Questions remain as to which types of YouTube videos are most successful, who the target audience is and if that fluctuates and how to mobilize people online. A study examines the Proposition 8 and Occupy Wall Street Movements in an attempt to answer these questions.
But before diving into those case studies, it's important to understand the context of the expanding digital age.
Political activity on social networking sites is a growing trend
Almost 40 percent of American adults participated in some sort of political activity on social networking sites, according to an April 2013 Pew Research Center report. This is understandable, as the amount of political activity on social networking sites has steadily increased form 2008 to 2012, according to the same report.
Overall, this follows the growing trend of more adults using social networking sites in general.
The percent of users who visited these sites to post political news increased from 11 percent to 28 percent from 2008 to 2012. Additionally, the amount of users who started or joined a political or social issue-oriented group online jumped from 13 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2012.
But this isn’t a general trend for all Americans, as young adults are more prominent users. For example, two-thirds of all 18-24 year olds are politically active online while the same can be said for just 13 percent of all people ages 65 and older.
Youtube is an effective way to share social activism posts across the world
YouTube receives 800 million visitors a month and is a highly social way to share far-reaching video content quickly, according to a 2012 Forbes interview with Hunter Walk, Director of Product Management at YouTube.
As young adults more frequently harness the political mobilization capability of social networking sites, social movements can effectively use YouTube to gain supporters.
Walk noted that “nonprofits and activism” and “education” are among the fastest growing categories of videos hosted on YouTube.
“Whether notifying the world of government abuses, teaching math to millions or creating a movement against gay bullying, YouTube became a place of inspiration in addition to entertainment,” Walk said.
Occupy Wall Street and Proposition 8 movements highlight differences in activism Youtube videos
Although, the expansive reach of YouTube is known, as well as an increase in American's social media use, a study aims to examine what makes a Youtube video effective in garnering support.
In an attempt to measure this, a study looks at two movements simultaneously — the Occupy Wall Street Movement and California's Proposition 8 ballot initiative regarding same sex marriage — and measured what types of videos appeared for each.
For example, the study measured the percent of borrowed video type for each movement, such as news television, entertainment, advertisement or music video. After analyzing the data, the authors found that the most common type of borrowed video was news television.
Additionally, the study measured how many views each of these videos — scripted, filmed live, monologue or interview — received. This comparison shows that while the Proposition 8 movement videos seem to have garnered more attention, both movements receive the highest views from scripted video and the lowest from the live ones (the Proposition 8 movement did not use interview in videos).
The previously mentioned study gives the reader insight into how social movements can use YouTube videos to attract attention, but it is limited in that these movements occurred at a specific time. Furthermore, these social movements are fixed in a social context, with specific connotations, audiences and differing technological capabilities and differing public perceptions.
Proposition 8 was a California ballot initiative banning gay marriage that passed in 2008 with about 52 percent of the vote. This measure eventually made its way to the Supreme Court in 2012, where it was struck down as unconstitutional, thus making gay marriage legal in California.
While the Proposition 8 movement aimed to define marriage in the state constitution through legislative channels, nothing about the Occupy Wall Street Movement was traditional.
It began in a small square in a New York City financial district in 2011 and grew to be an international social and political movement against inequality. Protesters main concerns were that large corporations controlled everything, disproportionally benefitting too few and hurting minorities.
So while the study compared these two movements in terms of YouTube activism videos, the scope, make-up and goals of the two movements were very different.
With more people than ever using the Internet, social activists must harness this power by producing engaging YouTube videos.