YouTube is a hive of useful information about topics from news to fashion and beauty to science and politics. For years almost any video embedded in a news story links to YouTube. Mainstream media outlets like CNN and FOX have their own channels where they put up clips from news stories and talk shows. People can spend hours clicking through videos, either learning or entertaining themselves with unique, user-generated content. The new media format has allowed “regular people” to show their ideas and faces to the world. Hence the rise of internet stars like Hank Green, Glozell and Bethany Mota who were rewarded with a chance to meet the president in a #YouTubeAsksObama, post-State of the Union interviews.
As one of the Vlog Brother with his elder sibling John Green, author of books like The Fault in Our Stars, Hank Green has a long list of YouTube credentials. He is co-founder of Vidcon, the largest online video convention in the world, and host of popular science channel SciShow and Crash Course. He is also a musician, releasing his music through DFTBA Records. Fans of him and his brother are known as Nerdfighters who are wildly enthusiastic nerds of all ages numbering in the millions.
During the #YouTubeAsksObama interview which was live streamed on the White House’s channel, Green had a stand-out moment where he asked the president for his autograph, just one example of the shamelessly enthusiastic moments so typical of Green online. The picture he had the president sign, however, had a lot of personal significance for Green. He suffers from a chronic medical condition requiring regular medication that could run to over $1,000 a month. Under the Affordable Healthcare Act, he pays only $5 for his necessary meds. As he told the president during the moment, “Obamacare has worked for me.”
Bethany Mota may be the youngest of the three at just 19-years-old, but she has quite the resume. She runs the Macbarbie07 channel on YouTube where she gives fashion and beauty tips to her more than eight million subscribers. She also has her own Aeropostale line of clothing and was voted as 2014’s most searched designer ahead of industry stalwarts like Oscar de la Renta. At such a young age, she has already created an internet fashion empire based on her success on YouTube.
She can add what might be the best question of 2015 to her list of achievements after hitting the president with a rare question about terrorist group Boko Haram. Taking on a topic that even mainstream media personalities have been loath to touch, she asked what America could do to help the situation in Nigeria. While the media may be all but ignoring the thousands dying in Nigeria, Mota made sure it ended up in her interview with Obama. The fashionista absolutely outdid the media with her hard hitting question.
It is hard to call GloZell controversial. One of her most popular YouTube videos is her eating cereal that has been poured into a bathtub. With her trademark green lipstick, her catchphrase is “Is you okay?” She did not pass up the opportunity to ask the president if he was okay during their time together and some of her questions were the most poignant of the entire event.
She made President Obama laugh by telling him that her husband was mad at her for cutting up his clothes. Apparently, she had cut the hoods off of his sweatshirts after the events of Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner. Despite the humor, the fact that she felt the need to protect her husband in this way spoke volumes. She asked the president how America could repair the relationship between the black community and white cops, a question that was arguably the most important of the whole event. But Glozell did not leave on a somber note. With the same excitement and energy she brings to her videos, she gave the president some green lipstick for the First Lady and their kids. She figured it was only polite to bring a gift for her host.
Despite their good performances during the #YouTubeAsksObama live stream meeting, internet stars Hank Green, Bethany Mota and GloZell have all had their critics in the mainstream media. What is clear from all their criticism, however, is that mainstream stalwarts felt left out. During a press conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta questioned the choice of these three stars, citing some of the popular videos on the social media site. He also said that social media events would not take the place of press conferences. As Mediaite put it, ” there was a palpable sense of disgust from the White House press corps.”
That same press corp, however, should probably feel more embarrassed than anything. Bethany Mota showed them all up by asking a question regarding Boko Haram, something that mainstream media has avoided quite a bit. Questions about topics like Cuba and marijuana also brought candid answers from the president which the press corp has not been able to elicit. The success of the YouTube event was in part due to the candor that all parties approached it with, but also the honesty of the questions themselves which were designed to elicit real answers rather than soundbites. The YouTubers showed traditional media what it is like to search for information rather than soundbites with their questions. That is why stars like Hank Green, Bethany Mota and GloZell were invited to the #YouTubeAsksObama meet and greet instead of the same tired mainstream media faces. This was about answering real questions, not about providing a quip for a headline.
Video from The White House Channel on YouTube
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury