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Live broadcasting of misogyny, violence & even death: The growth of 'trash-streaming’, a disturbing Russian internet sub-culture

Live broadcasting of misogyny, violence & even death: The growth of 'trash-streaming’, a disturbing Russian internet sub-culture
Following the arrest of an online 'celebrity' for the beating of a 21-year-old model, and the live-streaming of another girl's death, Russia's underground 'trash-streaming' subculture is gaining mainstream international attention.

In essence, trash streamers make money by taking payments for their on-screen actions. Viewers, sometimes in their thousands, send donations with commands for things the streamer should do. Often, these include humiliating other on-screen guests, or offering cash to young girls for performing sexualized actions on camera. 'Trash-streaming' has become a sort of 2020 version of a gladiator fight, a form of voyeurism thousands are happy to pay for, which earns a select few a very handsome living.

This sub-culture caught the eyes of the Russian popular press in October, when TV news channels reported the story of a girl being beaten on air. Two months later, in early December, another blogger hit his girlfriend on video and threw her out into the cold. A little while later, broadcast to a live audience, the streamer brought the girl back inside. She was now dead. The blogger continued to stream, with her corpse on full view.

Mellstroy

The first example is that of Mellstroy (Andrey Burim). A native of Belarus, he started his streaming 'career' at least three years ago. Burim's videos are often set in a high-rise apartment in the expensive 'Moscow City' business district. The blogger usually has multiple guests on the stream, who are mainly young girls and other well-known social media stars.

When he first began streaming, Burim's tactic was to find girls on the randomized video-chat website Chatroulette, convincing them to strip naked. He would simultaneously broadcast the interactions on YouTube, and receive donations. These streams caused his first brush with the law, and in 2017 he was sought by police after convincing multiple underage girls to take off their clothes in return for 'likes' and' subscribers' on their social media accounts. The criminal case was eventually dropped.

This tactic continued over the years, with the vlogger using his Telegram channel to promote the Instagram accounts of people he had on his stream. His channel has over 500,000 subscribers, and the average post garners more than 1.5 million views – a powerful tool he has used to convince a generation obsessed with their follower count.

By mid-2020, Mellstroy was regularly getting half a million views per stream, broadcasting parties with alcohol, and allegedly other substances. In his streams, Mellstroy has paid girls to strip, given money to two guests to have a fight, and even doused someone with urine – all to collect donations from his audience of thousands.

Burim's downfall came on October 23, when he was arrested after beating Alena Efremova, a 21-year-old model, live on air. After she joked about his body, he smashed her head against a table, causing bodily harm. He was subsequently banned from YouTube, and faces legal consequences. According to the police, she received a closed craniocerebral injury, concussion, and bruises. Writing on Instagram, Efremova called on "all victims" of Mellstroy to unite against him.

"From that moment on, my life has changed a lot. I realized how vulnerable we are all to violence," she wrote

After the violent attack, Mellstroy was banned from YouTube and other streaming platforms, significantly reducing his ability to make money.

Reeflay

Another well-known name, though not as popular as Burim, is Reeflay (Stas Reshetnikov). On his streams, Reeflay has accepted payments to mock or beat his guests, along with any other number of requests the viewing audience was willing to cough up to see.

Reshetnikov came to the general public's attention last week, when he kicked his near-naked girlfriend Valentina Grigoryeva outside into subzero winter temperatures, following a reported $1,000 donation from a follower.

Some time later, Reshetnikov went outside to check that Grigoryeva was okay, before dragging her motionless body into the room. After trying to bring her to her senses, he realized that she had died.

Unbelievably, he continued to live stream after calling for an ambulance, broadcasting the arrival of medical services. The doctor immediately declared that she had died. Streaming only stopped when a man, presumably a police officer, ordered him to turn it off. Her body had been visible on camera for two hours.

Grigoryeva was 28 years old and was born in the southern city of Krasnodar. According to the Telegram channel Mash, she was pregnant. This has been refuted by Russia's Investigative Committee, however. 

According to a medical examination, Grigoryeva suffered a closed craniocerebral trauma, multiple bruises, and a subdural hematoma.

This was not the first time that Reshetnikov had been seen abusing his girlfriend, having previously pepper-sprayed her multiple times on camera.

Reshetnikov has been charged with grievous bodily harm resulting in death, and is currently remanded in custody. He could face up to 15 years behind bars.

Other Trash-Streams

Although they have received the bulk of recent mainstream media attention, these two highlighted streamers are far from unique.

In October 2020, live streamers in the city of Bryansk reportedly earned 812,000 rubles for tormenting a homeless man. The victim, Valentin Ganichev, has repeatedly allowed himself to be humiliated in return for food, alcohol, and a roof over his head, and has lived with multiple streamers. At one point, he stayed with the formerly mentioned Reshetnikov.

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During broadcasts, Ganichev has been doused with alcohol, attacked with eggs, and been forced to eat maggots and fish guts. On streams, he has asked to leave on multiple occasions, complained that his documents were stolen, and begged those watching to call the police. However, whenever anonymous people inform the authorities, Ganichev always tells them that he is there voluntarily. Ganichev appears to have some form of Stockholm Syndrome, living in slavery while his captors make a living abusing him.

A similar situation happened in 2019. Live on air, blogger Gobsavr (Andrey Yashin) hit his mother with a champagne bottle. This was not the first time she had been a willing participant in live-streamed abuse, and she had regularly been his victim, including a stream in which he broke eggs on her head. When the police investigated, it came to nothing because his mother defended him completely.

In situations like this, the financial reward is not only encouragement for the streamer to continue being abusive, but it also ensures the desperate victims come back for more abuse.

In other broadcasts, the host’s guilt is not so black-and-white, with financial desperation often appearing to be a cause. One man, Nikolay Belov, hit his mother twice in the face for a 1,000-ruble donation. Like many other streamers, his broadcasts were dominated by drinking, which often ended in violence. Just this year, Belov has covered his nose in excrement and urinated on his own face, all for small amounts of money, and to a tiny audience. The feces video has just 2,300 views.

These are just a select few examples of an ever-growing genre, in which most participants are barely known. With such a small audience – and abuse that doesn’t reach as far as death – it is anyone’s guess what is happening on other, barely seen channels.

Trash Streams as a Reality Show

During this year’s Covid-19 lockdown, the popularity of ‘trash streams’ peaked to a point where successful entrepreneurs decided to cash in further. In the summer, the creator of wildly popular YouTube channel Versus Battle (4.55 million subscribers) founded Sosed TV, a sort of trash stream/’Big Brother’ hybrid.

Several people have moved into a house with cameras in every room, and they take money from the viewing audience to do whatever is asked. Some of the cameras, like the bedroom, are behind a paywall for 169 rubles a month. Every few days, a video of the “best bits” is posted online.

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Sosed TV has a somewhat exploitative feel, and it is self-described as a social experiment for “the most liberated and crazy people who have nothing to lose, nowhere to live or who are left without work.” 

The show has turned out not to be very popular, but it made headlines after one contestant reported that she had been raped while inside the house. The woman, Alexandra N., claimed that a 27-year-old man named Victor sexually assaulted her as she was sleeping.

Mainstream Attention

The mainstream attention for trash streams might cause them to fade away. On Friday, the leader of Russia’s opposition LDPR Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, proposed a total ban on “demonstration of violence,” and suggested punishing violators with “real prison terms.”

Speaking to newspaper Vzglyad, Civic Chamber member Ekaterina Mizulina called for the country to “adopt tougher laws on self-regulation and self-censorship of social networks,” noting that the Russian internet has “all-new types of destructive content,” including “live streams with scenes of violence, bullying, and abuse of often helpless and socially insecure people, such as homeless people.”

Also speaking to Vzglyad, Human Rights Council official Kirill Kabanov called for Roskomnadzor, Russia’s federal censor, to “expand the powers of law enforcement” and close offending blogs. He suggested that viewers of the streams should also be held accountable for their content.

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