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Thinking about YouTube as public infrastructure

What We Discovered on ‘Deep YouTube’ - The Atlantic:

Changing the language we use to talk about YouTube allows a discussion based on its real place in the world. Perhaps when we talk about YouTube, instead of referencing MrBeast and Cocomelon, we should think about the December 18 meeting of the Amherst Board of Education. It provides a good example of YouTube used for recordkeeping, not for virality, with roughly 50 views at the time of writing. Those may be exactly the views it was intended to get. Indeed, if such a video goes viral, there’s a good chance something is terribly wrong.

I had a brief exchange online a few days ago about whether or not treating internet service like public utilities—while well-intentioned as a means of ensuring access to those services—might have the unintended effect of giving them more cover than they deserve for hosting bad actors and harmful content. When I had tossed out the suggestion that internet services should be treated like utilities (and regulated as such as well), I was thinking mainly of stuff like ISPs and hosting infrastructure providers, but I did note that “the trick is where in the stack you draw the line between public and private.”

The study described here gets at that latter bit, I think.

I appreciate that the author uses local government meetings (and only a few towns away from me, no less) as an example of “Deep YouTube. Many of the local government meetings here in my town, while they are broadcast and recorded by our local community access TV station, are live-streamed via YouTube. YouTube is also where they are stored; if I want to watch last month’s meeting of the City Council, I have to go find the recording on the community access station’s YouTube channel.

I get why this happens. Data storage and streaming are complicated and expensive, we struggle to fund sewer repairs and sufficient staffing and programming for our schools, and the city doesn’t want to be in the technology business.

Makes sense, except now we find ourselves in a position where we are entirely dependent on YouTube for residents' open access to municipal government proceedings. This situation is better than what we used to have—if the you couldn’t attend the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in person on a Tuesday afternoon, you were just out of luck—but it’s great until it’s not. We are one YouTube policy change away from having the rug pulled out from under us.

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