Last week, I spent two hours of my life watching a 12-year-old reload his Nerf gun, shoot a paper bag at close range and flex his parents’ credit cards on a live Discord stream before getting banned by a moderator. The only other time I decided to visit a voice channel (VC) on the server again was when a user decided to screen share furry porn for the sake of non-premium Pornhub members on the platform. Among these “regular VC things” is an entire subculture—reappropriated to suit Dicord’s community guidelines altogether. Introducing the uwu girls of Discord, a niche genre of sugar babies who are highly specific in their needs, goals and approach.
Similar to XD and :-), UwU or uwu is a texting emoticon used to denote both happiness and cuteness. Remember how Chandler from Friends is acknowledged as the poster child for the XD emoticon? For uwu, visualise an anime girl’s face when she’s overjoyed or spots a cold-but-cute tsundere across the street. The two ‘u’s symbolise closed eyes while the mouth is upturned into a bashful smile forming a ‘w’. The emoticon essentially captures a warm and fuzzy feeling—with a hint of blush to top it all off.
Although there’s enough evidence to trace its origins back to 2004, it wasn’t until early 2018 that uwu truly started conquering the internet. In fact, Google Trends for the search term hit an all-time high in September 2021 and has remained steady ever since. Over time, however, the emoticon has witnessed tremendous criticisms to evolve into a full-blown subculture today.
Labelled “the common language of furries” and “Satan’s resting bitch face,” the usage of uwu is presently considered a war crime on the internet. “If you use this, the furries will name you their leader and normal people will try to destroy you,” a top entry on Urban Dictionary reads. “You’ll also be called a weeb or weeaboo.” Among the 54 pages of definitions on the platform, users have also advised how gaming keyboards and video game controllers can be used “to destroy the demonic beings who use the word to summon Satan himself.”
Though the usage of uwu is considered a sin, what if there’s an entire subculture out there dedicated to channelling the forbidden emoticon into their lifestyle? And what if this subculture is attracted to gaming keyboards and video game controllers rather than repelled by it like the rest of the internet thinks?
An uwu girl is the most uwu person on the planet. She is the literal embodiment of the forbidden emoticon. She walks and talks uwu. And what I mean by ‘talks uwu’ is that she literally says ‘uwu’ (pronounced ‘oowoo’) out loud. It’s similar to using XD or lol in a physical conversation—provided they were subcultures with a community to back them up.
Decked in pink wigs and oversized hoodies pulled to make sweater paws, uwu girls position themselves in the intersection between soft girls and egirls. However, they should not be confused with these two. They essentially merge a soft girl’s love for pastel colours, stuffed Sanrio plushies, heart patterns and blush-heavy makeup with an egirl’s gaming preferences. On Amazon, the subculture is synonymous with oversized hoodies, skater skirts, PVC heart choker necklaces and cat-ear gaming headsets. A quick search on Etsy and Depop, on the other hand, will softly plop you into a pastel land filled with kandi bracelets, bandages, knee-high socks, hoodies and heart-printed tank tops.
To date, uwu girls have amassed an entire subreddit, a dedicated hashtag on TikTok with 14.3 billion views, exclusive Minecraft skins and GIFs on Tenor. Heck, there are even uwu translators available on the internet today to capture the true essence of the subculture in texts. “Hi, how are you?” Nah, I only know “hi, how awe uwu”—all in intentional lowercases. The subculture has further succumbed to Rule 34 (also known as ‘if it exists, there is porn of it’) and inspired a porn genre on the adult entertainment site, Pornhub. The popularity of ahegao faces and HuCow costumes within the subculture doesn’t exactly help its case either. Among this shift, however, a small group of uwu girls have flocked to Discord—an instant-messaging platform popular among gamers—with the manifestation of a highly specific purpose.
According to Input Mag, a Discord uwu girl is a “type of uwu girl who is usually faking or accentuating her uwu aesthetic to get money from men.” Donning cat-ear headsets, they can be found using sugary, high-pitched voices to chat with users across servers and convince admins to pay for her Nitro. They are also speculated to share their Amazon wishlists with Discord ‘kings’ and talk them into ordering their favourite items off the platform. In this regard, uwu girls are considered to be a niche genre of sugar babies—with needs and goals reappropriated to suit the platform altogether.
“Pfft, are they actually a thing?” I hear all of you 2015 Discord OGs ask. On a quest to fact-check their presence, SCREENSHOT spoke to two uwu girls who are now self-proclaimed ‘Discord kittens’.
“I’m the uwu qween of Discord,” said Bri, who agreed to all the claims made by Input Mag. Joining Discord two years ago, Bri mentioned that she uses the word ‘uwu’ to denote something she usually finds cute. Does she own cat-ear headsets? “I actually ordered one!” Is it pink? “Yes! My favourite colour uwu.”
According to Bunni, a user currently inching towards her fifth anniversary as a Discord kitten, uwu girls on the platform are synonymous with “stereotypical, feminine colours, high-pitched voices, cosplays and lo-fi music.” When asked what being a Discord kitten entails, she outlined how the “profession” involves “being really friendly with other users in a cute way.” Although Bunni joined Discord with the aim of merely socialising with others, she was quickly perceived as a Discord kitten. As for Bri, the ‘uwu qween’ has her own server, which is listed on Disboard. “New people join everyday and some of them start chatting too,” she added. Apart from engaging with users on her own server, Bri also admitted to joining random voice channels across Discord.
Now onto fact-checking the real deal: Nitros. Introduced in 2017, Discord Nitro is a subscription-based package where users can customise their own emojis, use an animated avatar, claim a custom tag, boost a server and upload files up to 100 MB. Nitro essentially offers a range of perks to the creators on the platform and helps users stand out on servers. With “bro, give me nitro” as her custom status, Bunni agreed to the claims about other users paying for her Nitros. “I once complained to my friend that my Nitro ended and he gave me a year of Nitro,” Bri added. “I’ve never bought Nitro myself.”
Doesn’t all of this guarantee a ban on Discord though? I mean, I once got banned from a voice channel just because others could hear the crickets chirping in my backyard. “This is actually my new account since my old one got banned from most servers,” Bunni admitted. When asked if moderators ban all uwu girls with a misconception about their intentions, Bunni disagrees. “One user reported me across servers and that’s why I got banned from all of them,” she added.
Harassment and verbal abuse is common practice on Discord, believe it or not. Although Bri admitted to not having faced any, Bunni was quick to offer her views on the same. “I don’t think Discord can fix this flaw either,” she said. “I know my self-worth and that’s all that matters.”
During my chats with Yumi, an ‘ex-uwu girl’, the user admitted to coming across Discord kittens in chat rooms who leaned more towards the aesthetic part of the subculture. “A lot of them are very annoying,” she said. “But some are genuinely sweet. It really depends.” After hearing about their deals with Nitro, however, the user immediately regretted leaving the subculture. Oh, how I wish to have Nitro!” she sighed conclusively.
Beware, salt daddies—be it for the subscription-based perks or items off their Amazon wishlist, uwu girls of Discord exist and they exist loudly enough to tame your petty butts. Are they actually healthy for the platform? Well if you ask me, I’ve seen more concerning stuff go down on there that needs immediate attention. Maybe reaping monetary benefits and engaging in a supposed “scam” can eventually help bring attention to the hypersexualisation of women in the gaming industry. Or maybe the subculture will evolve and grip another platform with an entirely different purpose. Nevertheless, it all just goes on to show how a three-letter word can influence culture single-handedly. Next up: owo and qwq!
“Jeff Bezos paid $970 million for this, we’re giving it away for free,” read a cheeky message on 4chan yesterday morning. Attached to the post was a torrent link—containing 125GB worth of tea on the Amazon-owned streaming service Twitch. Among its source code, streamers’ comment history and information on an unreleased Steam rival from Amazon Game Studios (codenamed Vapor), were reports about the income of individual streamers.
While the screenshots, now viral on Twitter, confirm the painstakingly obvious fact that most successful content creators on the platform are men, what’s truly shocking is the disparity, coupled with a racial pay gap. Out of the top 100 streamers, only three of them are women—out of which only one of them is a woman of colour. An analysis of the highest earners, between August 2019 and now, also reveals a common thread running through the list: top streamers are all white men.
According to the screenshots posted by Twitter user @KnowSomething, the top spot is hauled by CriticalRole, a Dungeons and Dragons web series that made around $9.6 million in income. The collective is followed by male Overwatch streamer xQcOW and video blogger summit1g. While these figures do not account for donations, sponsorships or other sources of revenue, female streamers are further down the list—starting with Valorant streamer Pokimane at 39th place, cosplayer Amouranth at 48th, and music streamer Sintica at 71st.
“Excluding streams that are run by multiple people (such as CriticalRole), there are no women in the top third of top-earning Twitch content creators,” noted an investigation by Kotaku. These ranks are particularly surprising, given how male creators on the platform once accused female hot tub meta streamers, dismissively referred to as ‘titty streamers’, for horny-baiting users and stealing their views. “All that energy we spend pissing and crying about how women were ‘making a dangerous precedent’ amidst incels shouting ‘titty streamers’ and they’re not even in the same grouping for payouts,” tweeted Twitch streamer Vanessa Brasfield, aka PleasantlyTwstd. “Find the Black person on here while you’re at it.”
In August 2021, Twitch witnessed an influx of ‘hate raids’—where anonymous users generate bots to harass creators by overwhelming their chat feeds during a livestream—particularly targeted at black and LGBTQ+ streamers. As a response to the #TwitchDoBetter and #ADayOffTwitch campaigns on the platform, Twitch announced a set of verification tools after attempting to sue its way into a permanent solution. While its usefulness and success remain to be seen, the raids had already contributed to a growing mistrust among users on the platform. The recent data breach seems to have dealt the final blow.
“Coming after the hate raids and seeing the most well-paid streamers being mostly white and male despite Twitch preaching diversity… it’s annoying, it’s frustrating,” Twitch streamer Briggsycakes told The Daily Beast. The publication highlighted how black, brown, queer and female creators—who spend hours livestreaming and are usually paid dust—are constantly in need of funds to make the investment worth it. Being the most susceptible to hate on the platform, the very fact that Twitch distributes millions of dollars to a subset of users who don’t have to deal with that level of hate is not lost on streamers.
The Daily Beast additionally noted the presence of a former FaZe Clan member Tfue, who was banned in 2018 for calling a black player a “coon” while livestreaming Fortnite. Ranked among the top 100 list, the streamer has reportedly made $5,295,582 in the last two years.
Considering how many marginalised streamers struggle with discoverability on the platform, Twitch introduced identity-based tags in May 2021. However, it did little to nothing in the quest to solve toxicity against marginalised streamers on the platform. Presently, the breach comes less than a week after Twitch’s announcement of a new feature called ‘Boost This Stream’. Initially tested with 100 channels, the feature would allow users to pay for heightened exposure on the platform. In short, with an already outsized influence, users who make millions of dollars would have the chance to grow their follower base even more—while others have less space to promote their work.
Although there are broader implications of Twitch’s data breach on user privacy, the gender and racial disparity highlighted by the leak is increasingly coaxing creators to jump off the platform. While Twitch has confirmed the leak, the company has yet to answer for what’s been uncovered. “We’re currently investigating the issue and will have more to share as we have additional detail,” a spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
With streamers like BBG Calc admitting that the earnings list “got my figure 100 per cent correct,” while other high-profile creators confirmed the list to be “accurate” and “about right,” it seems that more revelations are in the works as the internet unpacks insights from the leak down to its last drop. But nonetheless, the community will not be the same—until the platform perceives such issues as mutually inclusive ones in the first place.