YouTube proved to be a powerful tool for democracy in the recent US election, and now it is the Israelis' turn to speak out. The website has become a platform for voters to put questions directly to the candidates ahead of the Feb. 10 poll.
The Agora exists again in the post-internet era in the form of YouTube, the video-hosting website which has been involving citizens in various elections around the world.
YouTube Israel, whose new trademark slogan is "Broadcast Yourself", has given voters a platform to directly address candidates in the country's forthcoming elections, to be held on February 10. The best questions are selected by Internet users and then put to the candidates before a panel of Web users in a special broadcast.
Ollie Rickman, a spokesman for YouTube Israel, told FRANCE 24 the initiative is "a perfect example of democracy in action". YouTube, he said, is not seeking to make profits. Rather, it wants to promote debate.
YouTube, a mirror of Israel's diversity
The issues raised readily demonstrate the breadth of opinion and diversity of concerns of the mainly young Israelis participating in the project.
These range from security to economy, and from the environment to the legal status of soft drugs: the complete spectrum reflecting a diverse electorate.
Greenpeace activist Dana wants to know the candidates' opinions on animal breeding programmes she considers harmful for the environment.
Joseph, a devout black hatter from Sderot, demands of the current foreign affairs minister and election candidate Tzipi Livini her policy on funding for the "Yeshivot" religious schools attended by Orthodox Jews.
This exercise in democracy illustrates Israeli society's different sensitivities, putting widely disparate views side by side: the militant left-winger next to a right-wing settler; a disillusioned rapper next to a worried childminder who is concerned about falling wages. Even an almost centenarian Jerusalem grandmother posted a video.
In the US, a broadcast during the Democratic primaries, entitled the “CNN / YouTube Debate" got the highest ever ratings in a presidential campaign for viewers aged between 18 and 35, according to YouTube.
For the Israeli campaign, some 250 videos have been posted and viewed by tens of thousands - a considerable number, according to Channel 2, considering the number of Israelis who are connected to the Internet.
If YouTube's stated motives are not financial, it still stands to gain considerably from the initiative.
David Burch, a marketing manager for Web analysis company TubeMogul, says the initiative will generate substantial advertising revenue for the site.
"Although they do not display ads next to political content, YouTube benefits from increased traffic and make significant revenue downstream as users click around the site," he said.
Another benefit for YouTube is that by posing as a viable tool for the promotion of democracy, it is no longer solely regarded as a fun site full of amateur videos. It gains legitimacy while at the same time bumping up its revenue – a win-win situation for the young and growing medium.
In the jungle that is the World Wide Web, YouTube "seems to show that the chaos can be organised", according to journalist and writer Francis Pisani, who specialises in information and communications technology. "Chaos is a good thing," he added. "Especially if you have the tools to organise it."
Date created : 2009-02-06