18th September 2007

It’s a Mad, Mad, YouTube World

YouTubeOkay raise your hand if you still think YouTube is just a funny video-sharing service……be honest, now….

It may have started out as a harmless resource of funny user-created home videos. And yes, there still are a lot of very funny videos available, most made by non-professionals using hand-held camcorders – it’s easy to waste a great deal of time there with thousands of videos added daily. But then companies began capitalizing on YouTube’s enormous popularity, realizing that its viral-marketing potential made it a perfect medium in which to spread their own commercial propaganda. Sure it’s commercialism, but harmless still and all in good fun.

And yet anyone who isn’t aware of the true potential of YouTube must have missed the first clue – I’m speaking of course of the CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate, or doesn’t know that most of the current presidential candidates have filmed video answers to questions on a variety of important issues – the war in Iraq, the economy, healthcare, immigration, and more. It’s nothing short of an amazing resource for voters (with internet access) to educate themselves on the candidates positions, so that we can be informed voters when we go into the polls next year.

But even this is just an inkling of the power of YouTube.

With the recent incident at the University of Florida, we’re beginning to see how power itself cannot be contained – ultimately it will always be usurped by the masses, willingly or not. It used to be said that “the truth shall set us free”, but getting to the truth could sometimes be a challenge. With the digital age we live in, technology now has the power to set the truth free. Whereas we formerly had to rely on big media to dole out the truth as they wanted us to see it, anyone with a camcorder or cell phone capable of recording video can now capture events as they happen and post them online for the rest of the world to view. But what is true and what is not?

This ability of immediate and [mostly] unedited video documentation can be both a blessing and a curse. It can entertain us, expose the unjust, exonerate those unfairly accused, and educate the masses, just as it can also damn the guilty, embarrass unsuspecting individuals, or attempt to destroy someone’s reputation (okay, yes, that last one was a spoof, but you get the idea). Millions of people visit YouTube daily, and thousand blog about YT videos or email links to their favorites to family, friends, and co-workers. The power is equally in both the message and its reach. I can foresee a future in which YouTube has joined the ranks of big media.

In the past, with power came responsibility – to wield it wisely – and yet quite a bit of what gets posted on YouTube seems to be, at best slightly irresponsible, some of it wildly so. Thus it falls on the viewer to bear the burden of responsibility. Yes, most of the content is funny and intended to be so, but some of it is not. More “reality” documentation is creeping in than ever before – not at all bad thing, as it broadens the channels from which we can siphon information.

If you’re a YouTube regular, hold on to your own power – to be skeptical and decide for yourself what is truth and what is not. The message is only as honest as the messenger.

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