Government Web Sites Grapple with YouTube

YouTube is ubiquitous. Millions of people visit the site every day. For the Wired Generation, it’s the functional equivalent of television. Yet, despite the vast audience of YouTube, many government agencies do not make their videos available on the site. Some are even worse – and ban their employees from even visiting YouTube.

By withholding their videos from YouTube, government agencies are shortchanging their key mission, which is communicating to the public. Taxpayers paid for those videos and they shouldn’t be hidden away on some .gov site. They are in the public domain and should be made available in every venue possible, including the one that everyone watches. To not post your videos to YouTube is like saying, “Please don’t show my content on TV.”

There’s been discussion on the GovLoop web site (a social network for government folks) on whether government videos can and should be posted to YouTube. The objections fall into three main categories:

Sec. 508: Section 508 is about accessibility for all, i.e., making sure that government content can be accessed by people with screen readers and other types of disabilities. This is a legitimate issue but one that can be ameliorated by adding captions to videos and other measures.

Security: Can viruses be embedded in YouTube videos? Seems unlikely to me but this reasoning was used to deny one agency’s request to create a YouTube channel.

Snobbery: Videos on YouTube are “junked up” by ill-informed comments by the public. Also, YouTube is home to videos of stupid pet tricks and is not appropriate for my agency’s serious (yet obscure) mission.

I’m familiar with all of these issues, since I helped set up the NOAA Ocean Explorer channel on YouTube. For years, government web managers have gone back and forth on these problems. These challenges are holding up not just YouTube, but a wide range of social media tools that government should be using. A great deal of progress has been made. There are solutions to each one of these problems. 

But, really, it’s time for government to move forward. Every government agency should have its own channel on YouTube. And every government video should be online.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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