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Influencer Kai Cenat announced a giveaway in New York. Chaos ensued

People gather around and cheer for Kai Cenat during the meetup that eventually resulted in dozens of arrests and several injuries.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld
Getty Images
People gather around and cheer for Kai Cenat during the meetup that eventually resulted in dozens of arrests and several injuries.

The influencer era has given us a direct view into the lives of the young, rich and famous. And it's given them huge sway over their millions of followers.

Who is he? Kai Cenat is an internet celebrity, with one of the highest follower and subscriber counts on the live-streaming platform Twitch (6.5 million followers, in case you were wondering) as well as several million followers across YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

  • Cenat, a 21-year-old Bronx native, is known for content geared towards younger people. He streams himself playing video games, hanging out with friends, and participating in the general kooky antics of an Ultra-Influential Internet Guy.
  • That includes a 30-day record breaking stream in February, making music, and a cameo in a recent Lil Uzi Vert music video.
  • What's the big deal? Cenat has been charged with inciting a riot in New York City after an online promo went wildly out of hand.

  • Last week, Cenat shared that he would be hosting a meetup in Union Square in New York City on Friday, which would include him giving away gift cards, gaming consoles, webcams, microphones and more.
  • In a testament to the conversion of online followers into real-life bodies, a massive crowd came.
  • NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey later said in a press conference that it "went from 300 kids to a couple of thousands of kids in minutes."
  • Members of the NYPD arrest people after responding to thousands of people gathered for a "giveaway" event announced by popular Twitch live streamer Kai Cenat.
    Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images
    Getty Images
    Members of the NYPD arrest people after responding to thousands of people gathered for a "giveaway" event announced by popular Twitch live streamer Kai Cenat.

  • And those thousands of people are accused of trashing local businesses, harassing passersby, destroying property, lighting fireworks and walking around with weapons.
  • Maddrey said 65 people had been arrested in the events, including 30 juveniles, and said that both attendees and police officers were injured in the ordeal.
  • He said that he felt there was a larger responsibility for parents to intervene over authorities: "We don't want to do this. We want our young people to be able to gather and have fun. But when it gets to the point where they're disorderly, we want the parents to come and take control. And let us take a step back."
  • Cenat live-streamed some of the event, and posted on Friday afternoon thanking fans for their support and urging them to "stay safe."
  • What are people saying?

    NPR spoke with Megan Moreno, an adolescent medicine physician and researcher at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, about the unique impact that content creators can have on young people, and how it can lead to events like Cenat's meetup. Here's what she told us:

    On the unique nature of internet celebrity with fans:

    For some followers, the connection to that content creator can feel so strong and so personal that they'll start to develop what is sometimes called a parasocial relationship.

    They will perceive that they are in some sort of personal relationship with that content creator, because they perceive that as the content creator is creating content and delivering it to them [and] when they engage with the content, they're actually reciprocating the relationship, even though they're not really at that personal level that they think they are.

    Want more on fame? Listen to Consider This on the death of the movie star.

    And how it applies to this meet-up:

    It does speak to how much investment people can place within these parasocial relationships. And it gets at the responsibility of these content creators to realize that they're not choosing to put themselves out there as a distant celebrity. They're choosing to put themselves out there in this way that they're engaging with people and building relationships and expectations.

    A lot of content creators and influencers are not that far outside the adolescent and young adult age range also. And I think that that brings up another set of challenges because some of those folks are probably navigating their own expectations about those relationships and what they mean.

    You think about 50 years ago, everybody loved watching celebrity gossip for how the adolescent and young adult movie stars, celebrities, would go off the deep end. And we would say, "Oh, my gosh, they were so young. They had so much pressure on them, nobody trained them to be a celebrity."

    And it seems like to some extent we're seeing some of that today. But with influencers being the ones that are kind of struggling to figure out how to be famous, how to nurture these relationships and how to grow up, too.

    Police try to control the crowd.
    Yuki Iwamura / AFP via Getty Images
    AFP via Getty Images
    Police try to control the crowd.

    And here is a statement that Cenat's representation, AMP, obtained by Variety, put out in response to the event:

    We are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct that affected innocent people and businesses, and do not condone that behavior. We apologize to all of those impacted. We are fully cooperating with local authorities.

    We recognize that our audience and influence are growing, and with that comes greater responsibility. Yesterday members of AMP hoped to create a positive experience for fans and give back as a show of appreciation for their support. We've hosted fan meetups and video shoots in the past, but we've never experienced anything at the scale of what took place yesterday.

    So, what now?

  • Cenat was charged with riot, inciting to riot and unlawful assembly, police said.
  • A court date has been set for Aug.18th, according to a police spokesperson.
  • Learn more:

  • The promise and perils of the multi-billion dollar influencer industry
  • Musk vows to pay legal costs for users who get in trouble at work for their tweets
  • So your tween wants a smartphone? Read this first
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.