The Danger of YouTube on Democracy

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

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YouTube may be a relative newcomer on the digital scene, but it has already embedded itself into our culture in a profound way. It has become a portal to communities where people can bond with peers, create and circulate video footage, and engage in public discourse. It would thus stand to reason that YouTube would be an ideal modern-day stage for democratic debate. However, various limitations of this new media platform may prove to be counterproductive and ultimately diminish a potentially powerful digital presence in the public sphere.

YouTube itself is a very democratic tool because it can allow anyone to post and communicate with others. It continues to establish an ever-expanding community where users can debate over various topics. In just a few years it has beat out MSN Video, Google Video and MySpace to become the leading video-posting platform. (Hess, 2009, p. 413).  However, according to Marlow (2009), as dominate technologies continue to expand and further ingrain itself on our culture, society may need to pay close attention to the cultural implications of these innovations (p. 308).

Furthermore, if our culture is to use contemporary technology as an effective vehicle for democracy, we many need to contemplate the societal consequences of a digital public sphere. According to Postman (1998), every benefit that any dominant technology offers has an equally profound drawback that should be taken into consideration (p. 1). That being said, it may then become necessary to understand what disadvantages any particular technology may create and to question if it is impeding our freedom (Sclove, 1995, p. 1). For example, even though YouTube allows for a free flow of ideas in an environment that has limited restraints; does it make society more democratic?  The answer to this may be no. One of the reasons for this may be found in its structure. According to Hess (2009), there have been instances where the government has used YouTube to post propagandistic video blogs. Many users felt that this was a serious infringement on personal space. Equally, and perhaps more disturbing, are the cases where the government has disabled the ability to respond to their videos. Users believe that this action taken by the government is a clear violation on their freedom of speech and contradicts the very ideology of democracy (p. 422). Furthermore, should users wish to indirectly respond to restricted videos via the use of other traditional media source materials, YouTube will remove any and all content that infringes on copyright policies, thus further limiting users’ ability to effectively argue their points of view (Hess, 2009, p. 426).

Another example of the ineffectiveness of YouTube as medium for democracy is that it discourages serious deliberation. Hess (2009) argues that in addition to the dismissal atmosphere of a playful and indifferent environment that YouTube generates, it is also a venue that supports insulting, crass and sometimes antagonistic interactions between its anonymous users. Furthermore, the overabundance of popular videos that lack in-depth content may play a large part in dismissing YouTube as a legitimate source for political discourse (p.431).

What separates modern-day technologies from other traditional forms is that consumers of technology are also the producers of it (Castells, 2005, p. 144). It is important to constantly gauge our relationship with technology and how it can change the social landscape. Sclove (1995) contends that as a collective society, we fail to question the psychological, cultural, and political effects that technology plays on our culture. (p. 2). If citizens fail to recognize the confines of new media such as YouTube, they may overlook other possibilities to affect real change from more traditional avenues of communication. Ultimately, we are in danger of losing our civil liberties and drastically altering our social landscape as we apathetically swap more effective forms of activism for merely posting on sites that hold little, if any, political weight (Hess, 2009, p. 428). The more we blindly enmesh ourselves with any type technology, the greater risk we have of ignoring the limitations of it, and of further distancing ourselves from objectivity. If society does not come to realize the potentially devastating implications of innovation, the effects may be too widespread to remedy (Federman, 2004, p. 2). Without this fundamental wisdom, the cost of ignorance and indifference may someday soon be too great to pay.

References:

Federman, M. (2004, July 23). What is the meaning of the medium is the message? Retrieved from http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/article_mediumisthemessage.htm

Marlow, E. (1993). Media and culture. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 50(3), 296-309. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/ehost/detail?sid=6da53466-391f-42bb-b74e-c2edda1ac8a4%40sessionmgr111&vid=1&hid=125&bdata=#db=aph&AN=9312030924

Postman, N. (2008). Five things we need to know about technological change. Retrieved from http://www.cs.ucdavis.edu/~rogaway/classes/188/materials/postman.pdf

Sclove, R. (1995). Chapter one: Spanish waters, Amish farming: Two Parables of Modernity? In Richard E. Sclove Democracy and Technology (pp. 3-9) New York: Guildford Press. Retrieved from http://www.loka.org/pubs/contents.htm

Rantanen, T. (2005). The message is the medium: an interview with Manuel Castells. Global Media and Communication, 1(2), 135-147. Retrieved from http://gmc.sagepub.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/content/1/2/135

Hess, A. (2009). Resistance up in smoke: analyzing the limitations of deliberation on youtube. Critical Studies in Media Communications, 26:5, 411-434. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10304310903362734

 

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