The Pros And Cons Of A YouTube Democracy

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Right now, thousands of people on YouTube are deciding what question they would most like to ask President Obama.

He'll answer a few of them Monday as part of a project called CitizenTube.

The questions cover the usual topics, such as health care, the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then there are a number of users who want to know how the president feels about UFOs and Scientology.

But the most popular questions are all about one subject: marijuana legalization.

Clay Johnson, technology director at the Sunlight Foundation and an advocate for open government and social media, says there are a number of reasons for that. For one, the YouTube community isn't necessarily representative of Americans as a whole. And for another, marijuana advocates know how to rally online to vote up their questions.

"It doesn't mean that they're the most popular amongst all of America; it means this is the most organized community," he says.

Still, Johnson says there's a definite upside to doing this online.

"You can watch people organize to rig these questions, which isn't something you can do with lobbyists," he says.

When Obama held a YouTube town hall last year, questions related to marijuana legalization reached the top of at least 3 out of 11 categories users could submit questions to.

"I don't know what this says about the online audience," Obama joked, before saying he didn't think legalization was a good strategy.

The process is moderated by YouTube, and just because a question is popular doesn't mean the president will address it. So what's the point of asking for questions in the first place?

"It's to get the really good ones," Johnson says. "It's called crowd-sourcing."



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