Social impact of YouTube
The YouTube video hosting service constitutes a social networking website on which practically any individual or organization with Internet access can upload videos that can be seen almost immediately by wide audiences. As the world's largest video platform, YouTube has had impact in many fields, with some individual YouTube videos having directly shaped world events.
- 1 Effects on culture
- 2 Journalism
- 3 Direct effect on world events
- 4 Engagement between people and institutions
- 5 Personal expression
- 6 Advertising and marketing
- 7 Reaching wider audiences
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Effects on culture
Education and proliferation of knowledge
In his TED Talk on crowd-accelerated innovation, TED curator Chris Anderson preliminarily noted that human brains are "uniquely wired" to decode high-bandwidth video, and that unlike written text, face-to-face communication of the type that online videos convey has been "fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution." Referring to several YouTube contributors, Anderson asserted that "what Gutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communication," that it's not far-fetched to say that online video will dramatically accelerate scientific advance, and that video contributors may be about to launch "the biggest learning cycle in human history."
Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst, grew YouTube video tutoring sessions for his cousin in 2006 into what Forbes' Michael Noer called "the largest school in the world"—a non-profit with ten million students and a reported $7 million annual operating budget (2012). By the end of 2013, Khan Academy's network of YouTube channels grew to 26,000 no-fee videos that collectively had been viewed 372 million times. Noer reasoned that technology had finally become poised to disrupt how people learn, given the advent of widespread broadband, low costs to create and distribute content, rapidly proliferating mobile devices, a shift in social norms to accept the efficacy of online learning and a generation of tech-savvy people willing to embrace it, with students watching lectures and working on their own schedule at their own pace.
Certain public school systems, non-profits, and charter schools use YouTube videos of outstanding educators in the training and professional development of teachers.
About 2,500 TED video lectures—delivery of which having been described by technology journalist Steven Levy as "an aspirational peak for the thinking set"—have collectively been viewed almost 250 million times on YouTube's "TEDtalksDirector" channel's network.
At a more micro level, individuals use YouTube to carry "how to" videos sharing their knowledge in areas such as cosmetics, and companies such as Ford Models use "how-to" videos to build their brands.
Studies by public health researchers have expressed concern about the impact of healthcare information available on YouTube, citing the potential harm to patients if inaccurate or dubious claims are presented as facts.
Searchable information repository
Beyond being what a Forrester Research analyst characterized as the largest video platform on the globe, as of January 2012 YouTube was also the world's second most popular search engine. However, YouTube keyword searches are confined to metadata—video titles and labels—rather than the video content itself.
Spurring innovation through distributed communities
In the year following YouTube's 2005 launch, some early video creators gained large viewing audiences, while others created small, tight communities among mutual watchers. In 2010 TED curator Chris Anderson described a phenomenon by which geographically distributed individuals in a certain field share their independently developed skills in YouTube videos, thus challenging others to improve their own skills, and spurring invention and evolution in that field. Legion of Extraordinary Dancers producer Jon M. Chu described "a whole global laboratory online" in which "kids in Japan are taking moves from a YouTube video created in Detroit, building on it within days and releasing a new video, while teenagers in California are taking the Japanese video and remixing it with a Philly flair to create a whole new dance style in itself." Such fields include dance and music, with Chu saying the Internet was causing dance to evolve, and journalist Virginia Heffernan calling certain music videos "a portal into a worldwide microculture".
Originally posted anonymously by a guitarist seeking suggestions on his playing, a 2005 YouTube cover of the "Canon Rock" adaptation of Pachelbel's Canon received millions of views and spawned hundreds of imitators in "a process of influence, imitation and inspiration". Journalist Virginia Heffernan asserted in The New York Times that such videos have "surprising implications" not only for YouTube, but also for the dissemination of culture and even the future of classical music.
YouTube has provided inventors an audience for market testing their concepts, and a platform—albeit an inherently profitless one—for disseminating innovations more quickly and more widely than writing papers or speaking at conferences. Collaborative "meetings", a global online equivalent of the Homebrew Computer Club, take place virtually, via video.
Three years after Google purchased YouTube and larger production companies had begun to dominate, a New York Times Magazine journalist said the website was "still incubating novel forms of creative expression and cultivating new audiences" as amateurs continued to create "microgenres" serving niche audiences, collectively creating what she described as an "art scene".
Collaboration and crowdsourcing
In projects such as the YouTube Symphony Orchestra and The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, geographically distributed artists were selected based on their individual online video auditions, and assembled on the same stage to perform, respectively, at Carnegie Hall (2009) and at the Academy Awards ceremonies (2010).
A further step is to mix geographically distributed performances into a single work, without the performers ever physically meeting each other. Like-minded or compatibly talented individuals have used Internet communication to overcome geographic separation to create crowdsourced YouTube videos to encourage donations, such as Lisa Lavie's 57-contributor charity collaboration video "We Are the World 25 for Haiti (YouTube edition)" to benefit victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The Tokyo Times noted J Rice's "We Pray for You" YouTube video, benefitting victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, as an example of a trend to use such crowdsourcing for charitable purposes.
The 2011 film Life in a Day, a feature-length YouTube-partnered documentary comprising scenes selected from 4,500 hours of amateur video footage from 80,000 submitters, was the first crowdsourced, user-generated film to be shown in cinemas. Director Kevin Macdonald explained that the film "wouldn't have been possible pre-Internet, specifically pre-YouTube".
The anti-bullying It Gets Better Project expanded from a single YouTube video directed to discouraged or suicidal LGBT teens. Within weeks, hundreds of "It Gets Better" response videos were uploaded to the project by people of various levels of celebrity, and, with two months, by U.S. President Barack Obama, White House staff, and several cabinet secretaries. In addition to "flashcard" testimonials by bullying victims and adults' encouragement videos, anti-bullying PSAs have taken the form of YouTube music videos; parenting author Rosalind Wiseman said the creators of one such video, Ahmir's YouTube cover of "Perfect", could "tell (the so-called experts) how it's done."
Fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd's video, titled "My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm" and posted to YouTube the month before her suicide, became what the National Post called an "international sensation" after her death. The resulting extensive media coverage was controversial: though psychologists say there is value in airing related mental health questions, certain headline-grabbing coverage is thought by some possibly to inspire "clusters" of additional suicides. In addition to strong public reaction, legislative action was undertaken almost immediately to study the prevalence of bullying and form a national anti-bullying strategy.
YouTube personalities have used their celebrity status for charitable purposes, such as Tyler Oakley's outspoken support of and raising of tens of thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project, an organization for crisis and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.
The 2006 Bus Uncle video, recording a man's tirade against a fellow Hong Kong bus passenger who had asked him to speak more quietly on his cellphone, inspired a significant amount of social and cultural analysis. Local experts characterized the video as "catching the collective emotional pulse" of a crowded and stressful city in which people don't normally say how they feel.
Effects on values and standards
YouTube was included in Entertainment Weekly's "100 Greatest" list in 2009—though with the ironic praise, "a safe home for piano-playing cats, celeb goof-ups, and overzealous lip-synchers since 2005". In 2010, citing YouTube's then most viewed video Charlie Bit My Finger as an example of viewers not choosing what might have traditionally been judged "quality", Advertising Age journalist Michael Learmonth asserted that for information and entertainment the Internet had both killed and redefined the concept of quality. Learmonth reasoned that online journalism, being based on "greatly diminished economics and expectations", is intrinsically inaccurate and a de-professionalized version of offline journalism. In this vein, GroupM's CEO was quoted as saying there seemed to be a bigger premium on popularity than authority. Concerning these phenomena, the CEO of Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices) said that people are increasingly comfortable receiving information from unfamiliar sources, and that quality had come to revolve around properly timed usefulness rather than being decided by professionals. Conversely, in 2012 the head of YouTube's programming strategy Ben Relles was quoted as saying that most viral videos were scripted productions that did not go viral serendipitously, and that "the poetics of YouTube favor authenticity over production values."
A Pew Research Center study found that a new kind of "visual journalism" had developed, in which citizen eyewitnesses and established news organizations share in content creation. The study found that while 51% of the most watched YouTube news videos were produced by news organizations, 39% of the news pieces originally produced by a news organization were posted by users. Pew's deputy director observed that news reporting on YouTube was opening up the flow of information and forging new areas of cooperation and dialogue between citizens and news outlets. Though YouTube executives denied the company itself intends to get into content creation, YouTube's news manager described it as a "catalyst" for creating new original content by developing partnerships with news organizations, the Pew Research study concluding that the website was "becoming an important platform by which people acquire news."
In July–August 2012, YouTube provided the first live-stream coverage of the events in the Summer Olympic Games. In August 2012 YouTube formed its "Elections Hub" that streamed speeches from American national political party conventions and featured content from eight major news organizations.
Direct effect on world events
The YouTube video Innocence of Muslims (2012), produced privately within the United States, was interpreted by some Muslims as blasphemous in its mocking of Muhammad, and spurred protests and related anti-American violence internationally despite official condemnation of the video by U.S. government officials.
A cellphone camera video showing the 2009 death of Iranian student Neda Agha-Soltan during the 2009–10 Iranian election protests received a George Polk Award in journalism, the first bestowed to an anonymous work. The video became a symbol of the Iranian opposition movement, the Polk Award's curator saying that the video "became such an important news element in and of itself". The award panel said it wanted to acknowledge the role of ordinary citizens, especially in scenarios in which professional reporters are restricted.
Videos of al-Qaeda militant Anwar al-Awlaki, including some urging attacks against the United States, were posted to YouTube. Though YouTube removed those videos that incited terrorism in response to appeals from U.S. Congressmen, it is thought that Awlaki's videos were in part responsible for inspiring certain viewers to violent acts.
A United Arab Emirates (UAE) court in 2013 sentenced eight individuals to as much as one year imprisonment for uploading a mock documentary YouTube video spoofing a supposed "gangsta culture" of UAE teens, but portraying the teens as mild-mannered, for example, throwing sandals as weapons. The government said the individuals "defamed the UAE society's image abroad" and cited a 2012 UAE cybercrimes law prohibiting use of information technology in a way "liable to endanger state security." The imprisonments provoked criticism from the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, which asserted the case exposed the country's problems with due legal process and restrictive Internet laws.
"Propaganda operatives" from terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (IS, or ISIS) published propaganda and recruiting videos on YouTube, causing law enforcement agencies to work closely with social media companies to take countermeasures, including quickly removing gruesome content or violations of anti-terror laws, and suspending user accounts. A number of government agencies have been granted YouTube "trusted flagger" status to prioritize the agencies' reporting of dangerous or illegal content. Faced with these anti-terrorist countermeasures, one propaganda operative acknowledged in September 2014 that his followers' online efforts were "a disaster."
Engagement between people and institutions
Engagement between citizens and government
In at least the CNN/YouTube presidential debates (2007) and the NBC News YouTube Democratic candidates debate (2016), ordinary people and prominent YouTubers submitted questions to U.S. presidential candidates via YouTube video. Remarking that YouTube "put power in the hands of the camera holder", New York Times journalist Katharine Q. Seelye noted that because visual images can be more powerful than written words, videos have the potential to elicit emotional responses from the candidates and frame the election in new ways. Quoting a techPresident co-founder as saying that Internet video was changing the political landscape, Seelye wrote that most U.S. presidential campaigns were now fully engaged with video, with seven of the sixteen 2008 presidential candidates announcing their campaigns on YouTube. Campaigns allowed their videos to be embedded, critiqued, and recut per YouTube's technical features, thus surrendering control over the context of their videos. Though YouTube had first been presented as a way for campaigns to engage youthful voters, the videos were said soon after the 2008 election to have profoundly affected popular perception across other demographics and had become more important than direct mail.
Though television advertising still dominated how 2012 U.S. political campaigns initially reached voters—with only about 10% of advertising budgets being directed at the Internet—the YouTube platform provided quick communication and engaged people in a "one-click" approach to actively participate by volunteering, sharing content or pledging financial support. The director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution said that individuals' sharing videos through trusted networks adds credibility over conventional direct ads.
Various government entities, such as the U.S. Congress and the Vatican in early 2009, began to use YouTube to directly disseminate information by video. The White House's official YouTube channel was found in 2012 to be the seventh top news organization producer on YouTube. Barack Obama's U.S. presidency, the first to begin (2009) after YouTube gained popularity, was quickly noted for its "overall virtuosity on the visual Internet" and "nonstop cinematography".
Paradoxically, the burgeoning presence of digital media did not coarsen public figures' behavior, but instead by 2009 appeared to have induced a cautious reserve attributed to a mindful avoidance of possible mockery by video parodists; "avoiding a YouTube moment" had become part of the political vernacular before the website's tenth birthday (2015). Whereas politicians became more known and accessible than a decade previously, politicians also learned to by-pass undesirable questions from traditional media by using self-produced videos to communicate with the electorate directly. Extensive advance vetting of politicians' public utterances led The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza to assert in 2015 that "spontaneity in politics has been killed—or at least mortally wounded—by YouTube."
In November 2013, a video, "There is a Way Forward", was posted to the YouTube channel of Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as part of an apparent attempt to "set the tone and context" of ensuing nuclear power limitation negotiations between Iran and six world powers. Zarif's video was said to be part of an attempt to reach the West, as Iran itself had blocked Iranian residents' YouTube access.
In February 2014, U.S. President Obama held a meeting at the White House with prominent YouTube content creators. Though promoting awareness of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") was a main topic, the meeting more generally concerned ways in which government could connect with the younger "YouTube Generation". Whereas YouTube's inherent ability to allow presidents to directly connect with average citizens was noted, the YouTube content creators' new media savvy was perceived necessary to better cope with the website's distracting content and fickle audience. The White House meeting followed a healthcare exchange's December 2013 social media campaign to encourage young adults to obtain Obamacare-compliant health insurance, the campaign including Obama impersonator Iman Crosson's YouTube music video spoof. Obama followed in January 2015 by arranging to be interviewed by three of the most popular YouTube content creators in what a White House spokesman described as "an effort to engage as many Americans as possible in various venues".
Engagement between individuals and private institutions
Institutions, including old-line law firms, use video to attract new talent in members of what is called the "YouTube generation"—creating videos and websites having the look and feel of YouTube to persuade prospects that the firms are young-thinking. Such videos are said to express the firms' personality better than reciting traditional law firm credentials. Similarly, hundreds of U.S. and Canadian universities have a presence on YouTube, and universities such as Princeton University have used YouTube videos as a way of communicating with prospective students, including videos containing admissions officers' tips and expectations, the university's learning expectations, sample lectures, and student descriptions of campus social life. Conversely, institutions such as Tufts University invited student applicants to submit videos as part of their application package.
Broadened expression of political ideas
YouTube was awarded a 2008 George Foster Peabody Award, the website being described as a Speakers' Corner that "both embodies and promotes democracy." A Pew Research Center study explicitly found it noteworthy that protest was the second most popular topic on YouTube, but was not among the leading subjects on conventional network evening news.
In the Arab Spring (2010- ), protestors uploaded videos showing protests and political commentary, with sociologist Philip N. Howard describing a "cascade effect" through which personal content, more so than centralized ideology, spilled over national boundaries through social networks. Howard quoted an activist's succinct description that organizing the political unrest involved "us(ing) Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world." Numerous national governments have censored or banned YouTube to limit public exposure to content that may ignite social or political unrest, to prevent violations of ethics- or morality-based law, or to block videos mocking national leaders or historical figures.
When governments of countries such as Syria began to examine user-generated YouTube videos to identify and arrest dissidents, in 2012 YouTube provided a tool by which uploaders may blur subjects' faces to protect their identities.
In countries with more restrictive political and social environments, performers such as comedians in Saudi Arabia have found freer speech to be acceptable through their YouTube channels. Similarly, Bassem Youssef—formerly a physician who had aided the wounded in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011—was convinced to post political satire videos to YouTube, which launched a similarly themed career in Egyptian television that led to Youssef's arrest for insulting Islam and then-President Morsi and to becoming what Deutsche Welle called "perhaps the most famous personality in the Arab world at the moment."
YouTube served as a platform for individuals to voice their views about the parliamentary and presidential elections (2011, 2012) in Russia, in either a serious or satirical manner, one of which—the satire "Arrest of Vladimir Putin: a report from the courtroom"—was viewed enough times to make the list of most popular videos on YouTube for two consecutive weeks.
More than a third of the U.S. Senate introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning International Criminal Court indictee Joseph Kony 16 days after the Invisible Children, Inc.'s video "Kony 2012" was posted to YouTube. Resolution co-sponsor Senator Lindsey Graham said that "this YouTube sensation ... will do more to lead to (Kony's) demise than all other action combined." Politico's Scott Wong described the video, with 84 million YouTube views by its 17th day, as "the latest example of social media changing the policy debate and political dynamic on Capitol Hill." In 2015 The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey posited that the video served as a social model for every subsequent online movement, and was "the first deployment of this thing we're now calling 'emergent opinion-based social identity'."
Expression of minorities and minority viewpoints
The Washington Post reported that a disproportionate share—8 of 20 in April 2012—of YouTube's most subscribed channels feature minorities, contrasting with mainstream television in which the stars are largely white. Such channels thus target an audience largely neglected by traditional networks, which feel pressure to appeal to a broader audience. According to the study, online media offer a way to push back against enduring stereotypes.
Sharing of personal information
Benefits of sharing personal information
After the 2010 repeal of the U.S military's Don't ask, don't tell policy, numerous coming out videos—characterized as possibly being crucial to the individuals' self-actualization and growth, and even preventing suicide—were posted to YouTube. Uploaders were able to limit viewership of their videos, which were facilitated by what a clinical psychologist characterized as a disappearance of stigma surrounding the sharing of personal information.
People, especially the elderly, post "legacy project" videos to share their life stories, and can receive feedback from viewers allowing them to expand their social contacts. This interaction is particularly beneficial to those with limited mobility.
Dangers of sharing personal information
Some personal-information videos, such as those depicting uploaders' self-harm, may have a negative impact on viewers. Such videos may encourage, normalize or sensationalize self-injury, may trigger viewers to self-injury, and may reinforce harmful behavior through regular viewing.
The ability of videos to bring fame to oneself or humiliation to others, has motivated physical violence, such as the video-recorded beating of a 16-year-old Florida cheerleader by six teenage girls over a half-hour time period, causing a concussion and temporary loss of hearing and sight, generating international media attention, and inspiring the 2011 Lifetime television network movie Girl Fight.
Some YouTube content creators have taken advantage of their perceived celebrity status and have abused their relationships with fans, sometimes perpetrating emotional manipulation or sexual abuse on teenagers younger than the age of consent. While, conversely, online creators have sometimes been the victims of false accounts of abuse, some bona fide victims do not report actual abuse out of victim-shaming by other fans, victims' self-blame, repression, fear of retribution, or delay in processing what had happened.
Advertising and marketing
Online video, especially dominant player YouTube, has enabled small businesses to reach customers in ways previously accessible only to large companies that could afford television ads, and allows them to form "brand channels", track viewer metrics, and provide instructional videos to reduce the need for costly customer support. Large companies "amortize" the large cost of their Super Bowl television commercials by trying to maximize post-game video plays.
YouTube has focused on developing channels rather than creating content per se, the channels fragmenting the audience into niches in much the same way that decades earlier hundreds of niche-audience cable TV channels fragmented the audience previously dominated by the Big Three television networks. Based on YouTube's channel development plans, including YouTube Original Channels, journalist John Seabrook projected that "the niches will get nichier", with audiences being more engaged and much more quantifiable, enabling advertising to be more highly focused.
Measurement of mainstream opinion
In the year following its 2005 formation, YouTube, with its display of view counts, was likened to "a survey of cultural whims", whose more popular artists attracted the interest of established production companies. In YouTube's first years, however, music labels had trouble gauging the commercial value of online popularity, perceiving that the Internet's "convenience factor" made an artist's online following less indicative of audience attachment than direct measures such as CD sales and concert attendance. By early 2013 Billboard had announced that it was factoring YouTube streaming data into calculation of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Hot 100 formula-based genre charts. Putting online listens on the same footing as actual song purchases to determine hits was described as reflecting "the latest shift in power in the music industry: from record labels and radio DJs to listeners".
Later in 2013, Forbes' Katheryn Thayer noted that, though booking the right concert venues and radio and television stations once propelled artists to fame, social media activity had become "unquestionably important". Emphasizing the importance of the way the 2013 YouTube Music Awards determined winners—social media statistics informing nominations and social media shares determining winners—Thayer asserted that digital-era artists' work must not only be of high quality, but must elicit reactions on the YouTube platform and social media.
Reaching wider audiences
Evolution of YouTube as a platform for individuals and companies
Within the year following YouTube's 2005 launch—which one commentator called "the biggest jolt to Internet video"—entertainment industry executives and casting agents were researching video sharing websites. When a video hit big it was not uncommon for its creator to hear from production companies. By June 2006, recognized Hollywood and music industry firms had begun to establish formal business ties with "homegrown" YouTube talent—the first believed to be comedian blogger Brooke "Brookers" Brodack (through Carson Daly), and later but more notably, singer Justin Bieber (through Usher) and physician-become-political satirist Bassem Youssef (through an Egyptian television network).
Conversely, old media celebrities moved into the website at the invitation of a YouTube management that witnessed early content creators accruing substantial followings, and perceived audience sizes potentially larger than that attainable by television. In June 2006 YouTube formed its first partnership with a major content provider, NBC, promoting its fall television lineup. In October 2006, Google paid $1.65 billion to purchase the 67-employee YouTube, seeking a lucrative marketing platform as both audiences and advertisers migrated from television to the Internet. Google made the website more business-driven, starting to overlay banner ads onto videos in August 2007. While the video platform remained available for its pioneering content creators, large production companies began to dominate.
Independent artists built grassroots followings numbering in the thousands at very little cost or effort, but mass retail and radio promotion—areas still dominated by record labels—proved problematic. Meanwhile, as early as 2006, YouTube management convinced four major music labels—who initially had been wary of the website because of its large quantity of their copyrighted material—to enter into a partnership with YouTube, convincing them that YouTube could help them make more money by connecting them with growing Internet audiences. In April 2009, YouTube and Vivendi teamed to form the Vevo music video service. Though YouTube invested $875,000 in its 2011 NextUp tips and training program for promising pioneering YouTubers, the company spent $100 million on its "originals" strategy to get mainstream celebrities to curate channels—hoping to benefit from both the personal fan loyalty cultivated by its pioneering content creators and the expected higher ad rates of the new celebrity channels. Paradoxically, it was the production companies eventually formed by pioneering YouTubers that created about one-third of these new "originals" channels.
By 2012, the CMU business editor had characterized YouTube as "a free-to-use... promotional platform for the music labels", and in 2013 the videos of the 2.5% of artists categorized as "mega", "mainstream" and "mid-sized" received 90.3% of the relevant views on YouTube and Vevo. In 2014 YouTube announced that it would block videos from labels that do not sign licensing contracts for the website's premium (paid subscription) music streaming service, in effect excluding independent record labels who have refused to sign contracts having terms inferior to those having already been agreed to by all the major labels.
In 2016, YouTube's demonetization of user videos that had "controversial or sensitive subjects and events ... even if graphic imagery is not shown”—thereby disallowing ad revenue—angered content creators who perceived the policy as "rampant censorship" and inspired a #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag on social media.
Posting videos as a livelihood
YouTube's "Partner Program", an ad-revenue-sharing arrangement begun in 2007, grew by January 2012 to about 30,000 partners, its top five hundred partners each earning more than $100,000 annually and some earning "much more". Also, brands were reported in 2012 to pay six figures direct to the most popular YouTubers to create and upload ads. Forbes reported that in the year ending in June 2015, the ten highest-earning YouTube channels grossed from $2.5 million to $12 million.
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