Twitch, home to lots of gamers who enjoy watching other people play games, just launched a new hub to showcase creative professionals. The hub's marquee launch event is a non-stop live stream of all 403 episodes of The Joy of Painting — that warm, gentle, magical local access TV show starring Bob Ross. But Twitch made a big mistake. It took Ross, an earnest soul at the rank of Mister Rogers, and threw him into a pit with internet commenters.
Twitch chat, like so many other live public spaces on the internet, is often garbage. But I watched the Ross live stream last night for hours, and it was mostly peaceful. The messages that weren't automatically filtered out were filled with inside jokes, innocuous emoji, and a mixture of ironic and genuine praise. It was a great and unexpected moment in my week to listen to Bob tell me that I was special, and loved, and that the world was filled with possibility.
All that changed today as soon as an episode came on with a woman holding the paintbrush. Some portion of the 60,000 viewers on the channel got to see Twitch's chatroom turn into a garbage pit of merciless hostility — including homophobic jokes, sexual suggestions, and accusations that Bob had, for example, "pulled a Caitlyn Jenner." Watching an earnest and kind person bring a beautiful scene into existence next to a frothy internet chat room is definitely one of the worst things I've experienced on the web. How does a company like Twitch not expect this kind of behavior?
It's not news that the internet is filled with garbage. There are entire books on the subject! But we live in a world that still denies the very existence of the garbage and fails to take it seriously. If The Joy of Painting isn't even safe, there's a tremendous amount of work to be done.