When I talk to people about this year’s presidential election, sooner or later a video on YouTube will be referenced. Over the past month, if you have any interest in the race at all, you’ve been sent to (or linked to) YouTube to watch videos like the tirades of Obama’s ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright, McCain supporters calling Obama a terrorist, claiming he’s Moslem or screaming “kill him,” any of the dozens of “McCain Gets Angry” videos, Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin (aka Caribou Barbie), or any of the often-brilliant SNL send-ups of this year’s candidates.
But overall it seems like YouTube is a friendlier place for Obama than it is for McCain. You get the impression that there are far more pro-Obama/anti-McCain videos at YouTube than there are pro-McCain/anti-Obama ones. At least a couple of times, a McCain supporter (my brother Jon in Nebraska, for one) has sent me to YouTube to find some damning video about Obama, but I’ve been unable to find it. Or the link to the video goes nowhere. When I’m sent to YouTube looking for a pro-Obama video, I can usually find about five versions of it.
Is this just my imagination? Or maybe my own biases reflected in my search habits at YouTube? I don’t think so.
To find out, I did a little test. I did a search using the keyword “Obama,” which brought back roughly 512,000 videos. I did the same using the keyword “McCain,” and YouTube found about 274,000 videos. Of the 20 videos that came up on first page of search results for McCain, 18 were negative, one was positive and one neutral. Of the first 20 videos generated by the “Obama” search, three were negative, three were neutral and the rest were decidedly pro-Obama.
Maybe more of the Obama crowd frequent YouTube than McCain supporters. And we know that there are more registered Democrats in the country right now than there are registered Republicans. Or maybe it is that Obama’s younger and more diverse demographic simply matches up better with the YouTube audience than McCain’s older, whiter demographic.
Whatever the explaination, both sides are aware that large numbers of undecided voters are also spending time watching the candidates on YouTube, trying to make up their minds. You might call YouTube a “battleground site.”
Just yesterday the McCain campaign sent a letter to YouTube complaining that the site’s operators have been too zealous at taking down McCain videos that are suspected of borrowing copyrighted content without permission. “Numerous times during the course of the campaign, our advertisements or Web videos have been the subject of DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair use doctrine,” McCain’s general counsel Trevor Potter wrote in the letter. Example: a McCain video might use a short piece of network news footage, and the network (or somebody saying they represent the network) contacts YouTube demanding that the offending McCain video be removed. In such cases, YouTube simply takes down the video. Hundreds of videos are removed from YouTube in this way every day. And, as YouTube’s chief counsel Zahavah Levine responded yesterday, YouTube can’t reasonably be expected to immediately investigate each “take down” of a campaign video as they occur.
While many of us wish the McCain and Obama campaigns would focus more on the specifics of their policies if elected, both campaigns are spending far more time in their videos talking about Culture War issues–i.e. the personality, history, race, class, and style of the other side’s candidate and the people he/she associates with. YouTube has become one of the main–if not the main–platforms for this election’s culture wars.
Are these videos really important to the outcome of the election? Do people really use videos they see on YouTube to decide who to vote for? Oh you betcha! as Caribou Barbie would say. I’ve talked to a lot of people of all age groups about this election, and many of them point to videos at YouTube as their supporting documentation.