Zoom parties and Twitch streams: How people are spending election night virtually

“I think it’s going to be different,” said Kaiser, who is planning to have two computers at the ready — one to host the Zoom party and the other to refresh news sites. “The biggest problem for me will be keeping an eye on the virtual waiting room to let people in.”

Election night 2020 is already expected to be unlike any before it. The stakes are heightened, experts are concerned about disinformation campaigns spreading across social media, and some officials are worried about civil unrest and violence.

There’s a chance the country won’t know who won the presidential election before bed, or even in the days that follow. Due to the surge in mail-in ballots, officials predict it will take longer than usual to tabulate all the votes and call races. And because of the ways many states count votes, with mail-in votes being tallied after in-person votes, real-time results could be misleading.

If all that’s not enough potential confusion, the pandemic means many people can’t spend the evening coping like they normally would: riding it out with friends, in person. Cramped watch parties in bars are out, endless Twitter scrolling is in. But thanks to modern technology, people are finding ways to obsess on social media together, apart.

There will still be in-person events, with social distancing in beer gardens and parking lots. But with coronavirus cases on the rise in most states, virtual could be the preferred medium. Friends will come together in their private group chats, through social media posts, on video chats and, if they’re feeling old-fashioned, over the telephone. They have one-on-one plans, family check-ins and group video gatherings. People interested in a virtual crowd will watch streaming concerts, sign up for cocktail-making lessons and join parties for hundreds.

It’s the moment months of Zoom happy hours and endless video meetings have been preparing us for.

Molly Estes, a senior at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., is going to host a party on Zoom and use video-streaming site Twitch to watch other Zoom parties.

She started using Twitch after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) used it to play “Among Us,” a popular online multiplayer game where players try to discover an impostor in their midst. Ocasio-Cortez played it in October as part of a get-out-the-vote event, and it became one of the most-watched streams in the history of the platform, with 439,000 concurrent views.

For her election night party, Estes and friends from school will gather on Zoom, then stream Twitch together to watch the results roll in. They haven’t decided which parties or Twitch personalities they’ll watch yet, but Estes likes that Twitch surfaces lesser-known voices rather than relying solely on traditional media.

“We might watch another Zoom party or another content creator doing something,” said Estes.

People are expected to flock to Amazon-owned Twitch on election night, either for distractions or specifically to watch results and not be alone. Twitch personality Hasan Piker, known as HasanAbi on the site, is planning what could be the service’s most popular event for Nov. 3 — an election night watch party with guests.

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Having company, even virtually, on election night can help people who are anxious about the results. Choosing who to spend the evening with could have a big impact on how people experience the event, according to Dr. Jonathan Horowitz, a clinical psychologist and founder of the San Francisco Stress and Anxiety Center.

“Being around people, like-minded people, and having some social support is important,” said Horowitz.

He does, however, caution: “You may want to be mindful of who you invite: It could be difficult to go through this with people who don’t share your political opinions.”

Liz Heffernan, a caseworker in Antioch, Ill., sees no reason to go through election night alone, pandemic or not.

Heffernan is transitioning her regular election night party to a Zoom invite-only affair. She’ll print out an electoral map and make a few announcements, but there’s no real agenda for the night, she says.

“It’s just going to be a place people can come together. Let’s commiserate, let’s celebrate,” she said. “We’ve had to go through so much all by ourselves these past eight months, I don’t think we can live through this election all on our own.”

Heffernan, 61, is a Zoom veteran. She’s hosted social Zooms and even a Zoom pancake breakfast this year and figures this is the best option given the circumstances. Plus, it means she only has to make cocktails for herself.

Other people are choosing to keep their circles small on Tuesday.

Missy Woford, a dispatcher for a trash company in Olathe, Kan., knows her husband will go to bed early on election night so he can be rested for work the next day. Instead of being alone, Woford plans to “stress watch” the results with her best friend over FaceTime, and a dry red wine in person. The pair only live 15 minutes apart from each other, but haven’t been able to hang out in person most of the year because of the pandemic.

“We’ll probably start chatting once one of us gets to the point where we want to chew our nails off,” said Woford.

For those who don’t have a crew, there are plenty of free and paid options on sites like Eventbrite or Facebook Events. Many individual candidates and state Democratic and Republican parties are hosting virtual watch parties, and there are options for more specific interests, like an election night virtual knitting group. Look for streams on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live, or find company on social media.

However people decide to connect with others on election night, tracking results — traditionally on large colorful electoral maps — will be a key ingredient. To avoid misinformation, experts recommend sticking with established news sources, including local outlets for state and county races.

Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and TikTok will be lively options, but run the risk of displaying unverified stories. For confirmed results, look for information boxes at the top of most social media sites on election night that feature information from trusted outlets including the Associated Press and Reuters.

The most complicated part of this year’s parties might be deciding when to log off. Because of the expected delays counting ballots, the night might lack a logical ending point.

“It’ll be a difficult question to figure out when to go to bed,” Kaiser said. “Four years ago, I went to bed before it’d actually been called, but it was pretty clear.”

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