Monday, November 06, 2006

Michael J. Fox and "The YouTube Election"...

Tomorrow America will vote in, what the New York Times has called, the first "YouTube Election". Almost every obnoxious political ad that bombards us on TV is now also available anytime on YouTube. But will the internet as new political medium actually have real effects on the election? If so, how much?

As James Poniwozik's essay in Time Magazine points out, web video has limited influence because ultimately it is an opt-in medium - that is, people have to seek out political ads they want to view and click on a link, rather than get unwillingly bombarded by those ads on television and radio. This means the number of people viewing poltical ads online is miniscule in comparison.

But can political web videos still have at least some effect? Last week offerred a telling moment. The Michael J. Fox ad, where he expresses his support for Claire McCaskill for Missouri Senator, made it all the way up to number one in the YouTube rankings for the week as most viewed video on the site. After Rush Limbaugh stirred up controversy by mocking Michael J. Fox and the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease, the ad received national attention (not only Missouri voters, who were the only ones to see it on television). Suddenly, the YouTube political ad went viral - it was viewed and shared by millions, through the site, by email, and classic word-of-mouth.

As Poniewozik notes, what may be most significant is that these are millions of people who are now watching political ads on purpose! After tomorrow we should have a better understanding of how it may have actually shaped the election outcome, but in the meantime, YouTube has certainly helped turn a local advertisement into one having far-reaching national effects.


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