Joining the online video conversation? Discourse and practices of European political institutions and politicians on YouTube

This paper aims to describe how YouTube has been taken up by institutional actors, with a special focus on European examples. Political organisations and politicians are still trying to understand how to deal with the online environment, and in this case with YouTube. Some attempts have been made to promote stronger citizen engagement, in particular during elections. These have achieved limited success: participation numbers are low, and citizens who participate seem to stand in extreme sides of the debate, pushing even further away participants with moderate convictions. Furthermore, many Presidents and Prime Ministers – and in 2010 the European Commission – have disabled comments on their videos. The main choice has been to treat a YouTube channel as both a distribution channel and an archive, largely neglecting its social media features. As in the early years of institutional websites, new opportunities for communication are far from being fully embraced. Although exceptions can be made, they are still mainly in the USA, where politicians and institutions have created richer channels. Through the analysis of official documents and YouTube activity, I seek to trigger a discussion on the existence and reasons for discrepancies between the promises embedded on discourses praising online video as a communication tool and the actual practices by politicians, governments and organisations.