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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The YouTube Gap

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under  waySocial media platforms are a big part of the story.

Kevin Roose at NYT:
Mr. Biden’s biggest problem is structural. Most of our online political communication takes place on internet platforms that are designed to amplify content that provokes strong emotional reactions, often by reinforcing tribal identities. Mr. Trump’s unfiltered, combative style is a natural fit for the hyperpolarized audiences on Facebook and Twitter, whereas Mr. Biden’s more conciliatory, healer-in-chief approach can render him invisible on platforms where conflict equals clicks.
YouTube, where progressives have only recently started competing for attention with an extensive network of popular right-wing creators, is particularly thorny territory for a centrist pragmatist like Mr. Biden. The platform’s left-wing commentariat, often referred to as “LeftTube” or “BreadTube,” mostly seems to consist of young Sanders supporters who see Mr. Biden as an establishment phony. Video compilations of Mr. Biden’s verbal gaffes, with titles like “17 Minutes of Joe’s Melting Brain,” have gotten millions of views over all.
Alex Thompson at Politico:
The 2020 presidential campaign’s transition to a mostly digital experience, with the nation on lockdown, has spotlighted a long-term progressive deficit on YouTube that some concerned Democrats compare to the right’s command of talk radio. The country’s leading video platform is also one of its largest search engines (after Google) and a key battlefield in campaigns’ fight to reach new voters and earn free media attention.
While Democratic campaigns and groups spend heavily on advertising on YouTube, they lag in organic content, with dozens of conservative and right-wing figures like Ben Shapiro, Mark Dice and Paul Joseph Watson and more official-sounding channels like Prager University cultivating enormous followings not yet matched by equivalents on the left.
That’s what led Biden to a live-streamed “family town hall” last Sunday night with a trio of YouTube family vloggers who have a combined 3.8 million subscribers. The Biden campaign’s renewed efforts amid the pandemic have come with growing pains: The former vice president awkwardly started off by telling them, “You have really great podcasts,” and the vloggers didn’t post videos about the event on their own channels, restricting Biden to his smaller subscriber base of just 21,500. The Biden campaign told POLITICO that "those who participated are amplifying the event on their own channels" but did not respond when asked for examples.
Still, the Biden’s campaign knows YouTube “is an essential platform for us,” one adviser said.
“‘LeftTube’ has two problems: One is volume and the other is content, neither of which it seems close to solving on its own,” said Stefan Smith, the former online engagement director for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. If the party doesn’t ensure that organic YouTube content is getting attention “in addition to paid digital [advertising], then we are in trouble.”
While Facebook has earned more scrutiny for its impact on U.S. politics, American adults report using YouTube more than any other online platform, with 73 percent saying they use it, according to Pew Research Center’s 2018 and 2019 surveys on social media use. It is even more popular with 18 to 29 year olds, with over 90 percent of that cohort saying they use the site — even higher rates than Instagram and Snapchat.
And it’s not just cat videos. Half of YouTube users said the site was “very” or “somewhat” important for helping them understand things happening in the world, according to another Pew survey from 2018, making the site’s potential influence on electoral politics clear.