Obama takes on YouTube

Obama tries a new route to connect with our generation via #YouTubeAsksObama


How often does the average college student stop their Netflix marathons to tune in to a political address or debate? Without conducting a formal survey, it is easy to guess that not many of us watched the State of the Union address January 20, without the incentive of extra credit for a political science class.

In an effort to connect with an audience that failed to watch his address, President Obama arranged to be interviewed in a livestream broadcast, Jan. 22. YouTube personalities Hank Green, Bethany Mota, and GloZell Green provided access to the broader audience that Obama was looking for, with a combined audience of almost 14 million subscribers.

The livestream created a way for younger people to see Obama in a more informal setting answering questions that they wanted to ask. In a White House press release, viewers were encouraged to “use #YouTubeAsksObama on your social media channels–some of your questions may be asked during the interview.”

The livestream covered a wide range of topics from North Korea and cyber security, to the proposal of two free years of college and the Affordable Care Act. Despite the heavy topics, the Youtubers and Obama kept the mood light while joking about what superpower the president wants, which is to speak any language, even though the first lady finds that nerdy.

Junior Tyler Banks, who follows politics through apps like CNN, which alert him with news stories as they are released, finds that having information about politics more easily accessible and relatable helps young people.

“Young people tend to look towards leaders that represent them, and when they see a president who is talking about super powers they feel a sense of connection,” Banks said. “I think it is beneficial for everyone to see the president in an informal setting, however there are limits on this. I think the president needs to first be respected and secondly liked.”

Youtuber Mota admitted in the interview that she does not follow politics much, which is not unusual for a 19-year-old and her similar-aged audience. This broadcast created a great pathway for the Obama administration to connect directly with the audience, which is what our generation needs. Politics seems like something for our parents, but truthfully, politics affects us now, and we have the power to influence politicians.

Freshman Megan Woody has made a habit of keeping up on politics since taking civics classes in high school.
“All my past classes really encouraged civic participation. You can’t get mad at politics if you don’t even make an effort to learn about it or take any action,” Woody said. “Only 60% of the voter population actually votes.”

Hank Green, who is one half of the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, has created many videos designed to educate his audience about social issues and politics, prior to the White House interview. On Oct. 31, 2014 he uploaded a video titled “Ten Terrible Reasons to not Vote (and two good ones).” By explaining the importance of voting, he encouraged of-age viewers to go out to the polls.

His interview with Obama is a continuation of his effort to both educate his viewers, and spark political involvement amongst the younger generation.

Dr. Karen Shelby, professor of Political Theory, asks her students to take current news items and relate them to the political theories they learn in class. This teaches students how politics is something that happens every day, and not just in a classroom.

“I think politics is for everyone. It’s legitimate to use alternative media to encourage young people to engage with politics,” Shelby said.

Using social media outlets like YouTube to influence young people to participate and care about politics is a huge step in the right direction. Without this generation’s participation, our views cannot be expressed in Washington D.C., leaving college- aged students without a say in important issues like affordable education.
The quick and easy access that social media provides has become a revolutionary tool in reaching the youth, however, there are potential drawbacks to having information so easily created and circulated.

“I think social media is a double edged sword. On one side it allows information to be on hand at all times. It provides both politicians and the people a way to connect and to stay connected,” Banks said. “However, many times false information is present and is spread like wildfire through social media.”

By appearing directly on social media, accessed by just a simple hashtag, Obama has opened a path of communication where he is in control of the interpretation and accuracy of information.

Since social media is such an ever-present part of our world now, it is important for everyone, but especially those with a significant amount of influence, to express the significance of political awareness and accuracy. Livestreams like this should become a more frequent occurrence, and not just supplements to the State of the Union address.

“I think it could benefit more people by reaching a whole different demographic. A lot of people are on the Internet all the time, and it spreads information in an effective way,” Woody said. “[Livestreams] could change the way the government reaches out to the public.”

So thank you Mr. President, for making an effort to connect to the whole country, and understanding that traditional ways of connecting are not as relevant anymore. Please continue to take advantage of the technology that we are all using. Change is definitely possible.