Politics, YouTube-Style

Many of the iconic scenes of this campaign season got their start on YouTube. The site is now a fixture on the American political scene. Steve Grove, director of news and politics for YouTube, speaks with NPR's Scott Simon about how the Web site covers politics on its blog, Citizentube.com.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, once grunge, now Beverly Hills, still rocking. But first, the 2008 presidential campaign has already been powerfully affected by images winging around the Web: the Reverend Wright, raging at his pulpit, the Obama and McCain girls or John McCain putting "Bomb, Bomb Iran" into an old Beach Boys' song.

Many of those images first became famous on YouTube along with videos for or against a candidate or a cause that almost anyone can make and post. They can be seen by thousands or almost no one.

According to YouTube, hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to their site every day. Now last year, YouTube launched CitizenTube.com, a political video blog, in an attempt to sort through all of that political content. They've recently pledged to provide even more organization to the overwhelming number of political videos that are being uploaded and viewed.

We're joined in our studios by Steve Grove, who is the director of news and politics for YouTube. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. STEVE GROVE (Director of News and Politics, YouTube): Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You can see almost anything with political content on YouTube, can't you?

Mr. GROVE: It really spans the spectrum, everything from presidential campaign announcement videos to gotcha video of candidates saying something that they would rather not be caught saying to…

SIMON: The macaca.

Mr. GROVE: The macaca video.

SIMON: With George Allen is probably the most famous example.

Mr. GROVE: Indeed it is. In fact, we sort of consider that to be the birth of YouTube politics, the first instance in which what we call voter-generated content really changed the shape of an election.

SIMON: Is there any stuff that we don't get to see, that you keep off?

Mr. GROVE: No, you know, we really are a platform for everyone to use. We do have very basic terms of service that apply across different categories, and the way that works on YouTube is our community flags content it thinks inappropriate, and then if we agree, then we take it down, but essentially YouTube's an open platform that encourages free speech, regardless of political viewpoint.

SIMON: Now I've noticed, for example, that you can - that there could be an interview with a candidate, say for example on NPR, and within a few hours, a clip from that interview can be, I must say, wrenched out of context and used to savage the candidate in some kind of video.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROVE: Certainly. We do live in a mash-up culture, I think, and you know, we believe that gives a more robust view of candidates and of elections. The view of YouTube, though, is you see a perspective on a side that you don't think is correct, you're more than welcome to upload your own video with your perspective and promote that one.

SIMON: What are some, if I might put it this way, favorite examples that are in your mind of moments that have been transmitted by YouTube that have had - seemed to have had some palpable impact on a campaign. We mentioned George Allen.

Mr. GROVE: We did mention George Allen. I think what's interesting now is that campaigns are learning how to mitigate that by making sure they're part of the dialogue.

Mitt Romney, back in the primary campaign, faced a lot of videos on the site that called back a time when he was pro-choice. What their campaign did, within 12 hours of seeing that video uploaded to YouTube, uploaded their own piece with Romney explaining his position, so when you went to search for that footage of Romney back in 1984, you also immediately saw a piece of campaign video footage there, too. So the campaign was ensured that they were still part of the discussion and weren't just letting someone else's content speak for the governor.

SIMON: How do you organize the CitizenTube page?

Mr. GROVE: It's a perpetually difficult effort to keep track of what's taking place in YouTube politics, but we essentially use it to highlight what we see bubbling up. We really listen to the community and what they're voicing as the most popular, most interesting content of the day, just to kind of give a new perspective on all this innovation that's taking place on the site.

SIMON: Has getting this close to the process and becoming as much a part of the process given you any feeling for the majesty or something just the capriciousness of democracy?

Mr. GROVE: I think the beauty of YouTube is you see the underbelly of it all. Not only do you see magnanimous politicians humbled by the power of the Internet to cut them down, but you also see literal differences citizens can make by creating content around the election in a way that that can engage a whole new group of voters who just weren't interested in politics before.

You know, ultimately we feel like taking any kind of action at all, whether it's online or offline, gets you one step closer to voting, which I think is really the goal in all of this, is just to get a more-engaged electorate.

SIMON: Steve Grove, director of news and politics for YouTube. Mr. Grove, thanks so much.

Mr. GROVE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

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