Politics in the Age of YouTube

Seeing as I have a Political Science degree rotting on my shelf, I figured I’d make a big-picture post about my view on the impact of YouTube during this election cycle.

By providing the ability to distribute video without concerns over bandwidth and storage space, YouTube has had two very distinct impacts on the way the “netroots” groups operate during this cycle. While “netroots” is a rather stupid term, in this case I’m using it to refer to the politically aware, internet savvy folks who troll sites ranging from DailyKos to (gulp) FreeRepublic.

I want to look at two cases to show by example. The first is the case in which a candidate is able to audition ads to the entire country, without making an ad buy. They can then use the ad to raise funds. In this way, folks can give money directly in response to what they believe is effective advertising, rather than giving money in the hopes that the candidate applies it wisely. Whether or not this is a good thing for the political media landscape is yet to be decided.

An example is this ad, from the Ohio 2nd (the fighting second!). The Wuslin campaign has made very effective use of YouTube to get their ads out and to solicit feedback. Other groups and candidates are making similar use of YouTube. Unlike in the past, this isn’t a case of individuals recording ads from TV and posting them, these ads are being posted by the campaigns themselves. The global availability of these ads, combined with candidate websites and political blogs, has made every race a national race.

The second way in which YouTube has become a force in the election is the ability to quickly and easily share video of politicians being stupid. Before this election, a politician would say something stupid, like “We’ve never been stay the course,” and the website hosting the video would get hammered and knocked offline. But now, when someone says “Macaca,” or talks about “the Google” the video can live on and on without the hosting provider pulling the plug. The impact of this shouldn’t be discounted.

Will YouTube decide the elections? Definitely not – just like blogs didn’t decide the election in 2004. But what it will do is increase interest in candidates who might otherwise not get significant exposure. Thoughts?

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