Video bloggers use sites like YouTube to get the message out

Frank Yonkof

There are many reasons Angie Jackson chose to video-blog her abortion on YouTube.

The video update and live tweeting that followed wasn’t just to get attention or justify her decision, but to help others make the same decision, Jackson said in the video.

“I’m doing this to demystify abortion,” Jackson said in the two-and-a-half minute video after taking RU-486, the abortion pill. “I’m doing this so that other women know, ‘Hey, it’s not nearly as terrifying as I had myself worked up thinking it was.’ It’s not that bad, and I want people to know.”

The video, simply titled “Abortion,” has gotten more than 270,000 views since it was first posted. A year and several death threats later, Jackson is still video-blogging on topics she cares deeply about.

Being a single mother of an autistic child, Jackson passionately battles the myths and stereotypes of the disorder. Also, being a former cult member, Jackson uses her channel to discuss her problems with religion and religious people.

AngieAntiTheist, as her subscribers know her as on YouTube, is not alone. In the six years since the video-sharing website launched, YouTube users across the globe have set up channels solely devoted to sharing their own opinions via webcams.

To people who aren’t savvy in social media, the idea of taking the time to set up a camera and rant for few minutes seems ludicrous. Some video bloggers, or “vloggers,” will say the goal is not to be noticed or get someone to listen to them; it is to set the record straight and respond to something they see as a lie, whether it is from the mainstream media or a fellow vlogger.

Video blogging has recently caught the attention of researchers at the Idiap Research Institute in Switzerland, who analyzed over 150 hours of YouTube video to capture emerging trends within the vlogging community.

“While vlogs are not face-to-face conversations, it is clear that vloggers often behave as if they were having a conversation with their audience,” wrote Joan-Isaac Biel and Daniel Gatica-Perez in the 2010 report.

The researchers were able to pinpoint specific behaviors that generally led to higher video views. Vloggers who talk longer, faster and with few pauses had more popular videos on YouTube. Confident and influential people tend to speak louder, the report said, and vloggers with a higher speaking energy saw more hits on their videos.

Vloggers like Jackson use these behavior techniques to keep viewers watching in hopes that their opinions are influential. Persuasion, Jackson said in an e-mail interview, is one of the main reasons she remains active on YouTube. And with her videos, she hopes to get people to the polls to elect candidates who support the causes she cares deeply about.

Before joining the YouTube community in December 2009, Jackson wrote a blog, which she still maintains.

“There were some things I wanted to talk about that I felt would be better expressed through a video, where I could use tone of voice and facial expression to the message,” Jackson said.

These days, Jackson has more encounters with her online community than she does in person. Social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder keep her inside her apartment.

In one video, Jackson talks about her disorder and how it prevents her from leaving her apartment without another adult. Going down to the bus stop to pick her kid up from school is hard, she says in the video. Going down to the mailbox is terrifying.

Jackson’s childhood experiences in a fundamentalist Christian sect helped cause her disorder, she says, and remains one of the reasons she video blogs. She grew up in the Home in Zion Ministries, a faith healing and spiritual welfare group she described as a cult started by her grandmother, Carol Balizet.

The central focus of the group, which operated from 1978 to 2001, was home birth. Members did not believe in medical treatment. In a 1998 incident

that gained media attention, a two-year-old boy died hours after he tripped on a yellow jacket nest. Harrison Johnson was stung 432 times, but his parents did not call paramedics until seven hours later, even though he was covered in welts, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Jackson used to babysit him. She says her grandmother was present at the time of the incident. The group eventually lost the support of the Christian homeschooling and home birth movement, Jackson said.

At one time, Jackson said she was a C-level executive for a company but was laid off when the economy tanked, she said in one video. Since then, she applied for disability benefits and has set up a PayPal account for donations.

“The joy of YouTube (is) I could take a week off as a mental health break, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it,” Jackson said in a video about her disability. “It’s not like you fuckers pay me.”

Angie Jackson is actually her pen name, she explained. She originally came up with it to protect her family’s identity in her blogs, but she now uses it to protect herself from death threats from other YouTubers.

In a seven-minute video titled “Hatemail,” Jackson mimics her opponents while reading their comments and e-mails.

“I generally hope someone finds and kills this filthy, revolting whore and tweets about it so we can all share in the experience.”

“I guarantee someone is going to be at your door, and then you’re a dead hooker.”

“Seriously, someone is going to blow your head off, and you, missy, deserve it. See you in hell.”

A different kind of vlogger

While there are many people like Jackson who set up a simple webcam to capture their footage, there is also a second breed of vloggers. These vloggers tend to have professional video equipment and editing software.

Some host professional shows like “The Young Turks,” and others work for think tanks and political organizations.

Lee Doren works for the free market think tank “Competitive Enterprise Institute” and maintains the channel “HowTheWorldWorks.” Unlike most vloggers, Doren has an animated introduction — theme music included. In some ways, his channel replicates a nightly news show.

“I used to work for an environmental lobbying organization,” said Doren in an e-mail. “My political views started to change when I realized that a lot of what we were advocating was actually harming people. I started blogging about my views, and eventually transitioned into video where YouTube was sharing advertising revenue with people.”

At first, Doren would upload his videos anonymously, but then he started to use his real name. Since many of his co-workers share his same views, he doesn’t fear backlash. However, most of his friends don’t know about his channel. Doren doesn’t talk politics with all of his friends, he said.

For Doren, the main purpose of his channel is to debunk the mainstream leftist views that are seen in the news media and from other YouTube channels. With his videos, he hopes to get people to stop holding the views he once did.

But Doren takes it one step further. Instead of just sitting behind his computer at home, he has given speeches, appeared on CNN and Fox News and spoke outside the Capitol building on the Sept. 12 march on Washington.

“Honestly, I wasn’t very political before social media,” Doren said. “However, I imagine that is correlative and not causal, because I was younger when there was no social media.”

This activism and vlogging come at a price. Many Americans don’t put much trust in citizen media. An Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll in September found that 54 percent of Americans have little or no confidence in blogs and other citizen media. Some view vloggers as extremists, but that doesn’t faze people like Doren.

“They are probably right,” Doren wrote in an email interview. “Of course, I am the exception. :)”

Contact Frank Yonkof at [email protected].