“The fact that young people could genuinely sway an election is really strong information.”
Thanks to her parents, Ellie Zeiler, 18, grew up constantly aware of what was going on in the world. But when she started gaining a social media following, she decided she needed to take it up a level. “I realized that I have this platform, and that comes with a big responsibility to really make change in the world, which is really, really cool to get to have,” says Zeiler, who has 12 million followers across accounts. The 2022 midterm elections will be Zeiler’s first time voting, and through an upcoming podcast in partnership with Spotify’s Megaphone Program, I’ll Be Your Sister, and a recent White House collaboration where she interviewed a U.S. senator, Zeiler is thrilled to be discussing the importance of voting with her audience. In this as-told-to below, the TikTok star opens up about giving sisterly advice to her followers, what she’s looking forward to on Election Day, and how she deals with backlash when she talks about politics online.
As a young person, voting can be really scary. Growing up, it was always something that our parents or grandparents did. And now, for my me and my followers — we’re all growing up and turning 18 — it’s something that’s kind of intimidating. But people shouldn’t be embarrassed or scared if they don’t know what’s going on or don’t know too much about the midterm elections. As long as you’re curious and you’re asking questions, that’s what matters most.
As a woman, abortion rights is a topic that’s important to me. I also have a lot of LGBTQ friends, so that’s a huge one for me as well. Climate change is too. Those are the three things I’m researching. It’ll be my first time voting this year, and I’m excited to leave the polling station feeling super empowered and like I really did something for society that day. Of course, I’m also going to take a selfie with the “I Voted” sticker.
The midterm elections are especially important because so much seems to have gone wrong in the past few years. Something that I learned on a call with Sen. Alex Padilla was that Gen Z actually can sway the election, so we have the power to make our vote matter in a bigger realm. That really hit home for me because you hear everyone say, “Every vote matters, everyone counts.” But the fact that young people could genuinely sway an election is really strong information.
Whenever there are important topics and issues going on, the White House will come to me and ask if it’s something I’d like to talk about. Some things I’ll say no to, and some things I’m like, “Yes, absolutely.”
It’s so surreal to be on a Zoom call with Dr. Fauci, for example. It’s also super special as a young person, and someone who’s part of Gen Z, because I have these questions about what’s going on in the world and I get to ask them to people who are making the decisions — it’s empowering. I know there’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet, too, so to straight-up ask someone who’s in power is really cool.
Whenever I post something political or something that has my opinion laced into it, I get comments from both ends of the spectrum. Half of the comments are like, “This is so cool, I’m so excited to vote” — I love those people. When someone says they’re going to vote because of me, that’s the best thing ever. But then, the other side always has something to say, too. That’s the Internet for you.
If I listen to or if I read every comment, I probably would just never post because I’d be too scared. So it’s really important to know that when I do post my opinions or something political, it means that I truly, truly care about it. There are so many issues going on in the world that if you only choose a few to talk about, it’s super important. I struggle with posting this stuff on the Internet, but it doesn’t stop me.
I got a lot of hate when I’ve worked with the White House in the past. People were like, “You make fashion TikToks. Why are you interested in politics?” I posted a response to share my side, but I know that by posting a two- or three-minute TikTok video about this huge thing that was in the media is probably not going to get through everyone, which is completely fine. That video was really for my younger female followers who saw me getting hate, not the necessarily for the people who were hating on me.
On my podcast, I’ll Be Your Sister, I’m excited to talk about everything and show that as a young person, I can be interested in fashion and I can have boy problems, but I can also be super interested in what’s going on in the world and excited to vote and make change. I’ve gone through a lot of experiences that I think a lot of kids my age have gone through as well. So I’m really excited to connect with my followers on another level through my podcast. I mostly do TikTok and short-form video content, which means my followers don’t get to really, really know and understand me. So I’m looking forward to having a deeper connection with them.
It’s really cool to be kind of an older sister and say, “This is how you do it. I’ve done my research; this is exactly where you can go.” I feel like we — Gen Z — are ready to make change in the world, and I’m excited.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.