YouTubers interview President Obama about State of the Union

YouTubers interview President Obama about State of the Union
YouTube stars Bethany Mota, Hank Green and GloZell Green interview President Obama. (The White House)

Two days after his State of the Union address, President Obama had to win over a new audience: YouTubers.

Hank Green, Bethany Mota and GloZell Green may not be household names by traditional standards, but the three YouTube personalities -- who have amassed millions of followers on social media and YouTube -- had one hour Tuesday afternoon to interview the president.


Broadcasting live from three makeshift stages in the East Room of the White House, the online personalities asked the president questions about everything from cybersecurity issues to what his superhero power of choice would be.

In between the interviews, Steve Grove, the director of Google's News Lab, showed viewers and Obama statistics the Internet giant collected following the president's speech. For example, the most searched question during the State of the Union was: "How old is Obama?"

In appearing on the online platform, Obama continued a long tradition of presidents using new forms of media to engage with younger audiences, and in the process, helping to legitimize those media platforms.

Long before Mota asked Obama to take a selfie, an audience of Gen X'ers asked President  Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs during an MTV town hall broadcast. In 1968, President Nixon went on "Laugh-In" and delivered the comedy show's signature line, "sock it to me."

YouTube, which will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in April, gets more than 1 billion unique users each month. It has increasingly become a more mainstream form of entertainment for young viewers.

Throughout the broadcast, viewership ranged from roughly 29,000 people toward the end to about 90,000 people in the middle.

By comparison, the number of people who watched GloZell's infamous "Cinnamon Challenge" is about 42 million. The number of people watching the YouTube personality interview Obama reached about 86,000.

But online engagement was still abundant, with thousands taking to Twitter using the hashtag "#YouTubeAsksObama." Many lauded the YouTubers, citing their pride for "#TeamInternet."

On the site of the live YouTube video, which was being streamed from the White House's official YouTube channel, people rapidly commented with emojis, curses or praises for Obama and random, unrelated musings.

Hank Green, known for his video blog with brother and author John Green, called "vlogbrothers," was first to chat with the president.

"I don't think I'm going to get a lot of chances to interview the president so I'm going to jump right in," Green said. The video blogger asked Obama about how some of the ideas in his State of the Union didn't seem politically feasible. "Am I wrong?" he asked.

"There are some areas where right away we can get cooperation," Obama replied. "There are some areas where it's important for us to frame the debate and get the American people behind us."

Green and the president also touched on drones, the legalization of marijuana and a little bit on Obamacare.

GloZell Green, who greeted the president with a hug, delved right in by asking about cybersecurity in wake of the Sony hacking.


The president said the government works with private companies and tells them ways in which they can protect themselves from hackers. He also said he hopes Congress will pass a law that will give the government more tools to enhance cybersecurity.

"I'm confident that this is going to get good bipartisan support," Obama told GloZell. "So you'll be alright."

Noting that she cut off all the hoods of her husband's hoodies to "protect him," GloZell also asked the president "how we can bridge the gap between black males and white cops."

"We have to remind ourselves that the overwhelming majority of police officers are doing a really tough job and they are doing it well," Obama said. "What we also know is that there are still biases in our society...a lot of the way to solve this is to improve training people."

The comedic YouTube personality wrapped up her interview with the president by giving him tubes of her signature green lipstick for his "first wife" and daughters.

Mota, a 19-year-old beauty-fashion video blogger, focused on education issues, asking questions that resonated most with her younger viewers. She has about 7 million YouTube subscribers, more than 2 million Twitter followers and 4 million followers on Instagram.

"College remains the best investment you can make," Obama said after Mota asked about long-term plans to make education as a whole more affordable. "It's the key to the future."

After more serious questions, Mota did a "flash round" of three quick questions: Obama's favorite TV show or movies, what he wanted to be when he grew up and his superhero power of choice.

The answers: Anything sports, "a bunch of different things" (including architect and professional basketball player) and flying.

Mota ended the interview by asking if the president would take a selfie with her and her fellow YouTubers. After snapping the group photo, Obama said: "I'm so proud of what you guys are doing."

Staff writer Lauren Raab contributed to this report.

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