Are Conservatives Being Left Out of Web 2.0?

Media Bloggers Association president Robert Cox believes the recent decision by YouTube to ban Michelle Malkin may be a canary in the proverbial Web 2.0 coal mine.

Some might note that Malkin can still host her videos elsewhere. Of course she can, but that would fail to understand the powerful forces of “network externalities” at play online. There is no Avis to eBay’s Hertz for good reason: Once an online network is fully catalyzed, there is no reason to join an alternative network. If you want to get the most money for your Beanie Baby collection, you are going to want access to the most potential bidders — and that means eBay.

YouTube is poised to become the eBay of video file sharing. If you want the biggest audience for your video, you want access to the most potential viewers — and that means YouTube.

Google understands this dynamic, which is why the company announced Monday that it will purchase YouTube — a company that has never made a dime — for $1.65 billion. YouTube fits very well within the Google online media portfolio. The company already owns, the most popular blog hosting site online, and Google News, which in two short years has become one of the top news sites in the world.

Don’t think it matters? Consider that, according to USA Today, 98 percent of the money donated to political parties by Google employees — “Google Millionaires” — went to Democrats.

But it’s not just Google’s media and financial muscle that benefits the left. Liberals run the leading blog search engine — Technorati. They run the leading blog software manufacturer — Six Apart. They invented two of the most important blogging technologies — Podcasting and RSS. The list goes on and on.

Perhaps my technical knowledge is insufficient to imagine the possibilities, but I don’t see how it much matters who invents certain technologies. If the people behind Six Apart decided they wanted to stop conservatives from downloading their blog software (which would be an insane business move) they still couldn’t dictate the content of what was on the blogs already using Movable Type. It would, conceivably, mean conservatives couldn’t download upgraded versions but that would simply mean living with current technology or moving to one of many competitors. Ditto Podcasting and RSS technology.

Much more problematic, though, are the market leaders that actually control the means of distribution. YouTube’s decision to ban certain viewpoints does in fact alter the ability of one side of a debate to get its message out. Similarly, Digg and many of its emulators are dominated by cabals who work together to push certain stories up to the front page or suppress them. If there’s a strong ideological bias to those dominant cliques (and I have no reason to think there is), certain viewpoints get advantaged.

I’ve personally experienced the frustration Malkin did when running up against seemingly arbitrary decisions by these behemoths and discovering that they won’t even deign to offer an explanation. Last November, I discovered that several blogs I was running on Google’s Blogspot site had suddenly disappeared. Click the link at left for a detailed discussion of my futile attempts to get an explanation, let alone recover thousands of manhours of work. Then, in January, OTB stopped being archived on GoogleNews along with hundreds of other blogs. My attempts to get an explanation were similarly fruitless.

Google has competitors in all these fields, to be sure, but they are by far the market leader. Their ability to act with impunity makes them incredibly powerful. Most people access blogs, and Web content in general, almost exclusively via search engine and aggregator referrals. Viewpoint based exclusion from these gateway sites gives their owners incredible power to frame the public debate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anon says:

    If Malkin’s goal was to get her video seen by people visiting the YouTube site, then it is true that YouTube’s refusal might hurt her. However, I suspect that in Michelle’s case, most people see her videos through her site or other blogs.

    In that case, it really doesn’t matter where it is hosted. (Except for the hosting costs, which don’t seem to be the concern here.)

  2. madmatt says:

    gosh that would be similar to right wing radio…hate drowns out all reasonable conversations…or like countless right wing websites that filter comments for opinion not profanity!

    Plus if republicans are smarter why do libs invent all the cool stuff?

  3. Someone wise once said that freedom of the press only applies to those who own printing presses. What I find more troubling is the seeming desire to create an echo chamber where only like minded voices can be heard. Is that the world they really want?

  4. legion says:

    For a surprising (and disturbing) number of people, the answer would be yes. There is a distinct ‘pack mentality’ undercurrent to human social interaction…

  5. It would be interesting to understand the reason behind the decision to stop the hosting. My understanding is that youtube is essentially community enforced standards, so it takes people objecting to a video to get it banned and enough bans on a single user to get them booted. If so, what we are seeing here is liberals trying to shut down speech they don’t like. Conservatives can violate their principles by likewise shutting down liberal speech at youtube, which would create a no man zone. As long as both sides “patrolled” the no man zone, no political speech would be made.

    The test to me would be to create an account with some liberal video material. Then invite people to object and see if youtube shuts it down.

  6. legion says:

    You assume that only ‘liberals’ would object to Malkin’s content. Or that only ‘conservatives’ would object to whatever you put up. I can’t even get to Youtube from work to evaluate, but isn’t it possilbe that what she had up was simply inappropriate?

  7. Legion,

    It is possible, but one example of the “inappropriate” is the ‘Zucker’ commercial. So while I’m not in a position to know all the posts in question (I don’t go to Malkin’s site often), there is at least one example that took the “conservative” position, gored the “liberal” ox and was banned, though it was appropriate by youtube standards otherwise. So while I am open to the possibility that this isn’t political at its heart (and I suspect youtube viewers not youtube per se based on what I know), I don’t think that is the likely case.