MySpace & YouTube

It was my mother who always said “sometimes you have to work within a corporate giant to plant the seed for change.” So, how does an innovative and web based site YouTube, now owned by the corporate giant Google, warrant spaces for social change? How can YouTube continue to be a free expressive site for personal video if owned by a corporate giant expecting to make a profit?
Looking at YouTube’s fellow internet comrade MySpace might give us some insight. MySpace has been an extremely powerful tool to connect all kinds of people: bands, politicians, volunteers, and friends, but especially youth. It has become the place for creating a visual counterpart to on-line identities. On a daily basis, youth invest several hours creating and updating their profiles, adding technically advanced features to their accounts, and chatting with their virtual community of friends—all for free. Young people develop a sense of ownership of their MySpace world and it is powerful.
When in dialogue with youth about the fact that News Corporation, owner of Fox broadcasting channels and other major media outlets, owns and operates MySpace, many youth frown upon the news. Nevertheless, this does not stop them from using MySpace as an accessible tool of connecting, researching, and mobilizing their communities. There is reason to be critical and cautious about corporate owned operations. If MySpace (or YouTube) does not continue to demonstrate success through profit, its owners can shut it down or require a costly user fee. Furthermore, if material on these sites runs counter to some of the corporation’s beliefs or philosophies, can these corporations start to sensor or edit material? Possibly. But for now, MySpace still facilitates radical activism and youth connectivity whether News Corporation wants it to or not.
The most recent social networking site bought by a corporation, YouTube, started as a resource for bands, record labels, and the music industry at large. Still operating as a free resource to this audience, YouTube has also attracted youth activists to use videos as sources of political irony, spread opinions, garner activism, and document injustice. For example, young people in attendance at a rock show in Houston, TX, where the band Two Gallants performed, used video features on their cell phones to document an account of police brutality. These clips were uploaded onto YouTube; some were viewed 658,090 times, which sparked a massive electronic discussion on issues raised by the incident and proved the bands’ innocence in a lawsuit.
YouTube, like MySpace, has the ability to connect ideas, opinions, and attitudes by offering users the ability to upload, share, and comment on videos from people all over the world. Much like a virus, the internet can be, in Karen Brooks’ words from the Dallas Morning News “powerful when a video, a photograph, a slogan––or a spoof thereof––catches on and spreads to thousands or hundreds of thousands of home pages and profiles.”
Youth are using YouTube as a tool to create grassroots movements despite the potential downsides of corporate ownership. Though Google now owns and operates YouTube, youth have not stopped using the site’s ability to bolster their activism in new and innovative ways. Until YouTube or MySpace start censoring, editing, or even co-opting the original material posted on these sites, young people will continue using the resources these sites offer despite changes in ownership.
YouTube offers a new, paradoxical model for youth media activism; it is used as a resource for organizing and civic action, but viewed as a profit driver by its corporate owners. Ultimately, YouTube offers youth a powerful tool in planting the seeds of social change outside and within a corporate domain. As Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas states in, “If we could just tap into the ingenuity of young people and the energy they bring to MySpace and translate that energy into civic involvement, then I think you’ve done something powerful.” It looks as though young people have not only tapped, but propelled their ingenuity straight into YouTube and are going to continue to use it in powerful ways, despite recent corporate ownership. And, it is this youth-driven ingenuity that will determine whether Google reaps profit from its users or in fact, ends up supporting a new culture of youth activism that controls, harnesses, and uses YouTube as a device for social change.
Ingrid H. Dahl is the new editor of Youth Media Reporter at AED. She is a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, in three rock bands, and has an M.A. degree in Women’s & Gender Studies.

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