How to Donate to Black Lives Matter For Free
By fundraising via ad revenue, YouTuber Zoe Amira is turning the internet machine back on itself.
Still from "Transcend" by Nyota Parker, via Zoe Amira's "Views for a Vision" YouTube video project
Update: As of June 26, Zoe Amira shared on her YouTube Community page that YouTube removed the ads from her "Views for a Vision" video, determining it to be in violation of Google's monetization guidelines. YouTube has agreed to match the projected revenue of the video, totaling $45,429.58. As Amira writes, the video will remain up on her channel "so you all can enjoy the wonderful artists who volunteered their work for this video project! The video no longer has ads on it, but it really important to me that the artists get the shine they deserve!"
Most everything we do on the internet is monetized in some way or another. The currency of our clicks, views, and likes changes digital hands so quickly and so often, we hardly register it. It often feels something we’re both aware of and not, insofar as a YouTube video project by creator Zoe Amira—posted last week with the intention of raising donation funds for Black Lives Matter initiatives solely via Google AdSense revenue—feels both newly ingenious and completely obvious. Why haven’t we been doing this the whole time?
The hour-long “Views for a Vision” video, listed on YouTube as “how to financially help BLM with NO MONEY/leaving your house (Invest in the future for FREE),” showcases crowdsourced visual art, music, and poetry by Black artists. It’s also purposefully filled with as many ad breaks as possible, which the viewer should let run—not skip!—so it can rack up revenue. The idea is you can either tune in or tune out, ideally keeping it going in the background of your browser. As outlined in the video, Amira will donate all of the proceeds to a list of funds for victims’ families, nationwide bail funds, and pro-Black/anti-racist organizations including Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective.
(Go ahead: press play on the video right now and dial the sound down if you’d like, while you read the rest of this article.)
A former political science student at the University of Illinois, 20-year-old Amira—“I’m [about] to have my 21st birthday in quarantine”—returned a year ago to both her childhood home in the Chicago suburbs and to an old pastime: YouTube. “I’ve been home for about a year now doing influencer stuff, mostly in the beauty space,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been quarantined for the past year since I’ve been home.”
Though it’s a thematic departure from her usual beauty vlogs, “Views for a Vision” quickly spread online. Soon thereafter, enthusiastic K-pop music fans—the true conquerors of digital metrics—began commenting with tips to make sure that YouTube and Google AdSense counted the views as legitimate, not spam. (TL;DR: keep volume at 50 percent, resolution at 480p, watch other videos in between views.) It has since inspired dozens of similar videos monetized for BLM donations; there’s even a YouTube playlist of others like it so you can play them all in a row.
“It’s really interesting to see the very undercover version of the internet, and how streams work and how making money for creators works, be so public, and for it to be something that people are actively aware of and using,” Amira said.
Last Thursday, she shared an update on her YouTube Community page that the video, having garnered over 8 million views since it was posted on May 30, had an estimated revenue of over $31,000. The day before, we spoke on the phone about the project, her love for K-pop stans, and the power of turning the internet (and its capacity for money-making) back on itself.
How did you get started on YouTube?
Well, [before making videos about] makeup stuff in general for YouTube, I used to post almost exclusively on Instagram and then would cross-promote on Twitter. I wanted to get back into being on YouTube because I really like it as a platform. I like that it’s longer form and that I can talk about any random thing and it doesn’t just have to be a picture of myself. I feel like I can be more of myself in a longer form. When I first started YouTube, I had a few thousand [followers] on my Instagram [and] it was really cool [because] I would be able to talk to them—it wasn’t one-way conversations, but actual communication in the comments.
You mentioned that you had studied poli-sci in college. What kind of topics were you interested in?
Yeah, I was a political science major. I also was looking to transfer at the time into the global studies major, so I was doing a lot of stuff focused on human rights, a lot of stuff focused on the economic and moral implications of human rights campaigns in the past, the civil rights movement, apartheid.
This video that you made, “Views for A Vision,” is kind of a perfect combination of those sorts of things.
It’s really funny how it worked out. My dad, who was always kind of pushing me to be more involved in the legal and activist capacity because he knows that it’s something I care about, was like, “This is really the blending of the worlds, huh?” And I said, “Yeah, I guess it’s kind of halfway in between what I was doing and what I already know how to do.”
It’s sort of its own economic protest in a way.
That’s cool, yeah. That’s dope, let me call it that.
You should! It feels like it could be part of a senior thesis for someone who studied like, economics and civil rights.
[Laughs] Let me tell the university. I’ll tell them I’ll come back.
Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired this project in particular? Had you seen similar videos like this, made with the intention of raising funds?
I personally hadn’t seen anything dedicated specifically to earning via ads or anything like that. YouTubers forever have been like, “I’ll donate the proceeds of this video to a cause that I believe in,” which I always thought was really cool. The idea kind of came because I had just made a whopping total of $12 from Google AdSense and I was telling my friends, “Ooh, I made so much money by doing nothing. $12.” I thought it was funny. You know the donation-match chains that were happening on Twitter?
Yeah, with celebrities and stuff?
Yeah, and people were saying that they wanted to match. A lot of the young people who I follow and a lot of the people who follow me were finding themselves a little bit frustrated because even though they were smaller amounts, they were like, “I can’t donate this right now because of the pandemic and because of just being young and not having the resources.” So, I thought if I can make money on YouTube by doing not very much at all, then a lot more people can make a lot more money by doing the same... not very much at all.
Does the revenue go right to you and then you donate it? How exactly does it work?
I’m trying to work through all of that now. I think there’s some sense in which this was a little bit me in over my head [laughs], but I’m trying to work through the finances of all that now with people much more educated than I am about how to properly handle all that. I really expected this to make like, $5 and for me to donate it just offhand.
You put this amazing collection of art by Black artists on display in the video. Can you tell me a little bit about how you decided what to include?
I asked for submissions on my Twitter and on TikTok. I asked for any Black artist who made stuff and who wanted to be shown in this kind of context. People really came through, they really supplied some really great stuff. I didn’t really judge [any of the art] on [its own] merits because I was like, “This is just great and I want it to exist as kind of a gallery of amplifying art that is already incredible.” But it’s so good and I think they really came out and showed what they had. I didn’t ask Jenifer Lewis if I could put her video in my video, but I love her so much and I figured she would not mind.
You write at the start of the video that you’re intending on this being the first in a series. What are you envisioning for the next video?
I was looking initially for it to be a kind of a playlist of things that people could go through and click any one of the videos. Now I’m trying to talk with brands on if I could get them to sponsor a donation for a video like this. Trying to see what the [logistics] of that looks like but for now, I feel like the initial goal and the initial dream of the playlist coming out has been exceeded by so many people who have done the same thing, who are donating the proceeds of their videos [like] Jocie B ASMR, who put out a video that’s 40 minutes long and she is donating all of those proceeds to some of the [same] organizations. Even beyond my initial video and thinking that I was going to have to put out more videos like it, I think the community really came through and did the same.
When I first came across it, I saw people leaving comments saying things like, “Hey, K-pop stan here. Here’s how to maximize the views.”
Yes, the K-pop fans came out!
I’m obsessed with the narrative of how K-pop stans are mobilizing right now. Have you seen all of the—
[Laughs] I’ve seen all of it! The way that they flooded the Dallas [police department] snitch app, and the #WhiteLivesMatter tag getting flooded with K-pop fancams… I think it is the most incredible thing to see people who have been so educated and so mobile about their use of the internet [sharing] how directly they can contribute to things. It’s incredible. I really, deeply enjoy the K-pop stan community.
Have you been in touch with anyone from the stan community about commenting on your video, or did they just sort of show up and know what to do?
So, I have been trying to learn Korean for the better part of a year. I followed a few BTS stan accounts and they were some of the first people to retweet [the video] to that community. Then, once it made its way to Tumblr, the K-pop stan community took it and ran with it.
What sparked your interest in wanting to learn Korean?
Long story. I love languages. As a person, I’ve always loved trying to teach myself languages. It’s always been one of my favorite pastimes. I wanted to learn a language where they use [a different] alphabet. I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to learn not the alphabet [I know], the natural choice, I’m gonna start with Japanese.” Then I was like, “Ooh, this is hard.” After Japanese, I went to trying to figure out if I could learn Arabic because I thought that’d be cool. Arabic’s so pretty. Then I couldn’t write in the right direction. My hands won’t let me write from the left. I was like, “You know what? Learning Korean would be cool.” I like the way that it looks, its structure is very interesting to me, and Hangul, the Korean alphabet, is so easy and quick to learn that it was really inspiring. Ever since I decided to learn Korean, I’ve been consuming more and more Korean media as a means of learning. It’s funny because it’s usually the other way around for people—they listen to K-pop and love K-pop so they want to learn Korean, but I started listening to K-pop because I was already learning Korean.
Since posting the video, have you been in touch with other activists? Do you consider this to be a form of activism?
Since I left school, [my dad was] like, “You should figure out another way to do this or you should be back at school.” [So this is] kind of my means of doing what I can right now amongst other people who are doing what they can. I guess I consider it activism, but I also don’t. I think it’s so important to me that this is just not as much about me as it is about being able to do something as a community and being able to contribute to Black Lives Matter specifically but also other social justice issues generally.
I think even more than just the content itself, I was so excited and so glad to see the way people came in droves to support not only putting content in the video but supporting the video after by making content [in order to share it around]. There’s been a number of graphics and other things made by people so that the video was more shareable and people have translated it into different languages so they could share it with their population. A very kind girl on Instagram reached out to me and she said that she made a recording of her explaining [the video instructions] in Spanish so that people could listen to it where they’re from in Colombia. I think that is really what’s deeply inspired me, significantly more than anything that I’ve done with the video—just the [number] of people who really put their effort and really put their heart into coming out for it means so much to me.