How These Women Use YouTube to Inspire Change | Google Zeitgeist
It’s great to have both Lilly and Amani here.
It’s nice to be here. Both of you are have been having a media
career for the last decade, just the last decade, but yet have influenced millions of
people. And so I would like to start by hearing a little bit about how you got started. So
maybe start with you, Amani. How did you decide to start Muslim Girl.
It’s kind of like what was said in the video. I feel like as a millennial it came naturally
to search for spaces online that I didn’t have growing up or in person. Much like what
Ramesh was talking about, I was a nerdy girl. I didn’t relate with the people around me.
So instead of having a social life after school, you know, going to the malls with other friends
my age, I would go home and experience and blog. I would blog about the experiences of
what it was like to be Muslim in America today. Oh, my God, I can’t be the only person out
there. I’m sure there are other Muslim girls with one foot in two doors that are trying
to navigate today’s society and encountering all of these issues just like me. So why not
create a place online where we can all find each other.
And so that started out with a selfish motive. I wanted to find some friends.
Were you surprised that there was not something like this that existed already?
I was surprised. The only places that were active for Muslim users, they were integrated
between men and women and the observations around women were very limited to what I felt
were very superficial topics. Like how women should dress in public and whether they should
wear nail polish or not. It was really surprising. And the things you wanted to dis like maybe
give an example of a few set of the topics or issues or concerns that you fell were not
addressed with the existing media. Definitely bullying, discrimination, that
I was going through because I was a Muslim. By the time I got to middle school I was hiding
my religion from my peers and educators because I was scared of what they would think of me
because of everything happening in the news. Funny enough, one of the first articles we
published on Muslim Girl at the time, it was to taboo. Some writers were like, can you
not attach my name to this. It was simply about how to worship while you were on your
period which is funny to think about. At the time it was something that we only restricted
to our lunch table conversations. Good. Great. Well, we are going to come back
to some of the great work that you are doing but we will turn to Lilly now, who has her
YouTube channel. Lilly has amassed 12 million subscribers. The last time I saw you, it was
10 million. It’s been growing significantly. And I would love to hear from you a little
bit about why you decided to start YouTube. We saw a little bit of that in the video.
But how has it gone from you just being in your bedroom, discovering YouTube, to deciding
to having 12 million followers around the globe and billions of views on your videos?
Yeah, it’s been crazy. First it’s such an honor to be here, next to you two, you are
two queens. I look up to you. I started YouTube in 2010 and the honest answer
is I was sad. I was a sad person. I was in my last year of university, getting a psychology
degree. Which clearly, I am using today. (Laughter).
But I was just very unhappy. I think was living a very linear life that I thought I had to
live. I was always taught you will go to school, and decide what you will do for the rest of
your life and graduate and get married and have kids. I was not down with that. I went
through a dark time period in which I discovered YouTube. I was like, this person is making
video around their room and people are watching this? What is this?
I was so intrigued. I uploaded my first video. It was so bad. It was a spoken word piece
but it got 70 views. And I thought, damn, I’m famous! So I need to keep making videos.
(Laughter). I made a second and third without thinking
about why, just really, to chase my own happiness. And me chasing my own happiness somehow ahead
other people happy that were watching my video and that beautiful cycle turned into making
a video. And I was one of those people. I was like,
how is there really hilarious brown girl who is getting all of these views open on YouTube.
Thank you for being one of the 70. And you started a YouTube channel in addition
to your magazine? Yes, absolutely. I think social media, it’s
so critical for us to be able to really put our voices out there, especially at a time
when there’s so much static noise going around about different topics different people and
how issues are impacting us. And so social media gives us a fighting chance
to be heard against all of those airwaves. Now both of you in experts in social media,
and media have used your voice to take on some really hard issues and have started
well, in your case, a day and in your case, a movement, Girl Love. I want to hear a little
bit about how how you decided to start those initiatives and why was it important, maybe
start with Lilly. Like why was it important for you to start Girl Love? What was the inspiration
that came behind it and what are you hoping to accomplish this.
Sure. I will do this I feel like my back is to you. Number one, I’m a girl and I was raised
in a South Asian community. And if you can represent to any type of culture that is not
the most supportive of women all the time growing up. You know, from my very birth where
my mom was literally ashamed to call my relatives to say she had another girl in the family.
So I was just born, I feel to be a feminist. I was born in such an environment.
I decided to do something with my following. When you do something, you are so fixated
on numbers. We see views. We see subscribers and likes and retweets and that can be your
measure of value and success, which is so dangerous.
And so I remember when I hit 1 million subscribers, I had a party. 1 million for Lilly was the
tag line. I was like this feeling is never going to go away. And this is so cool. I woke
up in the morning and thought that was cool. I will reach for 2 million. The feeling went
away so quickly. But when I do something bigger than myself,
like encouraging young girls to support one another or send girls to school in Kenya,
whatever empowers people that doesn’t go away the next morning.
When I wake up the next morning because of a campaign, 1,000 girls in Kenya get to go
to school. That’s a real legacy, not 1 million subscribers and not 1 million thumbs up,
or 1 million retweets. I needed to start a campaign to give the next Amani and Lilly,
a chance to see their full potential. And maybe you can talk a little bit too about
it started with some of the challenges of girls, like, conflict among girls.
Yes. It was interesting to me that you started
with one area, but then have expanded it so many others. Was there something that you
saw that started to start with the girl on girl hate and how did it evolve into something
bigger? For sure. I think what I saw was the world.
When I started Girl Love. The mission statement was a campaign to end the cycle of girlongirl
hate and encourage girls to compliment one another. That’s what Girl Love started as
because I thought girlongirl hate is such an issue in high school. When I speak at high
schools I see girls think it’s normal to hate each other. You see it in the media. You see
it in mean girls all the time. That really made me sad.
Then I went to Kenya and India and around the world, and I learned about some real issues,
about girls who are not allowed to go to school. Or girls whose parents don’t think they deserve
to go to school. Some really and I took a step back and thought, girlongirl hate is
actually such a privileged problem to have. We are lucky to have that problem in schools!
So it has evolved into Girl Love is the idea that girls should band together to help women
around the world that don’t have a choice. And that conversation, even though it’s called
Girl Love does involve men because you make up half the population and we need you on
our side. But it’s about women’s issues because I’m a big believer of I don’t think anyone
in this world and in this room, you are some of the most successful people on the
planet. I don’t think any of us can truly feel successful if every girl is not in school
around the world. And I really do believe that. I think that’s a huge priority.
And there are a lot of girls not in school. (Applause).
All right, Amani, and so you have started Muslim Women’s Day. So maybe you can tell
me a little bit about why you decided to start it. What you hoped to accomplish with it.
You have to you have done that with a number of partners. So if you can tell me a little
bit more about your objectives there. Yeah. We launched the first international
Muslim Women’s Day on March 31st. It came after all of this hype around the women’s
march and the national conversation around the Muslim ban. Why can’t we have Muslim women
feel safe and special and at home and celebrated. So we reached out to some of the most visible,
digital media partners and brands and organizations online, and we partnered with MTV, Cosmopolitan,
Teen Vogue, Twitter and Tumblr to give them one ask, for this one day, flood the Internet
with positive and diverse stories about Muslim women.
And it was phenomenal! It was such a great opportunity because, well, first of all, because
of the fact that for once we were as Muslim women the ones leading the conversation rather
than other people who can’t speak to our experiences, being the ones doing the talking for us.
It allowed us this unique chance for us to provide consulting to these partners that
we were working with. So that not only were they hitting the messaging on the nose but
also it allowed us the chance to really change the culture around how we discuss Muslim women,
and how we talk about Muslim women. Like, for example, one of our partners which
is one of the biggest glossy magazines in the country, they reached out to with us a
pitch and they said, you know, one of the stories we want to work on for Muslim Women’s
Day is beauty secrets from Muslim women. We were like, okay, well, imagine if you were
running an article saying beauty secrets from Christian women. No. No. We can’t talk about
Christian women that Dave. They are so diverse, they come from everywhere.
And we said, exactly! We can’t talk about Muslim women that way. We can’t talk about
them like they are one homogenous group. We made it beauty secrets from Muslim women from
the banned countries. Media partners or media organizations beyond
our initial partners all tapped into the conversation and started contributing stories of their
own because it was a remarkable traffic opportunity. Everyone wanted to tap into this viral moment.
And on top of that, it resulted in an unprecedented level of representation for Muslim women in
mainstream media ever! And so it was a win/win. I think that really speaks to the power of
why can’t we work together and bring in the individuals that we’re talking about to lead
the conversation and really progress that forward.
Mmhmm. Great. (Applause).
Now, both of you have taken both of you have taken a stance on some important and
tough issues, and not everyone always agrees with those issues, particularly on the Internet
and particularly in social media where there can be lots of opinions and some really tough
opinions and also there can be some really tough comments and really harsh statements
made. I’m curious how both of you have handled
I can’t imagine it’s all been, like, love and unicorn along the way. That there have
been a number of haters along the way and difficult people you had to deal. With.
Tell me a little bit about how you have handled that, how have you responded? Do you just
ignore it? Do you fight it? Or if you can tell me your thoughts on handling that on
the Internet. Did you want to go first?
Go for it. I think might speak for both of us that the
Internet can be a cruel place. I get all the sexist comments. I don’t know why. I get all
the racist comments. I don’t know why either, but it’s tough.
I think when I first started it did really get to me. I think anyone who says hate comments
do not get to them is lying! No matter how many years I have been on YouTube and how
many more years I will be on YouTube or the Internet, there will always be someone who
says the right thing to really, really hurt me but I have just learned two things, one
is that whenever you decide to do something. You have to love what you do more than you
are scared of what other people and you have to truly believe.
That’s what makes it hurt less. And the second thing and maybe the psychology degree will
come in right now, actually. It is that when people leave negative comments,
you really have to understand that they are telling their story, not yours. Happy people
don’t write mean things to strangers on the Internet. Sad people do that. And that’s the
psychology of it. They are insecure and unhappy and someone who creates content, you really
have to remember that. I think that Lilly might have a similar experience
with me. It’s already hard enough as it is for women online. Let alone for women of color,
right? So the typical abuses that we get and hate
comments aren’t just the typical sexist ones like the rape threats or the death threats
but they are twisted with some type of racist like some racism, right?
Like, for me, I always get stuff, like not just rape threats but wanting to rip the scarf
off my head, like that type of violence, right? If you went back to your country, would you
get stoned for talking about this. Like, what is my country I was born and raised in Jersey.
Always mentioning a country that you are not from is very, very common.
Exactly. It speaks to when we talk about people online and especially for women of
marginalized backgrounds, the Internet a lot of times it’s a double edged sword because
it allows us to create this distorted lens and how we look at people that are different
from us as well. That media misrepresentation of exceptionalism. You know, violence abroad
is different than the violence here. As if it’s okay or something.
Yes, it gives us an equal footing too because then we can counteract that with counter speech,
we will put our messaging out there and put our authentic voices out there and really
push back against it. Do you think in the last year it’s gotten
better or worse for women of color on the Internet?
I mean for us Or the same?
I think it’s really not a blanket statement, right? It really is a doubleedged sword because,
you know, for me, the way that I see it, especially working in the media, in the media world,
social media has really enabled a lot more social responsibility amongst media brands
and organizations and things like that. Everyone is trying to make sure that they are representational
and things like, that but at the same time, it’s also presented this interesting issue
that I have been witnessing more and more which is that it’s made diversity into a commodity.
Right? Like, a lot of times brands know that they
can just throw a woman in the head scarf into a campaign and it will go viral and get them
more PR than they could possibly pay for. But the real authentic representation is that
our newsrooms, our fashion houses, our production studios and our office houses need to look
like the world around us. And for me, I think that that type of wokeness
on the Internet is carving out a new paths for us to be able to do that.
For us at Muslim Girl, we hit a lot of new milestones in terms of our representation
as women of color. We had the first brand collaboration for Muslim Women in the mark
place and we worked with orally for a nail polish that was Halal certified and it sold
out within the first launch week. People are eager for that. We only sold it
online and through social media. It speaks to this need for people to feel represented.
And I think that using the Internet is a really, really viable way for us to reach that end.
Mmhmm. Lilly? I think this is going to comment YouTube,
actually, and social media and the Internet. I think things have gotten better. When I
started in 2010, I was literally, the only brown girl doing comedy on YouTube. I was
first and only, and so that was why people watched me.
They’re like, there’s a brown girl. She’s talking online. She’s saying things. Like
she has an opinion. It’s really weird! And now there’s a list of people that look
like me that make content online and I think that’s because YouTube doesn’t have any gatekeepers.
Everybody has a voice and that’s the great thing about social media and the Internet
and YouTube. I will go even further. How do you deal with
racism in the industry? And I can give a gang of ways I do, but for me, personally, one
of the best ways I have is to be the most successful brown woman I can possibly be.
That is the best way I have combated sexism and racism and when YouTube had a marking
campaign to put creators on billboards, YouTube chose to put me on a billboard, not just me
but my very Indian parent characters as well and that was a very bold decision on YouTube’s
behalf. And I want to commend you for that. Thank you.
I will join the clap because that’s how dope it was.
So females who said, my little sister who has never seen anyone like her, and she saw
you on the billboard. I think things are getting better.
Thank you. So we are working we meaning YouTube, we are working on a number of programs
to try to elevate the counterspeech on the Internet. When we are seeing creators who
do great work to do some the hard topics like misogyny. We have a number of creators that
we have as ambassadors or creators for change. And both of you are in this program. So Amani
is a creator for change. Lilly is a Unicef goodwill ambassador and as part of these programs
we work to elevate their voices. Is there maybe if you could talk a little bit about
that, what that has meant to you. How that has enabled to you take some of the messages
that are really important for you and to elevate those and and maybe just tell our audience
a little bit about how that has worked for you.
Yeah! I mean, being a creator for change, first of all, the program is brilliant. Because
those are the creators that need the most resources right? They are the up against all
this, you know, like adversity online. And for me, personally, like, I have never
been more convinced of the power of video to be able to do that, especially through
the authenticity of platforms like YouTube. My first viral video I ever did for Muslim
Girl was two years ago, which like inspired me to really start my YouTube channel. And
it was when Pamela Geller decided to host drama holiday. And she basically asked for
submissions to draw the most offensive pictures of prophet and she wanted to turn it into
an art gallery and offer a $10,000 cash prize for the winner.
It was the first video response. We have thought the best way to combat it was through the
message of love. We went around Princeton University campus and we basic ally were asking
people to draw a Muhammad that they know because it’s the most common name in the world and
it ended up people drawing the diverse photos of moments in their lives. One with the beard
down his navel or the one with the anger problem. It cast a shadow over the entire conversation
over hate. Now it was like how the millennials are using the Internet to combat hate with
love. That’s the premise of the work that we do. I think that’s the moral ground of
the creators for change program, and why it has enabled creators like myself to really
put a message out there that otherwise probably wouldn’t wouldn’t be heard.
Mmhmm great. And Lilly, being an ambassador for us?
You. Do you know what is interesting? I think a lot of times a lot of people don’t know
what I will do. I will preface it with that. Including my parents. They have no idea what
I do. If I describe what I do, I’m a storyteller.
Now, that’s what I do best. I connect with audiences. I have I’m fortunate enough to
have 12 million people who follow my videos regularly. I have a community that I connect
with and that trusts me and I’m very authentic with them.
So when I believe in causes, it’s not me making a statement. I’m not reading something that
my publicist put together. I’m taking my audience on a journey, and teaching them about causes
I really, really believe in. And so I’m happy to say I’m first digital
global goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. I get to break the rules and change the rules and
do something new with this role that has not been done before.
A prime example, I went to Kenya with We Charity and the goal is to send girls to school. Usually
mothers in Kenya can only afford to send their sons to school. And they make the rafikis
and they get sold around the world. And the proceeds help them send their daughters to
school. I let them meet the girls in the video. They
are not just getting a statement. They are seeing the impact in realtime. And they are
so willing to support things like that, you know? Online creators really have a really
genuine authentic relationship with their audiences that makes social good work so impactful,
where we can say that we sent a thousand girls to school in Kenya.
Yeah. Yeah. You know, we use this word “authentic.” Maybe we will close on this last point. We
use the word “authentic” a lot. And I think social media is a little different than some
of the traditional media, well, in numerous ways but one of them is the authenticity of
opening up in ways we hadn’t probably done before. And maybe, like, both of you can just
tell me, what does authenticity mean to you as next generation media companies? And how
do you use it? I think it will be interesting for a lot of audience and brands here to know,
like, what does how do you speak with an authentic voice?
I’m going to give the example I have said quite frequently recently. You know Wonder
Woman was such a great success and everyone is like, how! I was like, duh! Because she
looks like the people that watch the movie, like, people want to see people that look
like them on screen. Authenticity means being regular people like
the people that watch the stuff. And so authenticity means not it means talking about my pimple
and talking about my period and my stretch marks and my love handles and not being so
rehearsed and being a real human because that’s what humans want to connect with. They want
to connect with someone that is like them, that is attainable, that deals with their
struggles and looks like them to me, that’s a nobrainer. I don’t know why it’s taken so
long for traditional media to understand that. Yeah, you know, Muslimgirl.com, we get credited
a lot for being the voice for the voiceless and things like that, but our philosophy is
that nobody is voiceless. Our philosophy is that every single individual
has a voice, but there are just some that are more systemically silenced than others.
Our job is not to speak for them, it’s to empower them to speak for themselves by any
means necessary. Great. Well, thank you, to both of our amazing
media experts here. (Applause).