McGuinty’s YouTube channel: A form of citizen engagement?

By: Sandford BorinsIn the glow of election victory, the Ontario Liberals boasted of the success of their YouTube attack channel. What isn't nearly as well known is that the bureaucracy has created a YouTube channel for Premier McGuinty . The channel was soft-launched last May 23 and has exactly 15 subscribers and a total of merely 558 channel views. It contains 24 videos that are also available on the premier's site on the Government of Ontario portal. The YouTube channel permits comments on the videos, but I didn't find any on the videos I sampled.This differs from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's more high-profile YouTube channel. Brown's channel is prominently linked to the Number 10 Downing website , and is the official repository for posting the PM's videos. The comment feature has been disabled for his videos.So what is the difference between a first minister's site on a government portal and a first minister's YouTube channel?The key issue is control. A first minister's site contains precisely the messages the first minister and his/her handlers want to send, whether in text, audio, or video. It doesn't permit feedback or even a tally of visits. While it is possible to restrict comments on YouTube, as Brown has done, YouTube's format always displays related videos, on which comments are permitted. In addition, these videos are often unfavourable have a look at the first item that emerges when you type 'Gordon Brown' into YouTube's search function.As I've discussed in recent entries, YouTube is an effective channel for disseminating videos of politicians' gaffes or videos containing critical commentary. YouTube can be so devastating because the gaffes become available instantly, can be seen widely, can be disseminated, and are packaged on a Web site that draws viewers with its entertainment content.YouTube is contributing to a key transformation the death of deference, namely the availability online of information and commentary that is critical of governmental authority. In countries with authoritarian governments (for example Myanmar, Iran, and China) the online channel has become the key forum for dissent.Overall, I find the quality of commentary and debate on YouTube less than elevated. Comments are cursory and often descend to invective and name-calling. Personally, I'd rather mull an issue over for a week and then sit down at the computer and write my blog. I suppose I could dress up in some sort of costume, ask my wife to videotape me, and have the kids provide whatever background that meets their inclination. But I'd rather stand by the written word. And the level of the written comments I've received certainly is higher than what I'd expect on YouTube.

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