In the wake of a surge in youth activism, the Russian State Duma invited 19-year-old YouTube star Sasha Spilberg to speak to lawmakers on Monday. The young internet sensation, who once bathed in a tub full of crisps for her 5 million YouTube followers, spoke on building bridges between youth and the state.
According to a report by GlobalVoices, Spilberg’s visit forms part of an initiative by the ruling United Russia party to examine how to “prevent the use of young people as a driving force in protests”.
“I’m not too great with politics, with the names of all the parties, and so on, but I know how to talk to a large audience,” Spilberg told lawmakers on Monday. “My mission is to help facilitate a dialogue between the state and society, to which I belong.”
Spilberg’s message was more than a little ambiguous, however. While she encouraged the politicians to see YouTube and social media subscribers as “the same as voters, except that the returns are visible in real time”, and to “be transparent” by sharing videos on social media, she later seemed to lose faith in her passionate appeal and downplayed the importance of videobloggers, claiming that “the age bracket isn’t there yet, and its influence is still too low”.
Her views on fellow YouTube star Ruslan Sokolovsky, who was recently given a 3.5 year suspended prison sentence for playing Pokémon GO in a church, were also unclear.
“Excuse me for saying this, of course, but he’s an idiot [...] Idiots need to be cured or fined,” she argued, but subsequently warned against “prosecuting such people” because it damages young people’s faith in the government and is “harsh and unpragmatic”.
Spilberg’s appearance follows the considerable alarm that has taken hold among politicians after thousands of Russian high school and university students attended the anti-corruption rallies that swept Russia on 26 March and resulted in hundreds of arrests.