YouTube Congress Channel Launches

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Today, YouTube announced the creation of two channels made specifically to accomodate videos posted by congressional lawmakers. The channels have been in the works for some time as Congress finally freed themselves of cumbersome regulations governing the use of outside web sites. As one of the authors of the Open House Project section calling for the restrictions to be lifted, it is great to see this success and what the future of a connected Congress looks like.

There are few differences in the channels from the rest of YouTube. The main difference is the lack of advertising and the removal of the watermark (the little YouTube logo on every video) from each video. These changes were necessary to ensure compliance with long standing congressional rules. The most notable difference is the launch page for each channel. Each launch page contains a Google Map interface allowing users to click on a given state to see a listing of lawmakers with YouTube accounts.

The YouTube channels are accessible at youtube.com/senatehub and youtube.com/househub. And here’s a video announcing the channel launch from the congressional party leaders:

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  • Google is taking a lobbying tactic developed in part by CSPAN years ago–offer members of Congress a free service so they can be seen by the public. That kind of electronic or digital campaign contribution helps insure that Congress will think twice about biting (or regulating) the video hand that feeds. Google’s new YouTube Senate and House Hub channels raise a number of concerns and policy questions.

    For example, what happens to the user data as people click on the Congressional YouTube channels? Does Google get to collect, analyze and use such data for its growing political online advertising business? Beyond privacy, should Congress be endorsing a private for-profit venture as the principal access point voters and constituents need to use? Does the use of YouTube create a potential conflict of interest for members of Congress who will need to regulate Google–on such things as competition (the DoJ recently described Google as a monopoly); privacy, consumer protection, etc (remember, Google sells all kinds of ads for mortgages, credit cards, junk food, health remedies, etc.).

    It’s not a coincidence perhaps that Google’s YouTube congressional channel announcement comes at the same time the company is expanding its online ad business for politics. As Ad Age reports this week,“The end of an election season usually means dismantling the campaign apparatus until the next cycle. But not at Google; not this year…Rather than packing it all away until 2010, it’s hoping to build a year-round political-advertising business one House seat and hot-button issue at a time. “There are 500,000 elected officials in the U.S. With the advances we’ve made in geo-targeting, we think this will be part of every political campaign in the country, as well as issue campaigns,” said Peter Greenberger, Google’s director of election and issue advocacy…Google doesn’t yet offer targeting based on congressional districts, but with ZIP code and city targeting, politicians and advocacy groups can cobble together a reasonable approximation of a congressional district.”

    The in-coming Obama Administration has had the support of Google’s CEO, and company officials have played a role in the transition. But the new administration should develop a digital outreach approach to the public which is public–and non-commercial–in nature. It shouldn’t show any favoritism, even if Google is the leading search and video service. It should be a change.org–not a government via dot com.