YouTube Activists School Their Followers on Major Social Issues
Creators for Change amplifies tolerance and empathy through the internet's next wave of young change-makers.
Image via Creators for Change.
"Cringe is definitely the word," Humza Arshad, the British-Pakistani comedian, said while remembering his first homemade YouTube video. He sat on a panel at the first ever Creators for Change Social Impact Camp, a two-day workshop held at London's YouTube Space.
Announced in September 2016, Creators for Change is a global initiative dedicated to amplifying and multiplying the internet's young YouTubers that are using their channels to front social change videos and using their voices to promote messages of tolerance and empathy. The Creators are given funding, equipment and a network of support.
"Then I made 'Diary of a Badman.' I got 5,000 views in 24 hours. That's cool right?" Humza said, and without giving the audience a chance to respond: "No? Fine, haters gonna hate!" He continued: "Then it went to 60,000, then hundreds of thousands. It was crazy. I'd like to say it was a struggle and it was hard but it wasn't. Thank god for YouTube."
Sitting beside him on the panel were five other Creators for Change ambassadors, who, like Humza, were grateful to YouTube for giving them a platform they struggle to get in the mainstream media.
"The [Metropolitan] Police approached me. They knew that young Muslims kids were watching my videos and they wanted to stop young kids from being radicalized," Humza said. "At first, I didn't know how to take that because I was thinking, 'Hmm it might affect my street cred'. But then I realized I didn't really have much in the first place. Plus they were going to pay me."
The video that followed, 'I am a Muslim not a terrorist,' became a hit, and led to a stand-up comedy tour that took him across the UK.
The aim was to urge young British Muslims to be aware of the dangers of radicalization. In the last 18 months, he estimates that he has met and spoken to thousands of young people, in addition to his 80 million (and counting) YouTube views.
"A middle-aged white officer who is not Muslim can't really go into a school and relate to young Muslim kids," Humza explained. "They are going to relate to someone that they follow and watch, and who is also Muslim and who they feel a connection to." He was recently rewarded for his work by Scotland Yard.
Sitting besides him on the Creators for Change panel is Abdel En Vrai, a Moroccan-Belgian comedian. "I think I have a responsibility," Abdel said. "It is really important for me to make a good video, not necessarily to change the world. But I think that if I can change at least one person then that person can change another and so on and then, we can change the world."
In addition to the 11 ambassadors, like Humza and Abdel, there were 28 fellows or emerging, up-and-coming creators that have been selected by the ambassadors to develop new projects and take their social impact aspirations to the next level.
Fellows include US-based creators Evelyn Ngugi, known as Evelyn from the Internets; comedian and filmmaker Tasneem Afridi; and lifestyle vlogger Subhi Taha.
Abdel's first video was a response a Belgian TV news presenter's Islamophobic remarks. "I was so angry because I couldn't respond back to her face. So I told myself, well what if I make a video response instead?" he said.
Abdel's videos have amassed 14 million views. He tackles lighthearted subjects like 'The price of a Moroccan wedding' but many specifically challenge Muslim stereotypes, and more recently corruption. All are accessible and funny.
"I write my sketches so that even a 10 year old is able to understand," Abdel later told VICE Impact.
The overall aim of the two-day workshop was for ambassadors and fellows to meet and share stories and knowledge.
"Stepping out of the screen and feeling that you are part of something is important," Roxy Stannard, one of the organizers tells VICE Impact.
"Finally meeting the other fellows and realizing that, regardless of our location in the world, we were all fighting forms of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or homophobia in our respective countries/societies is what is great about the workshop. Our day to day lives may be wildly different but our creative endeavors and aspirations are the same," Ngugi told VICE Impact.
"Having that physical space is really crucial," Roxy adds. Which is why YouTube is passionate about its nine YouTube Spaces. The largest is in Los Angeles but the new London facility is the second largest. Others can be found in Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Mumbai, New York, and Sao Paulo. The soundproof studios, editing suites and equipment are available for YouTubers with over 10,000 subscribers. But its workshops are open to the public.
For the fellows, this exclusive two-day camp was a chance to soak up the experience of the more experienced ambassadors. For example, what to do when you are stuck for a new video idea?
"In India, all you have to do is open the paper and you get at least 10 ideas," said Ashish Shakya from All India Bakchod (also known as AIB).
One of India's most popular group of comedians, their channel has become one of the country's biggest with 1.7 million subscribers and more than 250 million views.
For their Creators for Change project, AIB will specifically be looking at freedom of speech and feminism.
"India is going through a spate of sexual violence and assault. We were really angry about this and thought 'What can we do?'. So we did this video saying 'It's your fault'. It was a way for us to break down every dumb hateful opinion that was and is thrown at women everyday, blaming them for sexual assault," Shakya continued.
"From Brazil to Pakistan, people were asking us if they could make it into their own language, so we said go ahead."
When it was also used by the UN, the video became a sort of epiphany for the stand-up comedians. "We thought, 'Hey look at what the Internet can do.' The video touched upon a universal issue that crossed borders," Shakya said. "It was also sad because a lot of people related to the content."
"In India, women face a lot of harassment for speaking up online and sometimes, even for us just existing online" explained Manaswi Mohata, who leads AIB's Creators for Change project.
"Getting access to so much valuable information from experts in storytelling through video. I am really eager to put everything I learnt to use in a way that is unique to my message," Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, fellow and founder of Muslim Girl online, told VICE Impact.
As part of Creators For Change, Google's philanthropic arm has awarded $2 million to nonprofits like the Active Change Foundation, The Habibie Center, Maslaha, Skateistan, the Southern Poverty Law Center, TAFNIT, and Witness.
"Standing in a room full of people who want to make a difference and then remembering that this room is a YouTube space, this massive company, feels pretty great," added fellow Sam Saffold from SuperSamStuff.
1.5 billion people watch YouTube videos each month. The internet seems like it's set to become a much more diverse, tolerant and peaceful place with these Creators' voices in the mix.