Eugene Lee Yang, Hannah Hart Talk "Traditional vs. Digital" Media, Online Safety at Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Pride Summit

The "Digital Media: Pride and Platforms" panel, moderated by Billboard's Alexis Fish, also featured stars Joey Graceffa, Anna Akana, Miles McKenna, Gigi Gorgeous and RYOT Films' Hayley Pappas.

As part of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard's inaugural Pride Summit on Thursday, seven of YouTube and social media's biggest LGBTQ stars sat down to discuss the digital industry, transitions to traditional TV and film and online safety. 

The "Digital Media: Pride and Platforms" panel, moderated by Billboard's Alexis Fish, featured stars Hannah Hart, Eugene Lee Yang, Joey Graceffa, Anna Akana, Miles McKenna, Gigi Gorgeous and RYOT Films' Hayley Pappas. 

Graceffa kicked off the panel with a conversation on YouTube's evolution, and how the platform started as "a place for the outcasts and the uncool kids to find a place to connect with people like them. Now I feel like the popular kids found the hideaway and are taking over." Hart continued that although the online community has become increasingly mainstream, "We still need to encourage other independent queer creators to find this places online, because there's a whole lot of America and a whole lot of internet out there that's absolutely not safe."

"My fear is that at this point, now that it's become this popularity hierarchy or fame hierarchy, that people won't feel as compelled to go out there and make their shorts or their films and tell their stories because they're worried it'll look like they're trying to get famous," she added. "That's a fear I have now that YouTube is such an established means of income, that it's losing itself as an art form or an outlet."

Later in the discussion, the group dove into their successes and struggles of tackling more traditional Hollywood projects, at a time when streaming seems to be blurring the lines between digital and classic. 

"I think it's a fallacy now to continue this 'us vs. them,' 'traditional vs. digital' that's perforated most of the conversations for the last six to 10 years, because now we've realized Will Smith is a YouTuber," Try Guys member Yang said. "It's just another platform for one to express the most appropriate way to deliver a message, whether it be with online content or a film or a brand deal, I think everyone across the industry is seeing that they're accessing the same portals. Digital allows you those key words of 'accessibility' and 'authenticity,' those are things that people really believe and the whole idea that you can't just walk up to Leonardo DiCaprio and hug him, but that's what it gives you is this feeling of truth." 

McKenna added that as a transperson, this move into traditional media has been especially important to decide what they want to convey to their cross-platform fans. 

"It's very, very important that these stories are being told, and when they're told on YouTube, it's one person being the writer, being the editor, being that producer and that voice," they said. "When it starts translating into traditional media, it's like, oh, I'm taking an acting role, I feel like I need to really dive into what I'm signing up for because I feel like I owe it to these kids that I'm meeting and are watching me that I need to choose projects that are positive and important."  

Akana addressed some of the problems she sees with YouTube as an actress and online personality, saying that that business side of the platform has fallen so drastically that she's not feeling encouraged to make high-quality content. She said that each video costs her $3,000 to produce, and at the end of the day is making $300 on assets and revenue, so is forced to rely heavily on brand deals to make a profit. 

"I love making short films, I love finding short films online, but right now there isn't a sustainable model unless you rely on an outside advertiser," Akana said. "YouTube itself, the algorithm plays to those channels that just talk shit or stir up drama, and there's a place for that ⁠— I love reality TV ⁠— but I feel like it really discourages real art from coming out."  

She also called out YouTube as a breeding ground for racists and mass shooters, saying, "White nationalists radicalize online, we know now that they go down this YouTube hole of hateful content and they radicalize and they almost all take action of some form. I know that companies don't have to be responsible for that but you have to — we have a mass shooting every fucking day. At a certain point you have to ask, 'Is it worth human lives to allow this kind of content to exist on our platform?'" 

The Pride Summit panel, sponsored by Verizon Media, was held at the 1 Hotel in West Hollywood.