BLM Activists Devised a Brilliant Way to Raise Money From YouTube’s AdSense

Clicktivism is having a renaissance

In the early 2010s, in the wake of the Moldovan parliamentary election protests and Occupy Wall Street, digital observers coined the term “clicktivism” in an effort to delegitimize cyberactivism. Malcolm Gladwell even went so far as to assert that clicktivism (or slacktivism as it is more pejoratively known) lacks “discipline and strategy” and those who champion it “have forgotten what activism is.” A decade later, a new way of organizing is being pioneered on YouTube, a decidedly clicktivist initiative dubbed Views for a Vision that is legitimizing and monetizing passive protesting.

The concept is simple — creators upload videos to YouTube and then donate any AdSense revenue they generate to causes supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

YouTube creator Zoe Amira uploaded the first of these videos on May 30. The almost hour-long video is titled “How to financially help BLM with NO MONEY/leaving your house” and highlights Black visual artists and musicians.

“This video project was created to offer people a way to donate and financially contribute to #blacklivesmatter without having any actual money or going out to protest themselves,” she wrote in the video’s description.

On June 3, less than a week later, she tweeted a screenshot of her YouTube analytics dashboard showing the video had already earned an estimated $21,539. The video has now been viewed more than 9.5 million times.

“Part of our work as organizers is to meet people where they’re at and make the revolution accessible and irresistible.”

There are now at least 71 videos whose creators have similarly pledged to use the same fundraising strategy, and a SUPPORT BLM playlist that compiles the videos has amassed almost 90,000 views. Some of the videos explain the gravity of the situation by sharing personal struggles with police brutality and dispelling myths about the eradication of racism. Others include mukbang or a makeup tutorial. One is mostly just a visual of a George Floyd memorial that runs for 10 minutes to maximize the amount of ads that can be placed on a video. YouTube pays creators based on the number of ads viewed within their videos, so the type of content doesn’t necessarily matter to the fundraising effort — what’s important is that people watch the videos entirely without skipping the ads.

In the comment section of Amira’s initial video, users have shared tactics for maximizing the money made from each of their views, like turning their ad blockers off, watching diligently in a way that won’t be marked as spam, and leaving random fun facts in the comments that may make the video appear more engaging to YouTube’s algorithm, and therefore recommended to more people.

While YouTube has since 2016 offered fundraising tools creators can use to run donation campaigns next to their videos, this new method allows anyone to help raise money even if they themselves don’t have any to spare. And it’s demonstrating how clicktivism can be effective.

When Amanda Lawson, co-founder of the Dollar Bail Brigade, first heard of Views for a Vision, she was reminded of other passive donation initiatives such as Freerice and AdWap. Freerice is an online word game that has used revenue from display ads to donate more 200 billion grains of rice through the World Food Programme since 2007, and AdWap, launched in 2017, allows users to donate a portion of the revenue generated by watching ads to charities of their choice, such as Project ALS.

Lawson told OneZero she thinks Amira has found a creative and productive method not only for raising money, but for helping account for the inevitable fatigue organizing causes. “Liberation isn’t about overworking yourself to death or martyrdom,” she says. “Liberation requires that every single person makes a habit of showing up, doing a couple things a day, every day. Part of our work as organizers is to meet people where they’re at and make the revolution accessible and irresistible.”

Jordyn Jay, founder of the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective, echoes Lawson’s support of more accessible organizing, adding, “the internet has made it possible for trans communities, disabled communities, and youth especially to organize in unprecedented ways and to create digital spaces where their voices are heard. We should not minimize this work because it is done online.”

Gaming YouTube to fund activism is not a foolproof plan. YouTube has famously murky rules around demonetization, in which channels or videos lose their ability to make money on ads due to changes in YouTube’s policies or algorithms. There’s also no guarantee that the AdSense-generated funds will go to the advertised nonprofits. Rather, the method relies on the goodwill of the creator. YouTube did not respond to OneZero’s request to comment on the Views for a Vision fundraising strategy.

In any case, the immense potential for good that Views for a Vision’s tactic presents can’t be ignored. If nurtured closely, it could help give a voice to marginalized folks who previously might not have had access to the resources that having a voice typically requires. Whether you wish to call it clicktivism or slacktivism, what is undeniable is that activists are beginning to mobilize every aspect of our lives, and are continuing to find innovative ways to use the establishment to drive change.

I am a writer, content creator, and comedian based in Los Angeles. Big fan of food, philosophy, and reality TV.

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