In this study, YouTube videos related to public education were identified and evaluated. The researcher typed the term public education into the YouTube search bar and then analyzed the first 60 videos provided by the site. Two programmers (including the researcher) independently coded the videos as negative, neutral or positive in light of the following question: “Is public education described in this video in a negative, neutral or positive way?” Internet information gatekeeper theory and social construction theory of reality provided the theoretical framework for the study, and the results were discussed through the lenses provided by these theories.
Public education has long been the subject of live debates in both the public and academic spheres. With the invention of the Internet, the debate on public education has become even wider. The Internet has become more than just a platform for obtaining information or making purchases; it has become an “interactive and participatory” environment (Freeman & Chapman, 2007) in which lively debates take place. One of the most visited websites in the world is YouTube, which started in 2005.
YouTube allows billions of people to discover, view and share originally created videos. YouTube provides a forum where people can connect, inform and inspire others around the world and serves as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers, large and small. (YouTube, 2016)
Although YouTube has become an important vehicle for evidence of public debates (Burgess & Green, 2013), this has not always been the case. The first video was uploaded to YouTube by one of YouTube’s founders, Jawed Karim, on Saturday 23 April 2005. The title of this video was “Me at the Zoo”, Mr. Karim simply talked about the elephants in the zoo saying, “Ok, here we are in front of the elephants, the good thing about these guys is they have very, very, very long trunks, umm, and that’s great. ”This 18 second video now has over 45 million views and over 350,000 comments. Although YouTube started with a frivolous video, it now covers a wide range of topics, some of which deal with serious topics like medical practices and the purpose of education. The nature of YouTube videos has changed along with its motto, from “Your digital repository” to “Stream it yourself” (Burgess & Green, 2013). The participatory aspect of YouTube has allowed it to expand its content. In its participatory culture, users are invited to actively participate in the discussion, augmenting existing content and creating new ones (Jenkins, 2006). For cultural studies theorists, the value of grassroots participation and popular participation rarely lies in the substance of participation, but in the idea of democratic participation (Burgess & Green, 2013). Due to YouTube’s popularity on social media, people are increasingly watching videos that are not professional media productions. As a dynamic platform for democratic participation, YouTube is mostly filled with amateur videos made by people outside of television or the film industry. This online platform provides a place for the living expression of emotional and social experiences, including current socio-cultural policies (Strangelove, 2010).
To understand YouTube’s role in social discourse, the theory of the social construction of reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1991) and the theory of Internet information guardians (Laidlaw, 2010) were used. Both theories provide a useful theoretical framework for this current study. According to the Internet Information Guardian Theory, Internet Guardians participate in shaping discussion in society by controlling the flow of information through selection and inhibition (Laidlaw, 2010). Internet gatekeepers select what content will be provided to shape the perceptions of others and what content will be removed or set aside in order to inhibit access. Through the process of surrender, elimination and inhibition, internet gatekeepers influence democratic discourse in a society. YouTube participates in this tracking activity when it evaluates, promotes, adds, and removes videos. YouTube viewers’ perceptions are impacted when some videos are ranked above others, providing high visibility for those videos.