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Top hits of the YouTube election

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News, Washington DC

A man stares down the lens, delivering a message to the camera.

Dear Mr Obama: Iraq veteran's message to Democrat

"Dear Mr Obama having spent 12 months in Iraq theatre I can promise you it's not a mistake."

At 1 minute 55 seconds, it's short, simple and powerful.

"When you call the Iraqi war a mistake you disrespect the service and sacrifice of everyone who has died promoting freedom... Because you do not understand or appreciate these principles Sir, I am supporting Senator John McCain for president."

The film, titled Dear Mr Obama, is the most-viewed election-related video on the YouTube website, attracting more than 11 million hits.

Made by an Iraq war returnee, it's an example of how ordinary Americans have used the website to get their voice heard.

In this election, YouTube has provided a new way for people to consume and communicate their views - from the serious to the silly, the official to the outrageous.

People power

Andrew Rasiej from the Techpresident blog, which has been monitoring the impact of the internet on the 2008 race, is one of many who says YouTube has helped transform the political landscape in this election.

John McCain made a strategic decision not to spend as much money on TV spots as the other candidates and put more on YouTube
Julie Germany, George Washington University
"The power to control the message is no longer in the hands of the political parties and candidates or the mainstream media.

"It's now shared by the public at large. They can distribute a piece of media on YouTube faster in a 15-minute news cycle than traditional media can in a 24-hour news cycle"

Both the candidates have used YouTube to promote their message, posting videos, ads and speeches to their own channels.

Julie Germany, from the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University, says YouTube has helped the McCain team deal with its funding gap relative to the cash-rich Obama camp.

"They made a strategic decision not to spend as much money on TV spots as the other candidates and put more on YouTube, knowing that they would be picked up by the mainstream media. And they were right about that," she says.

Music

For its part, the Obama campaign has used the site to encourage participation on behalf of its supporters, Ms Germany says.

Obama Girl's R&B tribute

She cites the Yes We Can film as an example of a stirring video with great production. Will-I-Am stars in the black and white music video, singing lines from Barack Obama's speeches.

Another example of a YouTube video making a big impact in very little time is Obama Girl. Made by a group of film-makers, it was performed by student Leah Kaufman, who wrote the lyrics with two friends.

The song is lip-synched by model Amber Lee Ettinger - who became known as the Obama Girl.

She shows her affection for the Democratic nominee through lines including: "You're into border security. Let's break this border between you and me. Universal health care reform. It makes me warm."

Her performance has attracted more than 10 million views on YouTube.

The light stuff

Other popular videos include the John Edwards "Vain and Pretty Video", where he is seen preening himself and combing his hair repeatedly, and the Tina Fey send-ups of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.

Julie Germany says that while serious videos such as Barack Obama's landmark speech on race in March 2008 have notched up millions of hits, this is relatively rare.

It's the light stuff that users love best, and that spreads like wildfire on the web.

"Some of the most popular videos are the ones which show a lighter side and tap into pre-conceived notions and bias," she says.

"They tap into characteristics that we either find funny or we fear, and these sorts of messages help them become viral."

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