The Internet serves a myriad of functions for its users these days. It provides a “window to the world,” is a tool for expressing, presenting or creating oneself, functions as a medium through which one can communicate and even make money. However, it is worth noting that in addition to the value that the virtual world adds to the life of every Internet user, in some cases it can pose a threat to him or her. Following the position of the foundation Dajemy Dzieciom Siłę, it can be deduced that it is the youngest and teenagers who are most vulnerable to destructive content published online. This is due to their curiosity about the world, their attempts to find new forms of entertainment, their thirst for attention and their inability to distinguish truth from fiction. It is the young, in all likelihood, who can become victims of cybercrime, which leads to psychological and moral damage (e.g., the phenomenon of hate speech, pornography), physical damage (e.g., pedophilia), or financial damage (e.g., buying games online), among others. Due to the worsening problem of Internet crime, specialists have developed definitions, laws and established public departments to deal with the phenomenon. Unfortunately, a lot of harmful content published in the virtual space does not meet the conditions of a crime being on the border of the law. An example of such materials are the so-called “patotreste” transmitted to the greatest extent by means of live broadcasts (“patostreams”), but also using the form of photos, videos and short, most popular scenes from broadcasts.
Psychologists and sociologists define patostreaming as a phenomenon that appears mainly in social media, in Poland particularly on the YouTube platform, involving real-time video broadcasting (“lajwy”; “livestreaming”; “live video streaming”) that exposes pathological behavior. Threads that appear in the accounts of “patostreamers” (i.e., people who produce content with such a tinge) are characterized by vulgarity, obscenity, violence and controversy. Looking at the concept of patostreaming, one can easily see that it consists of two members: pathology – a phenomenon related to sociology, and streaming – that is, broadcasting content through the media. In order to define the concept of pathology, it is worth going back to its origin and dictionary meaning. In the medical literature, pathology means the science that studies diseases, while in the more common sense it means as much as deviation, or deviation from the norm. As for the roots of the word pathology, it derives from Greek: pathos means suffering (in this context, also disease), while logos means science. Social pathology can therefore be understood as a disease of society. Adam Podgórecki, a pioneer of research on social pathology in Poland, defines it as such social functioning that contradicts the values and worldview accepted in a given community and culture. Other definitions define social pathology as phenomena that are destructive to social life or behavior that disrupts the social balance. In his book, Albanski lists the most common social pathologies. Among them are violent behavior, violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, prostitution, sects and subcultures (including “goths,” “scarves” and “emo” among others). Today, new types of pathology are emerging related to today’s work characteristics (e.g., the pathology of bullying) and technological solutions (e.g., addiction to television or cell phones). It is understandable that socially disruptive behavior found on the Internet overlaps with pathological functioning in the real world. Jas, based on data published by pathostreamers, undertook a categorization of socially destructive behaviors seen in broadcasts3. As a result, he distinguished five types of pathology that can be observed in the virtual activities of “degenerate celebrities.” The first is verbal aggression, which includes abusive vocabulary, name-calling, verbal harassment, threats and vulgarities. Another category is physical aggression directed toward the streamer’s family members or other people participating in the recording. Another category that Jas singled out are alcoholic libations that form the background of the events shown during the broadcast – the person organizing it and his companions consume alcoholic beverages and talk about it. Another group of pathological behaviors observed by the researcher are activities with sexual-erotic themes, among others, broadcasting acts of intercourse. Jas includes in the “other” category, among others, the recording of a 12-year-old girl singing a song intended to insult her brother.
According to an analysis by Bek and Popiolek for the journal Media Management, it is difficult to identify the moment when patostreaming originated, or its first initiators2. It is possible that those involved in such activities originated from the Twitch Internet service, which is used to broadcast live video games. It was on this service that the most popular Polish patostreamers who use vulgarities, drive themselves into a state of intoxication and vandalize apartments during broadcasts initially operated. Other patostreamers operating in Poland, in addition to the aforementioned activities, promote pedophilic content and broadcast violent sexual intercourse. An alternative origin of patostreaming could also be the activity of a Hungarian user who transmitted pathological content (including alcohol consumption) on the YouTube platform. Still another possibility points to the birth of patostreaming in Ukraine, Russia or Germany. One of the most popular Russian users is an ex-convict who carries out controversial and dangerous orders from viewers during broadcasts. In Germany, on the other hand, there are patostreamers who publish content that includes demolishing apartments and consuming alcohol.
It is worth noting that broadcasting pathological videos “live” generates real income for those who organize them. One can even conclude that pathological broadcasts exist and continue to be organized precisely due to the financial support of viewers. According to a study conducted in 2018 titled “Pathostreamers on the Internet”, the most popular pathostreamers can earn an amount of up to 2 thousand zlotys on a single “live” session, while within a month they can gain as much as several thousand zlotys. Satisfactory amount of earnings patostreamers owe to the ways in which viewers can make contributions. Both adult and minor viewers are able to deposit money into patostreamers’ accounts using services such as Tip4Stream, TipAndDonation, PayPal and Blik, without having to register.
The easy availability of live pathological broadcasts (e.g., through sites such as YouTube), the uncomplicated way to pay for them, and the controversial nature that satisfies the world’s curiosity mean that a large part of the patostreamers’ audience is becoming young people. According to the results of the aforementioned survey, which was conducted at the initiative of the Give Kids Strength Foundation, 84% of respondents aged 13-15 are familiar with the concept of patostreaming. In addition, nearly 40% of young respondents say they have seen such a broadcast at least once in their lives, and among them, 15% admit that they watch them regularly. The main reason young respondents reach for such content is curiosity (75%). The remainder watch such broadcasts out of boredom, because they were recommended to them by friends or sometimes even by algorithms running on social media and sites like YouTube.
In contrast, according to the latest NASK study “Teens 3.0,” it appears that 17% of young people watch patostreams. Consolingly, this percentage has decreased compared to the results of the 2018 survey, in which as many as 23.4% of respondents said they watched such broadcasts. This may mean that such materials are losing popularity, being less and less desired by the young. Unfortunately, it may be worrying that young people watch patostreams more often than their parents estimate – about 12% of parents know that their wards reach for such materials, while almost 22% declare that they have no knowledge of this. These results mean that many parents are unaware of the content their children are reaching for in the virtual space. This is an alarming finding, suggesting that there is too little parental control that should be extended to youngsters using the web. On the other hand, about 60% of youngsters said that an adult had ever talked to them about patostreams, and most often that person was a parent. This gives hope for the willingness of caregivers to make their children aware of the problem of pathostreams and, presumably, the willingness to warn against them.
As for young people’s feelings about watching patostreaming sessions, 88% of respondents described the materials they watched as disturbing. A similar number of respondents (87%) rated pathological broadcasts as harmful and degenerative. Such results suggest that adolescents perceive the behavior appearing in the transmissions as morally wrong, abnormal. The unequivocal negative assessment of this content gives hope that young people will not identify with the people on the recordings, and therefore will not attempt to imitate them. Unfortunately, almost 40% of young respondents declare that organizing patostreaming is a good way to earn income and that the broadcasts depict real life. The statistics presented may be worrying because of the alleged lack of respect of the young for money. Many young people watching patostreaming become convinced that earning money does not necessarily involve effort or work, but cleverness. Such an attitude, of course, is not conducive to the healthy and honest development of the young and, consequently, of society.
According to specialists, pathological behavior patterns are destructive not only to those who engage in them, but also to the rest of society. There is a possibility that, as a result of frequent exposure to pathological content on the Internet, the audience of pathostreamers is becoming increasingly accustomed to and desensitized to destructive actions. This desensitization to pathological content can, in turn, lead to an increasing acquiescence to harmful behavior, both in the virtual space and in the real world. In extreme cases, excessive viewing of such broadcasts can trigger aggressive, violent and vulgar behavior in those who watch them. In this case, of course, not only the viewers of the patostreamers can suffer, but also their surroundings. What’s more, experts report that the authority of youngsters who are at the age of adolescence and independence is changing. Parents are no longer the main role models for adolescents, and they are becoming selected people from, for example, public spaces. It turns out that young people’s authorities are increasingly becoming influencers and Internet personae, rather than celebrities known from cinema or television. As it turns out, young people perceive online activists as authentic, real, and gain sympathy and trust for them. All this excitement toward virtual creators leads young people to identify with them and emulate them. Patostreamers have also joined the ranks of online creators – so there is a risk that the young may begin to see them as an example worthy of emulation.
Specialists who created a report on the impact of patostreaming on young people for the Give Children Strength Foundation say that watching this type of content carries psychological damage – emotional and cognitive, as well as social6. According to experts, watching such broadcasts can affect teenagers’ perception of the world. The environment may begin to seem incomprehensible, threatening and dangerous to young people, and people – worse than in reality. In addition, there is a risk that watching patostreams lowers the overall mood of young people and makes them fearful and anxious.
As can be seen by following this report, viewing of patostreams by young people is a moderately common phenomenon and carries a lot of potential harm and lacks any benefit. Broadcasts showing violent behavior, violence, sexual acts, alcoholic libations and other degenerative tendencies negatively affect the psychological well-being and social functioning of young viewers. In addition, seeing the financial gains made by pathostreamers, adolescents lose respect for money and become convinced that they can earn high incomes using immoral and intellectually undemanding behavior. A key aspect in protecting youth from patostreaming is parental control on the Internet, which should be exercised by any responsible guardian. Moreover, parents should be alert to any signals sent by children that might suggest that minors are viewing such material. If a parent discovers that a ward is acquainted with pathological content, the subject should be raised in conversation and the harmfulness of such content should be explained to the child with understanding. Let’s remember that only with joint efforts – adults, as well as young people and children – can we win the fight against the presence of pathostreams in the virtual space.