentified caller
— Natalie Wynn 🦋 (@ContraPoints) January 23, 2019
any amount of searching would have identified casey as [Unidentified Caller] but gotta get those AOC clicks asap i guess https://t.co/1NTmn0y9WW
— Holly 'Holly Deer' Deer (@h0llydeer) January 23, 2019
Yeah it's nice that you reported on this but uh, I'm pretty sure those "Unidentified Caller"s were important enough to identify because they ran the fucking stream. https://t.co/5DKALl1T3G
— Nekooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo (@fleskjerte3) January 23, 2019
it's pretty gross that on a video about a trans charity you've reduced the two trans people talking to [unidentified caller]. what year is your digital strategy in? 1999?
— Val (@Vallam13) January 23, 2019
When reached for comment about not identifying three of the organizers, NowThis directed the Daily Dot to an official comment it made on its Facebook post at 3:31pm CT on Wednesday. The Facebook comment identifies Manning as the first “unidentified caller” in the video, but it does not identify Explosion or Olson. (The comment was posted just eight minutes before NowThis responded to Daily Dot’s request for comment, which was sent earlier this morning.)
While NowThis is receiving the brunt of the criticism on Twitter, it reflects a much bigger problem surrounding the media’s response to Hbomberguy’s trans rights stream. For trans viewers and participants, the stream was an affirming and joyous occasion where cis and trans folks came together to help trans children. But American reporters avoided that angle.
Instead, U.S. media hyper-fixated on Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitch presence. For example, the New York Post’s headline reads “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez crashes ‘Donkey Kong 64’ online charity game.” Meanwhile, Polygon’s article provides significant coverage on the stream’s background, but its headline states: “How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wound up on a Donkey Kong 64 Twitch charity stream.”
When asked about this issue by the Daily Dot, Explosion suggested U.S. reporters are mostly focused on Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance largely because U.S. media is framing the stream around her for an American audience.
“BBC, for example, had Mermaids (the charity we were raising money for) CEO Susie Green on and spoke to her, and gaming outlets focused more on Harris and the Donkey Kong stream itself,” Explosion said. “I think each outlet is framing it to what their niche is, so I expect more political outlets from the U.S. frame it in reference to the very influential U.S. politician.”
On the other hand, Olson believes there is “a lot of valid discussions to be had” about Ocasio-Cortez’s drop in, but he also says he’s “not surprised, just disappointed” with the media’s intense fixation on her appearance during the stream.
“A lot of the coverage, particularly American coverage, has focused on AOC’s visit, so by Tuesday, another story doing the same was just par for the course,” Olson told the Daily Dot. “Heck, we’d already had a couple of headlines that basically framed it like she had been the instigator of the entire charity event.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance on a trans rights Twitch stream is newsworthy in its own right. In fact, this reporter covered its significance this morning. And for the record, Explosion isn’t necessarily upset with the media coverage; in fact, while she calls it “overwhelming,” she says it’s overall “been incredible.”
Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.