Analyzing the Societal Effects of YouTube1 | 2 |
In debating the level of causality one can attribute to YouTube, Perrin draws a comparison with what was once a newly emergent communication tool: the telephone. “If you go back and look at some of the really fine social history of what people were worried about in terms of the advent of the telephone, we hear a lot of the same stuff,” he said. The fear was that people would be “driven to do crazy and racy things because they’re allowed and able now to tell people about it quickly through the telephone.”
Walsh-Smith’s clip, meanwhile, provides an interesting study on the difference between using the telephone to smear someone and using online video to do so. In the video, she actually calls her husband, reaching him very briefly before being thrown to his secretary, telling her, “I’m filming at the moment; we’re doing a little video for YouTube.” She then repeats her humiliating claims about their sex life. Walsh-Smith’s husband’s secretary is decidedly nonplussed.
Whereas in the past the prank call itself would have been humiliation enough, now the main act is the video documentation of that call and the decision to broadcast it around the world.
A decision, Brown pointed out, that may have been made hastily and then magnified by the site. “The woman who damns her husband by saying everything she wants to say in public may regret that a couple of weeks later,” she said. “It may be too immediate, not allowing for much thought.”
Politics on YouTube
George W. Bush began his second term as president of the United States the month before YouTube’s inception. So the 2008 presidential campaign has been the first to feel the impact of the site. The campaign has seen televised debates in which citizens questioned candidates via YouTube clips. But more significantly, the analytical dialogue surrounding the campaign has identified a clear shift in presidential politics in what’s being called the “YouTube era.”
What this means is that every second a candidate is in the public eye likely will be recorded, either professionally or amateurishly (perhaps with a camera phone), and sliced up for quick analysis by reporters and political bloggers. John McCain’s statement that he’d be comfortable with the United States military remaining in Iraq for 100 years was recorded by a private citizen attending a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire and was first aired publicly on YouTube. The sound bite is now part of a television ad produced by the Democratic National Committee.
YouTube also affects the political process in ways that go beyond current gaffs or flubs. It provides reporters, political bloggers and, perhaps more importantly, political operatives with unfettered access to all of a candidate’s past statements on political positions, some of which may not agree with a candidate’s current ones.
Mitt Romney was stung by this in the current presidential race when the McCain campaign dug up a YouTube video in which the former Massachusetts governor stated he supported maintaining abortion rights in his state. Romney claims he changed his position on abortion to being pro-life following a November 2004 conversation with a stem cell researcher that he found unsettling. But the clip dated to May 2005, six months after this conversation. The video created doubt regarding Romney’s stance.
So the question is, does YouTube, in its ability to document and broadcast everything a candidates says, make the political process so transparent as to shift it in new directions?
“It changes the landscape dramatically,” Perrin said. “It’s partly about transparency, but also about further increasing the sound-bite-ness of the political landscape. This strikes me as a bad thing for politics. [Candidates now] have to be very careful about not just their whole message, but about each little piece of the message, which is why so many presidential speeches and campaign speeches are so deadly boring and repetitive.”
Jones agreed. “One of the possible long-term effects is that it’s going to cause politicians to even more greatly circumscribe their speech,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good thing. I’d prefer that our politicians felt that they could speak freely, and then we could judge what they say.”
– Daniel Margolis, firstname.lastname@example.org | 2 |