From Hype to Havoc

Using social listening data to track how an influencer event turned to a riot in New York City

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst

A riot in Union Square

At Infegy, we spend a lot of time identifying and quantifying influencers' impact on commerce and the world. On August 6, 2023, Twitch's second largest streamer, Kai Cenat, tested how far his fans were willing to go by hosting an impromptu Playstation 5 giveaway in Manhattan's Union Square Park.

The only problem was that Cenat's team hadn't applied for permits, hired security, or built event infrastructure. Within hours, thousands of young people (primarily men) showed up and promptly began rioting. Our social listening tool, Infegy Atlas, charted the crisis by the millisecond and showed how quickly the conversation shifted from jubilant to violent. We'll review our indicators to see how your business can chart rapidly evolving events relevant to your business.

Screenshot from a CBS News
Figure 1: Screenshot from a CBS News showing how many people showed up at Union Square Park.

First indicator: Post Volume

When examining any crisis or event, we initially consider post volume or how the conversation volume changed over time. Post volume informs us about two key indicators: the conversation's size and its evolution over time.

The post volume, here, charts the course of the riots pretty well. On Wednesday, August 2, Cenat announced on his Twitch stream that he'd be hosting a giveaway. In Figure 2, we see small muted spikes around that announcement. That suggests that initially the announcement generated little buzz.

The giveaway event itself started relatively benign. Around 1:30 p.m., roughly 300 people showed up. After that, news of the event rapidly spread across social media platforms, which caused thousands of people to show up. We see that volume spike as a nearly vertical increase. By 3:00 p.m., the crowd grew exponentially. It took until 5:00 p.m. to clear the square. By then, we see conversation volume drop as the crisis dies down.

Post volume related to Cenat
Figure 2: Post volume related to Cenat (August 1, 2023 through August 6, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Second indicator: Sentimental shifts

Next, we'll overlay sentiment on top of that post volume pattern we just examined. In Figure 3, we're looking at the overall number of sentimental documents about Kai Cenat from August 1, 2023, through August 6, 2023. There are two intriguing indicators here. The most obvious one is that giant negative spike as the event spun out of control. The second, more exciting indicator is the green spike before the event even took place. That indicator aggregates positive sentiment around the giveaway event and shows the initial positive buzz of people talking about potentially receiving a free PS5. Predicting trends can be tricky - the positive sentiment around an event can shift quickly and explosively.

Sentiment related to Cenat
Figure 3: Sentiment related to Cenat (August 1, 2023 through August 6, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Third indicator: Emotions

Now that we've gotten a flavor of the aggregated sentiment people had around Cenat's poorly planned event , we'll go a bit deeper into the Emotions that Cenat's fans had around the event. In Figure 4, we plot out the emotional document distribution or an aggregated count of documents that contained each of Infegy's ten emotions. As the giveaway started, we saw an enormous surge of anticipation (the pink spike). However, even Cenat's fans and watchers were surprised by the riot. As the event spun out of control, we saw surges in Surprise followed quickly by Anger as New Yorkers and internet commentators reacted with rage as Union Square Park was damaged. As the crisis petered out, we saw sadness as the predominant emotion.

Top Emotions related to Cenat
Figure 4: Top Emotions related to Cenat (August 1, 2023 through August 6, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Fourth indicator: Themes

Infegy’s Themes help us analyze the sentiment we reviewed above by categorizing social media posts into different subjects. We can categorize posts as advertisements, discussions of crimes, and discussions of people getting hurt. This view gives us a good, granular idea of how the crisis unfolded.

Initially, we see a spike in Promotion-Ads. That spike reflects online conversation about people attending the event when it was just a PS5 promotion, before it got out of hand. However, as thousands of people showed up, we saw a dramatic surge in Risk and Risk-Criminal. We explain those surges with law enforcement's growing attention to the riot and much riot-related conversation. Interestingly, we see Risk-Injury peak after the riot ended. After the riot, online discussion about police officer injuries surged after they tried to restore order in Union Square Park.

Top Themes related to Cenat
Figure 5: Top Themes related to Cenat (August 1, 2023 through August 6, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Narratives: watching the riot unfold

Finally, we'll use Infegy Atlas's Narratives to showcase how the time-based analysis relates to each other. Each event and subsequent riot phase has its discrete narrative cluster. Clusters 1 and 2 relate to online conversation about the initial Meet and Greet and potentially winning a PlayStation 5. These clusters are dwarfed by clusters 4 and 5, which mention the NYPD's response to the riot and Cenat's hiring of a New York City defense attorney. This pattern often happens with rapidly evolving adverse events - the negative fallout conversation overwhelms any positivity from before the event.

Image 6 - Cenat Narratives
Figure 6: Narratives about Cenat (August 1, 2023 through August 6, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Takeaways for your social listening practice

Analyzing the influencer riot involving Kai Cenat's impromptu PlayStation 5 giveaway in Union Square Park on August 6, 2023, highlights the power of social listening in tracking the rapid escalation of events. Examining post volume, sentiment shifts, emotions, and themes shows that what started as a little buzz of excitement quickly transformed into a chaotic and dangerous situation. The data illustrates how unpredictably and quickly sentiment can shift, emphasizing the need for businesses to monitor and adapt to rapidly evolving events in real time. The narratives surrounding this incident also demonstrate how negative fallout can overshadow any initial positivity, emphasizing the importance of crisis management in the digital age. Overall, this case underscores the critical role of social listening tools like Infegy Atlas in understanding and responding to dynamic online events.

Stay up-to-date with Infegy insights by subscribing to our blog