A month ago, philanthropist, YouTube star, and LGBT activist and advocate Raymond Braun emceed the Beautycon town hall with Hillary Clinton. He even got to ask Clinton a question himself, addressing the candidate’s plans and policy proposals for “tackl[ing] homophobia and transphobia” nationwide.
This week, Braun attended the Democratic National Convention, and sat in the front row to watch history be made as the country officially named its first ever female presidential nominee.
— Raymond Braun (@raymondbraun)July 26, 2016
And yet, being a part of such world events — something still thrilling even for the veteran journalists who have spent more hours covering political conventions than an average person spends binge watching on Netflix — is becoming par for the course for social media stars, including many beauty vloggers. Not only were the who’s who of the social media world on hand to attend the town hall with former Secretary of State Clinton last month, but a group of social media influencers were also invited for a sit-down with Pope Francis in May.
Shorter version? No one has more political capital — and more expertise to share with political leaders — right now than social stars.
Chrissy Chambers, of the YouTube channel BriaAndChrissy, also asked a question of Clinton last month, talking about her own experience with revenge porn and asking for Clinton’s plans on how to address this form of cyberbullying. It’s questions like this that underscore not only the unique issues facing a younger, and highly important, subset of voters — but the way that this demographic might be best suited to guide politicians in finding the answers.
“I think the town hall with digital influencers was an excellent way for Hillary Clinton to connect with and engage with the younger audience that she needs for this year’s election and hear about our concern,” Chambers tells Yahoo Beauty. “Her answer to my question about a federal revenge-porn law was broad, but promising. I know Hillary Clinton has never addressed revenge porn before publicly, so I didn’t expect concrete plans, but I was still encouraged by her response and compassion towards the issue. The crowd was supportive, engaged, and open to hearing what Secretary Clinton had to say, and I left feeling more aware than before of the importance of our vote and our voice.”
Braun calls the town hall with Clinton “historic” for being “the first time that a presidential candidate spoke at a town hall forum for social media creators,” adding that as a member of the LGBT community, he was especially grateful for the opportunity to participate in the event and hear Clinton’s response to his question.
And, he adds, seeing Clinton’s desire to connect with the digital creator community was just as exciting and appreciated.
“Secretary Clinton is incredibly busy, and she chose to take the time to speak to us — it demonstrates her commitment to include so many different kinds of people in her campaign and to hear many different perspectives,” Braun tells Yahoo Beauty. “Nearly everyone’s hand in the room shot up at some point during the town hall, which I think demonstrates how engaged people were in the conversation and how open and accessible Secretary Clinton was. … I appreciated that she also spoke about wanting to incorporate our voices and feedback in her policies and decisions.” He also notes that “she talked about how social creators are, in many ways, experts on how to utilize technology to reach young people, and she wanted to hear from us about how to get more people involved in the political process.”
Hayla Ghazal, of the YouTube comedy channel HaylaTV, was appointed change ambassador for gender equality as part of a first-time-ever collaboration between the United Nations and YouTube in February. In May, she was one of the digital influencers to sit down with Pope Francis.
“On my channel, I encourage girls to find their voice,” Ghazal tells Yahoo Beauty. “In my part of the world, I do not need to shout from the rooftop to spread a message. I need to speak a language people understand.” Ghazal, understanding that people in the Middle East love to laugh, uses comedy to highlight the unique habits largely prevalent throughout her culture and much of society to encourage social change. “Change is already happening. I believe YouTube is a powerful platform for sharing positive messages and helping build understanding and solidarity among diverse communities,” she says. “As YouTube creators, we know the power of video to reflect who we are, to create conversations about tolerance, and to help drive change through education and truth.” These, she elucidates, are essential truths, which she shared with Pope Francis, noting that social media is especially important for disseminating and implementing messages of hope, change, and positivity in the world today.
“Many young people spend more time on social media than any other form of media,” explains Braun. “So it’s an incredibly important and valuable platform for discussing political issues.”
Which is why it makes so much sense for political leaders to turn to the experts themselves in learning how to best utilize these channels.
“Influencers have an opportunity to reach a lot of people, so I think with that platform comes a responsibility to encourage young people to get involved and educated about this election cycle,” Braun adds. “The stakes are too high. Politics is at its best when everyone has a voice and everyone is engaged, so we need to ensure our generation’s voice is heard. If we mobilize and turn out to vote in strong numbers, we could potentially even decide the election!”
Which is why Braun shared his DNC experience on his widely followed platforms.
The positive, diverse, and inclusive references to the LGBT community tonight are breathtaking. So proud of our community. #DemsInPhilly— Raymond Braun (@raymondbraun)July 26, 2016
Due to a recent surgery, Chambers had to sit out this year’s Democratic National Convention — an event she attended in 2012 and describes as a life-impactful week. “We went without a real sense of purpose for our YouTube channel and without a real sense of identity, politically,” she recalls. “After all the protests, rallies, anti-gay kiss-ins and meeting so many passionate people, we left the convention completely comfortable in navigating the road as LGBT activists with a true sense of purpose and fervor. We haven’t looked back since.”
Which is why when it comes to the relationship between digital influencers and politics, the medium really is the message, on all sides of the equation.
Or, as Chambers puts it, “Young people need to use social media to discuss their views and thoughts about what is important to them in this year’s election and why.” And, recognizing this, political leaders are trying to connect with millennials more than ever, both for their vote and for their voice. “With so many millennials pioneering entrepreneurship online through social media and pushing the tape on media itself and how it is consumed, young people are vital … in this year’s elections,” she says.