In America’s first YouTube election, it turns out the voters were mainly in charge–not the campaigns or news organizations.
The Nation analyzed the top YouTube videos about both presidential nominees during the general election, starting in May after the parties’ primaries were settled, and found that the most-viewed videos were made by citizens and independent groups.
Out of the top twenty videos focusing on Obama, only one was produced by his campaign, an advertisement contrasting his economic credentials with John McCain’s. Three other Obama videos came from McCain’s headquarters, as viewers flocked to see sensational attack ads slamming the Democratic nominee as the latest celebrity. Most of the top videos, however, were created by ordinary people who were simply excited about politics or pop culture.
The most-viewed Obama video was a simple critique, “Dear Mr. Obama,” featuring Iraq War veteran Joe Cook challenging Obama on foreign policy. With help from a small Christian film company, the video first spread through organic viral networks, then drew attention from larger hubs like RushLimbaugh.com. It ultimately drew over 12.5 million views, far outpacing well-funded online video efforts by the campaigns and media organizations. Another top hit criticized a controversial clip from Fox News in which a guest joked about killing Obama, uploaded by an activist who blogs at DailyKos. Other crowd-pleasers are more irreverent.
“Barack Roll,” created by an Australian blogger in August, mashes up clips of Obama dancing with Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song often accompanies “Rick Rolls,” a popular web prank that draws in viewers with a fake title. Another hit mentioning Obama, “5 Friends Uncensored,” taps the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and Sarah Silverman in an irony-drenched public service announcement for voting. In total, six of the top twenty Obama videos were made by citizens, and another ten were produced by independent groups.
Meanwhile, none of the top twenty YouTube videos about McCain were produced by his campaign. In fact, only one top McCain video came from his rival: Keating Economics, the documentary-style attack that Obama’s aides launched as an online exclusive to rebut attacks about Bill Ayers. Nine McCain hits were made by citizens and ten came from outside groups, which ranged from the conservative Naked Emperor News website to the progressive Brave New Films, a new media organization run by director Robert Greenwald. He produced one of the most-viewed McCain videos, “McCain’s YouTube Problem Just Became a Nightmare,” which aggressively truth-squaded McCain with recordings of his past statements. McCain also got “Rick Rolled,” in a mashup that features Obama taking over the Republican Convention as he calmly recites lyrics from, naturally, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”