Was it Google wot won it?
It wasn’t only Paul who benefited from an explosion in online support. Obama arrived in the Presidential primaries without the kind of political juggernaut accompanying Hillary Clinton. According to Brooks Jackson – who, before working for the US political watchdog FactCheck.org, worked for Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal and CNN – Obama “owes a good deal of his current success to the fact that the internet allows like-minded people to find each other and to come together across large distances more easily than ever”.
At the time of writing, Obama was ahead of the other Democrat candidates in every metric that TechPresident.com uses, except blog mentions on Technorati. His grassroots campaign is among the most effective of all the candidates and, with Obama pushing Clinton to the wire, it’s impossible to argue that his online support doesn’t translate into real voters.
Nowhere has Obama’s online campaign gathered more momentum than on YouTube. At the YouChoose ’08 site, viewers are presented with each of the 16 original candidates and can watch videos submitted by each campaign. Viewers can sort the videos by candidate, or issue, or by watching a pair of joint YouTube and CNN debates in which the questions were submitted on video by YouTube users.
The results have been incredible. In less than 24 hours, Obama’s rebuttal of President Bush’s final State of the Union address had been watched more than 330,000 times, catapulting it to the top of YouTube’s daily chart. The message is getting out to a massive audience: if Google took an interest in a particular candidate, its influence would be huge.
Not that there’s any hint of YouTube deliberately promoting one candidate over another. A Google spokesperson told us emphatically that the company doesn’t make contributions or donations to political parties or candidates and it isn’t backing any political party. According to the spokesperson, Google’s mission is “to organise the world’s information and to make it universally accessible… we’re not creating any of the content”.
Even so, not all candidates fare equally well on YouTube. The failings are sometimes stylistic. Democrat candidate Mike Gravel’s videos are often sub-student productions, complete with dodgy white balance, deafening background noise and bad lighting. By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s videos are professionally produced, and she’s often carefully placed among furniture that could have fallen straight from the set of The West Wing. She looks Presidential. The two impressions are worlds apart – without the lighting and make-up of a professional TV studio, Gravel simply looks like an opinionated 77-year-old man, not someone who might realistically become the next Commander-in-Chief.
The candidates can also be harmed by YouTube’s automatically chosen Related Videos. Virtually any video by Clinton will prompt users to watch videos by Obama and other Democrats. In some cases, videos attacking her are suggested. These videos are frequently of a nature that no opposing candidate would endorse. One of the most popular Clinton videos on YouTube is of her singing the American national anthem with all the tunefulness and enthusiasm of a Stansted baggage handler. Many of the nearly 8,000 comments are derogatory, and it’s difficult to imagine any of the 1.7 million viewers leaving the video with an improved perception of Clinton.