Guest blog: Kevin Poulter on the YouTube election

The YouTube election

YouTube reached its tenth birthday in April and the website that made Psy and his ‘Gangnam Style’ a worldwide phenomenon, viewed over 2.3billion times, is fast becoming a battleground in political campaigns and electioneering.

Unless you are living under a rock, you will not have been able to avoid the furore around self-styled revolutionary Russell Brand’s ground-breaking interview with Ed Miliband. The covert scene was set on Tuesday night, when the Labour Leader’s motorcade made its way to Brand’s back door. Speculation grew as to why the anti-establishment non-voter was secretly meeting with a politician.  The answer was soon revealed and Brand’s YouTube channel, which has over 1.1million subscribers, when a video interview with Miliband was released as part of his daily ‘Trews’ (short for true news) programme.  Brand has uploaded over 300 episodes in the past year and has a loyal fan base.

The video itself, almost 14 minutes long, has been viewed 905,066 times (correct at the time of writing). The content is largely irrelevant.  What is interesting is that this has kick-started the debate amongst the generation of first time voters.  Another video featuring Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and leader Natalie Bennett has been viewed over 175,000 times in only 24 hours (10,000 times fewer than Bennett’s infamous ‘car crash’ interview on Sunday Politics from January).  Brand went further, to endorse Lucas and tell viewers in Brighton Pavilion to “vote for this person”.

To put the figures into context, Newsnight attracts an audience of around 550,000 and recent statistics show that Good Morning Britain has only 559,000 viewers after a year on air.

But will Millennials be persuaded that voting is a privilege that should be valued or not to vote because of, in the words of Brand, “absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations”.

Video killed the #selfie star

Short-form videos have become increasingly popular over the past 12 months. The BBC and other news providers’ decision to focus their smartphone apps and websites on bite-size video content is part of this telling trend.

YouTube has also been the forum in which politicians have been caught out whilst on the campaign trail. Anyone with a smartphone is able to instantly record, edit and post video content, largely uncensored and often of questionable quality. The launch of live broadcasting apps, such as Meerkat and Periscope, means that any faux pas can now be seen by hundreds instantly and replayed by thousands within a matter of minutes. For now, though, the domination of YouTube is set to continue and will surely play an even bigger part in #GE2020.

But for now, in the closing days of this election, candidates may want to think twice before defaming on door-steps, criticising counterparts or promising policies.  You never know who might be watching with their smartphone.

Kevin Poulter is a Legal Director at Bircham Dyson Bell and Editor-at-Large of Solicitors Journal