PM’s YouTube broadcast a sign of things to come from the Hill?

by

Linda Oliver
Vice-President, ITAC

First it was Minister Flaherty Tweeting the budget on March 4. Then on March 11, Prime Minister Harper streamed his reply to the Speech from the Throne on YouTube. And last night, YouTube broadcasted an interview with the Prime Minister, a moderator fielding questions from Canadian YouTube users.

With the private sector exploring how best to use social media more and more, it’s clear the Canadian government wants in on the fun.

So what sort of implications will this have in regards to how government communicates with the Canadian public?

During a broadcast of CBC’s “The National,” Allan Gregg of the program’s At Issue panel argued that while the use of this technology (YouTube) in this way is new, the strategy is not. The Globe and Mail agreed: “Political leaders have always searched for ways to get their message directly to voters, unfiltered by journalists.”

The question then becomes, how effective is this “circumventing” of the mass media? According to the Globe, perhaps not overly: “While politicians use YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media to circumvent the inconvenient filter of journalists, these new media are primarily used by the young, who show little interest in politics in general, and Conservatives in particular.”

But the government is optimistic. While the numbers of Canadians that tuned in for this most recent YouTube broadcast paled in comparison to the viewers that watched President Obama’s post-State of the Union address YouTube broadcast (5,129 Canadians asked the PM 1,794 questions, while Obama’s broadcast has garnered 870,000 views to date), the government is embracing social media nonetheless, and doing all it can to use these communication tools to its advantage.

“Mr. Flaherty says the Conservative government wants to “reach out to inform Canadians of actions” his government’s taking to support the economy. The minister says social media will bring the government message to Canadians in a “new, cost-effective and convenient way,”” the Globe and Mail reported after the Tweeting of the Budget.

And on the Prime Minister’s website, web surfers find an equally positive tone:

“The Government is also ensuring that it uses new and innovative ways to get in touch with Canadians. Canadians are no longer getting their news solely from traditional media. They are turning to new media in increasing numbers. YouTube and other forms of social media allow Canadians unfiltered and immediate access to Government information – like today’s speech. The use of YouTube livestreaming complements the Government’s current use of social media.”

Yet, the full impact of these social media – on enhancing government communication with the Canadian public – is yet to be determined. Many believe that honest, ethical, and comprehensive journalism is the backbone of democracy. Then what is to be said of social media as an integral part of eDemocracy, or in this case, what some have coined “YouTube-ocracy”?

It is extremely encouraging when we can look to government as an early adopter of technology, and aware of the latest technological trends. This is what is needed if Canada is going to establish itself as a global economic leader emerging from the recession. The onus is, therefore, on traditional media organizations to adjust…

“As legacy media – the new past-tense-laden term for newspapers, magazines and network television – struggle to retain readers and viewers, the role of social media in politics becomes increasingly intriguing,” the Globe reported.

That it does.

So while the specifics on what impact the use of social media will have on government operations (and how this impact is measured) may still be unknown, you can bet that the most successful governmental leaders of the twenty-first century will be well-versed in Tweeting, Facebook posting, and appearing in the odd YouTube video.

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