After George Floyd’s death at the hand of Minneapolis police, thousands took to the streets to protest, or opened their wallets to donate to help support the Black Lives Matter movement.
But not everyone who wants to donate can afford to, and not everyone who wants to protest can leave their jobs to demonstrate.
Zoe Amira, a 20-year-old YouTube creator, wanted to make it easier for those people to contribute to the cause simply by streaming a video. Her video, to be exact.
Titled “how to financially help BLM with NO MONEY/leaving your house (Invest in the future for FREE),” the hourlong video opens with text that reads: “Hello and thank you for clicking this video project. This video and the series that will soon follow are to serve as a fundraiser.”
It goes on to note that 100% of the ad revenue will be donated to a list of organizations, including BlackLivesMatter.com, the ACLU, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, George Floyd’s Family Gofundme and a handful of other nonprofits. The rest of the video features art made by black creators.
Amira, who lives in the Chicago area, calls this form of activism “ad-tivism.” Whatever it may be deemed, it’s seemingly caught on: The video’s amassed over 7 million views, and counting, so far.
“I think it’s opening the door for people-powered fundraising, and that’s what’s really exciting about it,” Amira, who has about 56,000 subscribers to her channel, told CNN.”It’s a low barrier to entry – you don’t need much to support something you believe in.”
How ‘ad-tivism’ works
The idea came to Amira after she noticed many people posting about matching each other’s donations on social media. She said she and her friends, who are younger, felt frustrated they couldn’t partake in these donation trains. She also said she has chosen not to participate in protests in person, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I saw a lot of people especially young people that didn’t have means to match even smaller donations,” she said.
While she has a smaller following on YouTube, she remembered that with even her videos – which are mostly beauty-related – had made $12 in ad revenue.
“It made me think if Google could owe me $12 for some stupid videos about makeup and other things like that, then they could probably make a good deal more money for something more important,” she said.
YouTubers have traditionally relied on ads as a means for revenue. Through Google’s AdSense program, creators are able to place ads in their videos, the views which Google tracks in real time.
Viewers must disable any browser ad blockers and not skip the ads in the video to guarantee that the creator receives any compensation.
Amira’s unsure how much money the 2 million plus views translates to, as Google has not yet given her a revenue update. One more prominent YouTuber, whom she didn’t name, estimated that one million views could translate to anywhere between $10,000 to $50,000.
Some people questioned Amira’s intentions.
“I hope you’re legit,” one user tweeted at Amira, asking her to “show the receipts from the YouTube creator app/donations.”
The creator responded by sharing a screenshot of the video analytics to Twitter. The first count of estimated revenue is $473.44, according to Amira’s tweet. As of Thursday evening, Amira told CNN she had raised $31,480.
According to YouTube, the platform does not have a mechanism that enables creators to directly donate their AdSense proceeds from a specific video or channel to a charity. However, creators can of course decide to donate their proceeds on their own. The platform also has some features – such as a donate button – for creators who want to directly raise funds for eligible non-profits.
Starting this week, YouTube said its Spotlight channel will provide an entry point to racial justice issues, including the latest insights from the black community on YouTube, alongside historical content and other educational videos.
Google, YouTube’s parent company, is also honoring Floyd. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, said in a statement that Google would hold an eight minute and 46 second moment of silence on Wednesday “to honor the memories of Black lives lost.”
The company is giving $12 million in funding to organizations working to address racial inequities, Pichai said. That’s on top of the $2.5 million in employee donations that the company is matching.
A growing trend
Other creators have followed Amira’s lead – there are now several playlists on YouTube, ranging from six to 51 videos, gathering videos from creators who also say the money from their ads will go to various organizations.
CNN was unable to independently confirm with each of the creators whether they have contributed to the organizations they have pledged to donate to.
Carmie Sellitto, a 21-year-old from London, goes by touchdalight on YouTube and has 649,000 subscribers. He decided to donate the ad revenue from his last video to BlackLivesMatter.com, he told CNN.
“Seeing everything that’s happening in America right now, honestly it’s so upsetting.”
Sellitto wasn’t aware of Amira’s video when he decided to fundraise on his account, he said.
“I just did it like purely because I didn’t feel comfortable just posting like my typical content and not raising awareness for this. So I thought I would just do a good thing. And then, obviously, I saw other creators doing it and it was just a sick thing to see.”
He earns an average of $400 to $500 per video, and he estimates his total views per video to be around 200,000. His latest video that will serve as a fundraiser for the Black Lives Matter cause, posted on Monday, has already hit over 175,000 views on the platform in just two days.
“Hopefully, I can raise a lot of money,” Sellitto told CNN.
Amira, who is currently on a break from her university studies, said she has received a lot of positive feedback, including from some nonprofits she plans to donate to.
“I’m very glad to be able to have done something,” she said, “especially because I felt not being in school, that I wasn’t helping or contributing in any real way. It’s about what’s being done, not about me and a YouTube video.”
Demonetization and fundraising on YouTube
YouTubers have tried this before. In October 2017, Casey Neistat – who has over 12 million subscribers on his channel – attempted to do the same thing to help victims in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. He later said in a tweet that the video had been demonetized, however.
“Literally a video about charity,” he tweeted, “where I state all Adsense is going to that charity. YouTube says NOT SUITABLE FOR ADVERTISERS.” The video platform responded to his tweet, saying, “We what you’re doing to help, but no matter the intent, our policy is to not run ads on videos about tragedies.”
Amira’s video does not explicitly mention tragedy, and she does not appear in it discussing George Floyd’s death. Instead, the video features various black artists – including musicians – and their work.
Other creators joining in the effort are also publishing videos that are in line with their usual style of content.
Sellitto said he is not concerned about demonetization on his video.
“Even if that was the case, I would just upload another video and then just get the AdSense from that again. Raising as much money as possible is obviously the best thing to do,” he told CNN.
According to YouTube, the videos they have seen so far have not been in violation of any of their policies that would result in demonetization, and they are in compliance with the platform’s sensitive events policy.
Using content from other YouTubers and artists in compilations, however, may expose creators to a potential risk of copyright claims, according to YouTube.
Of course, the success of such ad-tivism – like all fundraising efforts – rests with the follow through of the donors, and in this case, with the viewers doing their part.