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:: PoliticsWatch Feature

Why YouTube should make politicians nervous  

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:30 p.m. August 29, 2006]

Popular video clip hosting sites such as YouTube are changing politics already.

The revolution will not be televised, but there's a good chance you'll be able to see it later on YouTube. 

YouTube is the ever-growing, popular, user-enhanced Web site where everyday people put up video clips to be viewed by a large audience.  

After less than a year online, it currently shows about 100 million videos every day to some 16 million individual users

While the most popular YouTube selections tend to be music videos, highlights from TV talk shows, stupid human tricks or real-life bloopers, YouTube is also starting to have an impact on politics. 

Some in the U.S. believe that 2006 could become the election where video clip formats led by YouTube have an impact on the mid-term elections, just like American bloggers did in the 2004 presidential campaign, debunking fake CBS documents and keeping the Swiftboat Veterans in the spotlight. 

A New York Times article recently predicted that 2006 could be the "YouTube Election." And the pioneering PoliticsOnline said "as the midterm election nears keep an eye on YouTube it may make or break more than one election this fall."

And that could be bad news for politicians because the political clips that get viral on YouTube tend to be of the embarrassing sort that one won't find in a candidate's brochures. 

Although clips featuring Canadian and British politicians are currently featured on YouTube, it is in the U.S. where the latest in Internet technology is having a political impact at the moment. 

Just this week, U.S. Senator and perennial Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden made an appearance on the Sunday morning current affairs program Fox News Sunday. 

Biden, who is from the small state of Delaware, was asked a relatively harmless question by host Chris Wallace as the interview drew to a close: "What kind of a chance would a Northeastern liberal like Joe Biden stand in the South if you were running in Democratic primaries against Southerners like Mark Warner and John Edwards?"

Biden's response was stunning for the relatively few of those who are watching Fox at 9 a.m. on a Sunday and who hadn't dozed off listening to the musings of the verbose Biden for the previous 10 minutes.

"Better than anybody else," he told Wallace. "You don't know my state. My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth- largest black population in the country. My state is anything from a Northeast liberal state."

While Biden was denying Delaware was a liberal state, in the process he seemed to be issuing a twisted appeal to Southern Democrats that they should vote for him because he came from a state that was once a slave state. 

Even though it was televised, Biden's gaffe hardly made a ripple in the media, with the exception of an Associated Press brief that appeared in the Washington Post and on ABC News' Web site. 

But thanks to YouTube, a video clip of Biden on Fox News Sunday found its own distribution network. 

By Monday afternoon it had ranked among the Web site's top 20 most viewed items for the day. Some 48 hours after Biden made the comments, YouTube stats show that the 35-second clip had been viewed over 120,000 times. And that number is growing as clips on YouTube have an unlimited shelf life. 

As shown by the Biden case, the technology is proving to be a way for people to use the media to get around what editors and reporters do not find newsworthy. 

Essentially, video clip hosting services such as YouTube will now allow anyone with an account and email the ability to find their own Beer and Popcorn moment and start broadcasting. 

And that could be a recipe for disaster for many politicians in Canada and around the world, where partisan and ideological opponents on both ends of the political spectrum often view the media as biased.  

Biden's comments have yet to penetrate the mainstream media in the U.S. as a result of YouTube, but the gaffe is only two-days old and is in its Net infancy. 

If it does get media traction then Biden will become the second American politician this month to see YouTube as another layer of media to worry about. 

The relatively obscure racial slur Macaca is now a household name in American politics after Virginia Senator George Allen used it to describe an Indian American campaign worker for his opponent. 

The staffer was a so-called "tracker" who had been tailing Allen with a video camera at events across the state. A standard procedure in high-stakes political races.

"Give a welcome to Macaca, here," Allen tells supporters at an event captured on tape and uploaded onto YouTube by the campaign of his opponent Jim Webb. 

In just two weeks, the infamous Macaca comment has been viewed over 200,000 times. 

Even more damaging for Allen, who is mentioned as a 2004 Republican presidential hopeful, is the clip has made its way onto network and cable news shows as well as late night talk shows. This includes CNN, ABC's Good Morning America, Nightline, MSNBC's Hardball, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

And, of course, all those TV segments have been posted for posterity on YouTube and viewed by thousands more who did not have the chance to see them when they originally aired. 

Hence the problem for a politician created by a technology like YouTube. Even at a small event where the media isn't there, every video camera or even cell phone camera now has the potential of capturing a gaffe that could be seen by tens of thousands of voters within hours. And of course this could result in a mainstream media tsunami. 

And even relatively harmless political events can become fodder. Like this Pop-Up Video parody the conservative publication National Review made of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee playing bass on stage while a band plays Born to Be Wild. 

However, there is also a positive side for politicians in the new YouTube universe. 

YouTube presents the possibility to run free advertising on the site in the form of video clips. 

In the California gubernatorial race, the state Democratic Party has posted campaign ads on YouTube for Phil Angelides who is challenging Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

In the high-profile Connecticut Democratic primary between Senator Joe Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont, dozens of clips from a Lamont supporter appear on YouTube documenting speeches, ads and television appearances. 

The capability for political parties in Canada to make use of the technology is there. The question is whether they will embrace it as their U.S. counterparts have done in California, Virginia and Connecticut. 

At the moment, the Canadian presence is relatively limited, but that is bound to change.

The most watched Canadian political clip on YouTube is a video exposé by conservative blogger Stephen Taylor showing how CBC News took Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of context when he answered questions about the crisis in the Mideast. 

After viewer complaints and a CBC ombudsman investigation, CBC was forced to express "regret" about the Harper story during a broadcast of The National.

However, Taylor gives more credit to his blog than YouTube for the popularity of the clip. 

"The site is an Internet marvel in that it allows really anybody to be a video publisher," Taylor recently wrote on his blog. "However, most of the YouTube views of my video were from the embedded player on my site. While YouTube certainly helped me deliver my multimedia message to thousands and thousands, YouTube did little to promote in the viral-marketing sense."

PoliticsWatch is publishing a regular feature highlighting political clips from Canada, the U.S., the UK or around the world that are already viral or are worthy of becoming viral. 

Readers are encouraged to send their picks from YouTube or other similar services to PoliticsWatch. 

:: Related Link
PoliticsWatch's Political Video Pick of the Week

© PoliticsWatch 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PoliticsWatch content, including by framing, copying, linking or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Public Interests Research and Communications Inc. PoliticsWatch is registered trademark of PIRCINC.

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