YouTube's Political Director Discusses Value of Social Media Websites in Iran Crisis

June 26, 2009
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

The fallout from the recent presidential election in Iran has set a precedent for the use of social media like YouTube and Twitter to transmit information around the world. We recently spoke with YouTube political director Steve Grove MPP 2006 to survey his perspective on the role his and other social media websites can play in covering and effecting international issues and events.
Q: Did the team at YouTube imagine how crucial the site would become for the Iranian people? What prior events have set the stage for YouTube becoming a main communications tool during political unrest?
A: You can never predict these things, but any time that a government shuts out foreign media, YouTube's role in news coverage is elevated. We saw this in the protests in Burma in the fall of 2007, for example. Our audience is actually 70 percent international, so it's often the uses of YouTube outside of United States that gain the greatest audience and have the greatest impact.
YouTube is the world's largest video news site - and citizen reporting makes up a big part of that. It's really changed how news consumers think about their ability to access information about events happening around the world. We've been aggregating the latest clips from Iran on Citizentube, our news and political video blog, at youtube.com/citizentube.
Q. Have you been struck by any particularly creative and effective uses of social media during the Iran crisis? What makes an effective piece of video during a time of political unrest?
A. Basically the events in Iran speak for themselves; by turning on their cameras, citizens are capturing exactly what people want to see. I think the interesting thing is that the fact they know they have an audience online has to be inspiring them to take the risks associated with this coverage. If they didn't think they could reach people, then the coverage itself wouldn't be happening. And even though YouTube is currently blocked in Iran, citizens are finding their way onto the site through Internet proxies, etc. With YouTube as a tool, free expression is much harder to stifle.
Usually violent footage is taken off of our site because it conflicts with our Community Guidelines; however we do evaluate footage on its documentary value - context is important, and in this case the context is that there is really no other way to get this footage. So if users are flagging footage as violent, our team takes a look but judges each video within that larger context.
Q. When and why did the formation of Citizentube come about? How have you seen its role develop recently?
A. Citizentube has been a tool we've used to communicate both the trends in news and political video, and to engage viewers on our own political programming (debates, citizen reporting initiatives, etc.). We started back during the 2008 election, and now we're using it as a breaking news hub.
Our latest initiative is Video Volunteers - a new platform we've built to let YouTube users make videos on behalf of nonprofits they care about - you can find out more at youtube.com/videovolunteers.

image of Steve Grove

Steve Grove MPP 2006, YouTube political director

"Any time that a government shuts out foreign media, YouTube's role in news coverage is elevated. We saw this in the protests in Burma in the fall of 2007, for example. Our audience is actually 70 percent international, so it's often the uses of YouTube outside of United States that gain the greatest audience and have the greatest impact."


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