Queensland police in Australia said they arrested and then “un-arrested” a pair of livestreamers who sparked controversy in recent weeks after they streamed what appeared to be interactions with a hired sex worker.
Paul Denino — known to fans as Ice Poseidon — and fellow creator Sam Pepper streamed themselves Sept. 22 hiring the woman for $500 while on a trip to Brisbane, Australia. Denino is from the United States and Pepper is from the United Kingdom.
Senior Sgt. Brett La Frantz of the Queensland police told NBC News in an emailed statement, “Officers were provided with information from a confidential informant that led them to a unit complex” in Brisbane City. “As was shown in the video, police attended and arrested the males, however it was subsequently determined that no offences had been committed and the males were un-arrested and no further action taken at that time.”
The incident is the latest in what has become a growing list of controversies related to Kick, a livestream platform that has attracted some of the internet’s most incendiary creators in part thanks to its lax rules. As Twitch, a larger, Amazon-owned rival, has cracked down on some content such as gambling livestreams, Kick has become a destination for some of the internet’s edgier creators.
The video has also sparked a heated debate within the livestreaming world, an internet subculture popular with devoted younger viewers and gamers.
Denino and Pepper, like many creators on Kick, stream videos of their lives sometimes for hours a day. The September incident happened during a 24-hour livestream. Viewers can participate in a live chat alongside the livestreams, with the creators sometimes interacting or taking suggestions from viewers.
A recording of the livestream was reviewed by NBC News in which Denino and Pepper appeared to be playing a prank on a sex worker as part of an online challenge, though the identities of several of the participants are unknown to NBC News. The suggestion that the pair hire a sex worker to create content came from audience members in the livestream’s chat section.
Denino and Pepper did not immediately provide comments in response to outreach from NBC News.
The pair traveled to Australia as part of a series where they participated in viewer challenges, according to statements they made in their recorded streams. For one month, the two men would begin each day with zero dollars, and earn money based on how many fans recognized them in the street, according to previous videos posted by the streamers. They would then gamble that money live on stream.
In the video, Denino and Pepper asked a sex worker over the phone if she was comfortable being filmed, and she said she was for an extra fee. Denino and Pepper had a third person meet her there and engage in sexual activity with her.
Viewers watched the encounter unfold via cameras pointed at a sofa in a rental unit. The person meeting the woman pointed the camera out to her. She again consented to being filmed.
After several minutes of the encounter, the woman then said she received a message from a friend who warned her the meeting was a set-up: that the two other men — Denino and Pepper — who the man said were sleeping in another room were actually watching the stream.
The woman became visibly uncomfortable and tried to leave, but the man blocked her, telling her she had already been paid. She protested, calling the situation “creepy,” and tried again to leave.
“Why is it creepy?” the man asked, before insisting it was just the two of them in the apartment — even though Denino and Pepper were in the next room.
Eventually, the woman left the apartment while the man followed her.
After she left, police appeared to be waiting for Denino and Pepper outside. Viewers reacted with shock in the live chat as the stream captured the pair’s subsequent arrest.
The video quickly became a flashpoint among some livestreamers, multiple popular creators decrying the stunt.
“It’s pretty clear if you watch it back how unbelievably uncomfortable she was,” gaming influencer Jake Lucky tweeted. “This content is so weird and disgusting it’s a shame this is what’s popping on Kick.”
Another Kick streamer, known to fans as MsSavage, said that while she has had a positive experience with the platform, the stunt made her “feel so uncomfortable.”
“I do not stand by this kind of content,” she tweeted. “Kick dropped the ball on this one and action needs to be taken immediately.”
Before rebranding as a livestreamer, Pepper found fame on YouTube, where he regularly posted prank videos, the most infamous of which features him approaching women on the street and asking for directions before pinching their buttocks.
That video immediately prompted backlash. Pepper was subsequently accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, while critics launched an online campaign to have him removed from YouTube. He dismissed those efforts as “trolling,” and denied all allegations of sexual harassment. He later said the video was a “social experiment.”
In 2017, Twitch banned Denino after viewers called in a hoax bomb threat against him while he was on an airplane. He moved to Kick, and in June, was arrested in Bangkok after livestreaming himself giving his girlfriend a lap dance. According to Denino, he faced five years behind bars before the charges were later dropped.
Backlash around the most recent incident in Australia has also been fueled by screenshots of the live chat, in which some users noticed a user who appeared to be Kick co-founder Ed Craven laughing along as the stunt unfolded.
Craven has not responded directly to those reports. But in a statement on the platform X, Kick responded to the controversy with a promise to update its community guidelines.
“Community [and] public safety cannot be compromised in the process of making ‘content,’” the company said in its statement. “We’re continuously learning where this balance sits and are making changes daily.”
In a statement emailed to NBC News, Craven referred to the tweet, and added, "We have taken massive strides since our launch to continuously learn and strike a key balance between freedom and moderation, always listening to our now 20-million strong community feedback in order to better grow together as a community."
Adin Ross, one of the biggest streamers on Kick, waded into the controversy with a fiery, and at times violent, defense of Denino, Pepper, and Kick that immediately drew backlash.
Using a string of vulgarities, Ross bashed creators threatening to boycott Kick over the escort stunt, blaming “leftists” and the “cancel culture” for the scandal.
He then suggested that anyone who encourages a boycott is “going to be hung on trees.”
Previously, Ross has attracted criticism for engaging with figures like white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
Ross built a loyal fan base on Twitch, where his streams regularly courted controversy.
Twitch temporarily banned him multiple times over the use of homophobic slurs on his streams. But his eighth and final ban occurred in February, when the platform accused Ross of engaging in “hateful conduct” by showing his Kick chat — which was flooded with racist and antisemitic slurs — on stream.
At the time, Ross made it clear he was not bothered by the ban because he had already secured a deal with Kick. There, he has repeatedly pushed the envelope on the platform’s looser moderation policies, most recently with a stream featuring an impersonator of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The stream proved so popular that, according to Craven, the website crashed.