Mervi Maatela: “YouTube stars are encouraging young people to make sustainable choices”

Interview 04.03.2019

Mervi Maatela, who is one of the producers of Tubecon, a media educator and teacher, thinks that YouTube can serve as a platform for young people’s climate concerns. Maatela believes adults have not yet understood YouTube’s potential.

The 2018 Tubecon brought Finland’s most popular YouTubers and 17 000 enthusiastic followers together at the Messukeskus convention centre in Helsinki. With the help of Mervi Maatela, Smart & Clean produced an app for Tubecon – the first one ever made for a YouTube event.

The app’s Smart & Clean TubeCity Challenge game encouraged visitors to go from one checkpoint to another in order to explore the tube city built for the event. In the app, the players joined their favourite YouTuber’s team and earned points for it by, for example, answering questions related to sustainable development and environmental friendliness.

“The core idea of the app was to collect good deeds. It was challenging to think about what kind of tasks children and young people might be interested in while surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Tubecon. My role in the project was to articulate what the app should be like so that young people actually use it”, Maatela explains.

The game was a success: it was played by almost 4 300 attendees during the event. They completed over 31 000 challenge tasks, that is, #muntekos (my acts).

Highlighting climate issues through social media challenges

In Maatela’s view, watching YouTube is not just entertainment. She emphasises that most Finnish Youtubers are role models who, for the most part, guide their viewers to make good choices. The effect of this new type of media content on children and young people has not yet been fully understood. Adults would do well to recognise this potential.

“Children and young people spend a lot more screen time with YouTubers compared to traditional faces on TV. If a popular YouTuber emphasises a vegetarian diet, gets furniture from recycling centres or says they are reading more books, it has a tremendous influence on young people. YouTubers can inspire young people to make better choices.”

Maatela suggests that in the future, climate issues could be concretely visible in the world of young people’s social media through various challenges, for example. Social media challenges and campaigns, often thought up by the users themselves, have the potential to grow into global, viral phenomena. In the social media era, you do not have to travel to the Parliament House in Helsinki from far corners of the country to make your voice heard.

The YouTube Interpreter: the role of videos is becoming more pronounced

Maatela, nicknamed the YouTube Interpreter, became enthusiastic about making videos while working as a primary school teacher. The students’ own journalism became a large part of the school’s everyday life, and these days, Maatela educates teachers about the opportunities videos and YouTube provide in teaching.

Maatela believes the role of videos in teaching is becoming more pronounced. She pictures the classroom of the future even having VR or AR technology applications.   

Pokémon Go has been a good example of how new technology has inspired young people to go outdoors. Similar solutions could also be developed for the classroom. It would be great if the digital textbooks of the future allowed students to virtually jump to ancient Egypt, where a mummy rises up to tell them about his own history. But I would still encourage us to go to a real forest to explore forests in the future”, Maatela concludes.