Youtube does politics

posted on March 22nd 2007 in Democracy with 2 Comments

YouTube have launched You Choose ’08, a centralised hub for videos by US presidential hopefuls. There’s lot’s of interesting stuff on it.

I was particularly struck by the fact that there have been over 1 million views of Barack Obama’s videos, and the next highest is Hillary Clinton with just over 60,000. I think my money’s on Obama to win (although from what I know of behind the scenes politics, his campaign team could have been sitting there all day downloading it just to get the numbers up). I definitely don’t fancy Duncan Hunter’s chances on 232 views. It can’t help that, where everyone else’s username is something plain like JohnMcCaindotcom, Duncan has gone for gohuntergo, which sounds a bit…desperate.

Anyway, we’ve had a disagreement in the office about whether YouTube YouChoose is a good thing. Shane thinks it isn’t a very meaningful way to engage in debate. I think, while that may be true, there’s still a lot of value in it. Mainly because I think:-

It’s direct information:
Yes, two-way dialogue is great, but access
to information is one of the necessary building blocks of democracy and
citizen participation. Of course the films are spun and the candidates are trying to show us their best sides. But at least they can tell us directly what they plan and think, for us to judge, instead of their messages being filtered through a partisan media.

It’s an additional channel:
There isn’t one perfect way of engaging with citizens that works for everything and we should just use that all the time. Different channels work for different things and different people. YouTube gets a lot of traffic, especially the young people most alienated from mainstream politics. It’s probably reaching people who wouldn’t access candidate information any other way, even if just a few (let’s face it, America’s teenagers are not en masse going to be turning their backs on jackass and Paris Hilton sex tapes in order to download ‘Senator
Chris Dodd speaks to the National Credit Union Association’).

Hillary Clinton has 30 minute webcasts on here where she answers questions submitted to her website, part of her ‘Let the conversation begin’ schtick. She says, in the first one, ‘It’s amazing how technology can bring so many of us together’ (see, everyone’s jumping on the e-democracy bandwagon now). But of course, her staff have hand-picked the questions they read out, because otherwise there would be lots of ‘Didn’t you want to cut Bill’s balls off when you found out about Monica Lewinsky?’ type questions. So Shane’s right, in a way. But the politicians are still getting to hear what people care about.

I think there are interesting questions I don’t know the answer to though. Does this create more of a relationship, or a more intimate relationship, with the politicians? I remember talking to a historian of television some years ago, and he said that part of why TV’s such a powerful medium (compared to say, print) is that we can actually see things happening, they seem more real, more convincing and we connect with them more, emotionally.

But further, the TV is not like a film at the cinema – it’s actually in your sitting room, a place where your domestic, personal life happens and where only people you know well would ever be, normally. He claimed we therefore have a more affectionate relationship to ‘the telly’. Does this mean our barriers are down? Or that our ability to judge authenticity is different somehow? Does this special relationship apply to YouTube videos, or do we have a different relationship to moving pictures watched on our computers?

And, perhaps most crucially. Why do all the American candidates come across a bit like insincere talkshow hosts? Is it the accents? Does this make me a xenophobe?

currently there's 2 comment(s)

  • gary

    commented on April 7, 2007 at 6:16 am

    How about organizing the campaign videos by issue instead?
    Would you find that more useful?

  • Sophia Collins

    commented on April 10, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Yes, I like that. Voters choose what they want to find out about, instead of the agenda being set by candidates. Although, I worry that it could over-simplify issues.


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