Viral videos in blue and red

Bill Bishop, in “The Big Sort“, argues that Americans have sorted themselves into separate Americas, where we attend different choices, eat in different restaurants and shop in different stores. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we watch different YouTube videos.

My friend John Kelly and his colleagues with Morningside Analytics have put together a very smart new tool, called Shifting the Debate. Analyzing what YouTube videos bloggers on the left and the right link to, they’ve offered a portrait of video political commentary. They offer a tool – the Video Barometer, which displays which videos are more likely to be linked by bloggers on the left or on the right, how strong the left/right preference is, and how popular these videos are, in terms of incoming links.


Screenshot from Morningside Analytics Video Barometer

Unsurprisingly, there are two large sets of videos linked almost exclusively by folks on the left or on the right. 34 conservatives and no liberals have linked to Glenn Beck’s Obama National Anthem… you’ll be very surprised, I’m sure, to know that it’s sung to the tune of the former Soviet national anthem, and has The Messiah demanding your money and guns. And 38 liberal blogs and only one conservative blog link to a video montage of conservative commentators complaining about McCain’s presidential campaigning. (Just a note for all the smug, self-satisfied liberals out there – a group that often includes me: There are a lot of videos listed here linked only by conservative blogs and not by liberal blogs. I couldn’t find a single video that’s solely linked to by liberal blogs. Who’s running the more insulated echo chamber here?)

My friend Bruno Giussani suggested 18 months ago that this would be the year of user-generated swiftboating, where average citizens lined up to create blogposts, photo montages and videos that critiqued, discredited and smeared political candidates. While there’s been some of that, one of the interesting discoveries that comes from the Morningside set is the importance of video from professional media.

The most-linked video on the liberal side is Wassup 2008 – a parody of Budweiser beer ads that revisits the “Wassup?” guys after eight years of Bush/Cheney – it was produced by 60 frames, a web-based entertainment company. The second most popular is produced by Al Jazeera, and is a painful overview of some of McCain/Palin’s most out of touch, racist and bigoted voters. On the conservative side of the fence, the most popular is a McCain speech at the Al Smith Foundation, filmed by Fox News. The second probably qualifies as citizen media (and perhaps as user-generated swiftboating), a video by Illuminati Film, which appears to be a pair of independent filmmakers. Titled “Obama Citizenship”, it’s a video questioning whether Obama was born in the US, largely featuring a Pennsylvania attorney who runs a website called Obamacrimes.com. All these videos have relatively high production values, suggesting that one of the major obstacles to user-generated swiftboating is the level of technical expertise we appreciate in our media, including in our viral videos.

What’s most hopeful for me in the Morningside data is the discovery that there are some videos linked to by both the left and the right. One popular video is the full footage from the third presidential debate. Another is a video – Five Friends – where the cast of Friends urges Americans to vote. And then, there’s humor – both liberals and conservatives are finding something to like in a video that counts Barack Obama’s references to pie – “Too Much Pie for One Guy“. I think we can all agree that Obama should eat before he speaks in the future.

What’s the most popular video evenly linked by liberals and conservatives? Turns out we can all agree that remaking eighties music videos by narrating what happens in inexplicably trippy videos is an excellent idea. Yes, we all love the literal version of Take On Me. Perhaps there’s hope for political compromise in the United States after all.


Oddly enough, few on the left or the right appear to be linking to the Japanese video Obama is Beautiful World (エニワン・ブラザース・バンド) Can’t imagine why…


A somewhat more informative and serious look at the Morningside project from colleagues at Berkman’s Internet and Democracy project.

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