YouTube: Surveillance, Power, Audience, and Monetizing the Message

YouTube: Surveillance, Power, Audience, and Monetizing the Message

Matthew Crick (William Paterson University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0983-7.ch059
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Abstract

According to the London Telegraph (Barrett, 2013), Online London has one CCTV camera for every 11 people in Britain. The average number is most likely around five million cameras in total. MSNBC (Timm, 2013) reported in August 2013 that the number of security cameras in the New York City public sector was as many as 6,000. In Chicago in May 2013 (Cox, 2013), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported a “frightening number” of surveillance cameras, with as many as 22,000 citywide, posing what Adam Schwartz of the ACLU called a menace to privacy. The twin concepts of surveillance and power are expressed in unique ways in YouTube. Philosophers such as Michel Foucault have written extensively about these ideas regarding cultural institutions such as prisons and democratic governments. In many ways, YouTube is organized and exhibits similar expressions of who has power and who is watching us. However, YouTube is different; the Internet and YouTube have made citizen surveillance fast, inexpensive, and easy. According to many companies and corporations, including YouTube's parent company Google, consumers are tracked—in fact, each mouse click is tracked—to provide better services and more products and to prepackage demographic and socioeconomic information, which corporations and companies can sell to other for-profit entities. Google and YouTube make this easy with Adsense and Adwords technologies and, like television and film, the YouTube worldwide audience is ripe for commodification, often with users' full knowledge and consent. YouTube advertising strategies are widely used; reportedly, a full-size YouTube banner advertisement can cost $200,000 or more. YouTube provides a place to make money, although not a living wage for most YouTubers, and this possibility and cultural narrative is widely disseminated throughout the Googleverse and YouTube. Similar to broadcast television audiences, YouTube audiences are measured using A. C. Nielsen tools. This company creates and controls the measurement technology used to determine YouTube's monetary value so advertising costs can be institutionalized. YouTube audiences and how they think, behave, and function in YouTube is an important part of YouTube discourse. The scholarly discourse surrounding Audience Studies shines an additional light into what it's like to be a YouTuber.
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Audience Theory And Audience Commodification

For decades, media scholars looked at audiences as passive. For example, in the 1950s, audiences were thought of as merely receivers of information, “injected” with media messages. This “hypodermic needle” theory of communication framed much of the writing about media audiences at the time. The audience was seen as a mass of empty heads.

Christopher Simpson’s assessment of early communication history, Science of Coercion (1994), cited Harold Lasswell: “Those who have money to support research should systematically manipulate mass sentiment in order to preserve democracy from threats posed by authoritarian societies such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union” (as cited in Simpson, 1994, p. 23). There are some significant assumptions in Lasswell’s thinking. First, Lasswell conceptualized the audience as one large group of faceless human beings. It is difficult to imagine such a mindset today, particularly when considering YouTube and the fact that we actually see individual humans and their YouTube channels. From Lasswell’s perspective, for example, if “mass sentiment” referred to unique individuals, then it would not be so easy to “systematically manipulate” them. This suggests what Ien Ang called “evaluative meaning” when referring to the audience. Second, Lasswell privileged the power structures at the time over individual “power”; in this case, he was referring to researchers who are given money by the government and the military/industrial complex.

Current scholars such as Ien Ang seek to describe the audience differently. It is assumed that the audience has power over the media, not the other way around.

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