How A Social Media Influencer Shut Down New York City
Background and Context
Popular online streamer and social media content creator Kai Cenat made waves across the United States on 4 August. The 21-year-old organized a giveaway of televisions, personal computers, and PlayStation 5s in Union Square Park in Manhattan to give back for his fans’ unwavering support. Unfortunately, Cenat’s intended actions failed to manifest, and chaos ensued, with many injured and over 60 arrested, including the social media star himself. While many have cracked down on the content creator, criticizing his decisions, it is crucial to consider Cenat’s background and intentions to comprehend the whole situation.
Through over five years of building a loyal fan base and significant collaborations with rap artists Drake, 21 Savage, and Lil Uzi Vert, Cenat has gained immense recognition in the last few years. Bronx-raised himself, Cenat is the most-subscribed user on Twitch, amassing over 6.5 million followers across the streaming platform. The content creator began his career years ago in his hometown, filming skits on Facebook; in 2018, he began making YouTube videos. In 2020, Cenat moved to Atlanta and joined the YouTube group Any Means Possible, notably known as AMP, a collection of social media superstars. After starting to stream on Twitch in 2021, Cenat’s popularity rapidly increased due to his action-packed content and collaborations with many music artists. His dedication was rewarded when he was named on Rolling Stone’s Top 20 Influential Creators list; Cenat also received the Streamer of the Year Award in 2022 at the Streamy Awards. Cenat’s following exploded during February of this year when he streamed for 30 days straight on Twitch, a “Subathon.” Cenat gathered over 300,000 Twitch subscribers that month, a record, accounting for around 2.5 percent of all hours watched on the platform that houses over 7 million active streamers.
On 2 August, Cenat went live on Twitch to thousands of viewers, announcing that he would be in Union Square on Friday to give away various items. Cenat originally intended this meet-and-greet to be fun for him and his viewers, stating that people would have to answer questions correctly about him and AMP to win. The streamer had given money, gift cards, and other items to viewers on his Twitch before this event; fans were excited to meet the internet superstar and experience Cenat’s generosity in person. On Friday, 4 August, Cenat and AMP met in Union Square Park with thousands of supporters. By 1:30 pm, only around 300 supporters were in attendance, however, by 3:00 pm, thousands gathered and conditions became increasingly dangerous. By 4:00 pm, when the giveaway was scheduled, fans swarmed Cenat and the remainder of AMP, who were attempting to leave the area. Cenat was able to give away some items to fans who arrived early, but the event itself had turned into chaos. Cenat was finally escorted out of Union Square around 5:00 pm by the NYPD, who worked to gain control of the situation and disperse the fans.
How Did New York City Respond?
Seeing as how the event was not sanctioned and unpermitted, Cenat took the brunt of the blame. The influencer was arrested, charged with at least two counts of inciting a riot and unlawful assembly, and released from custody Saturday morning. Cenat was issued a desk appearance ticket. Regarding NYPD, the department’s Entertainment Unit and Intelligence Division only became aware of the event at 12:45 pm on Friday. Officers were sent to monitor the situation, however, it became apparent that NYPD was not prepared for the immense number of people that would be in attendance. As the crowd rapidly grew, NYPD was forced to act quickly. With thousands of people streaming into Union Square, NYPD called a level four mobilization (the highest level of disaster response), with about 1,000 officers responding.
The situation quickly became dangerous, as officers encountered individuals carrying shovels, axes, and other tools. Furthermore, people began to throw fireworks at the crows and police, with some injured as a result. As NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddey declared the gathering unlawful assembly, the crowd destroyed vehicles and damaged nearby stores. Officers were forced to make arrests to prevent any further dangerous activity. Eventually, the crowd was dispersed completely and individuals were taken into custody. This situation suggests that New York City must have better preparation and resources to respond to large-scale incidents in the future to prevent injury and unnecessary arrests.
After the incident, NYPD officials confirmed that Cenat possessed a handful of items yet to be distributed and that the event would likely have been successful if he had notified the department beforehand. Cenat apologized for the entire situation and is fully cooperating with local authorities. Ultimately, while Cenat’s intentions appear favorable in the aftermath of the situation, the internet star had failed to get a permit or approval from the city, and therefore, will be burdened with the responsibility over the dangerous actions of many attending supporters, an unfortunate reality. This event signals the immense influence that influencers have over their supporters. Cenat’s actions underscore the importance of content-creating influencers being mindful of their impact on viewers and followers. As technology and social media use rapidly increase across the United States, incidents like Cenat’s indicate that a balance must be found between providing engaging, entertaining content to viewers and responsible influence.