YouTube more influential than ever in political races, says alumnus

October 6, 2008

October 6 , 2008 — The head of news and politics at YouTube spoke Monday at the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government about the impact of online video in the current election.

Steve Grove MPP 2006 cites the birth of YouTube politics as the video of former Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen using what some saw as a racial slur in August 2006.

Indeed, Grove said one of the challenges for politicians, and the general public, is to avoid “YouTube moments,” like Allen’s, since they can become viral in moments.

“There’s more access than ever before,” said Grove. He said with the barrier to entry being lower than ever before, people are finding themselves involved in the current presidential election like no other before. “It’s engaged thousands and thousands and thousands of people.”

Grove said that statistics indicate that 35 percent of Americans have seen a political video online and that, on YouTube alone, every minute, 13 hours of content is uploaded.

With these seemingly endless streams of content, Grove said, “The lines between Internet and TV are very blurry now.”

Seven of the 16 original candidates in the presidential race used YouTube to announce they were running, making this election the first which has really spurred grassroots commentary as well as official channels for candidates.

“You can’t be in politics today without having your own YouTube channel,” said Grove.

Grove said Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign has used its channel most effectively in the presidential race in terms of fundraising and getting the message out — uploading two or three videos each day and with the most watched video ever uploaded by a political candidate (Obama’s speech on race, with almost 5 million views) — but that research indicates that YouTube users tend to veer to the right, so there is no clear-cut answer as to whether Sen. John McCain or Obama is more popular among users.

Use of YouTube in political circumstances is increasing, according to Grove, with items like U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s weekly “Ask the PM” video and live debates, like the upcoming New Zealand debates for the Prime Ministerial race in partnership with New Zealand TV.

This article was written by Lindsay Hodges Anderson of the Harvard Kennedy School.