Problematic on TikTok is a weekly column that unpacks the troubling trends that are emerging on the popular platform and runs on Tuesdays in the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.
TikTok live streams are having a moment right now. The NPC-streamer boom is still going strong—what started as a cash grab by acting like a non-playable character in a video game on TikTok has morphed into an entire art form. One streamer even revolutionized the genre by acting like a frail Victorian Child on live.
But today I want to talk about the OG TikTok live streams that have been populating the app since it launched its live feature in 2019: “Debate me” streams.
I’d be surprised if you haven’t stumbled across them before, but let me set the scene. Usually, “debate me” live streams will show a photo of a prompt or a statement that the host plans to debate with viewers via live comments section or by inviting viewers to speak on their live. Essentially, these lives are like a conference call that anyone can join; I’ve seen lives where more than six people are able to converse for viewers to hear.
“Debate me” live streams focus on the simplest subjects—“Is Jesus real?”; “Does sin exist?”; or even “Does the vaccine work?”—to get people talking and drive engagement. Lately, prompts have been focused on the LGBTQ+, specifically the existence of trans people.
This past weekend, it took me five minutes to find five different “debate me” live streams about trans people. Some used a prompt that validated trans rights and acceptance. Others questioned trans identity, asking if it was a mental illness or just an ideology that some thrust on to others.
And while I can appreciate that someone would get on a livestream for the sole purpose of helping others to understand why trans people’s identities are valid, what ends up happening is streaming hosts attract people with severely transphobic beliefs and give them a platform to spew hate.
Why it matters
It seems like the real goal of “debate me” live streams is to get engagement, money, and more followers for stream hosts. And using trans people’s identities to do so is wrong.
“Debate me” livestreamers shouldn’t have to shoulder all the blame for this, though. Lawmakers across the country made trans rights a “controversial” and “debatable” topic when they introduced over 560 anti-trans bills in state legislatures.
But just because state representatives believe that trans rights and trans freedom are up for debate doesn’t mean we have to play into their game.
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