Students watch violent Iraq war on YouTube

by JR Santo | 11/10/06 6:00am

As American soldiers crouched for cover while Iraqi insurgents peppered them with bullets, Sourabh Mishra '10 stared anxiously at his computer screen. He was watching just one of many video clips of the war in Iraq available on YouTube.

Through footage uploaded by American soldiers, insurgents or their supporters, YouTube grants any individual a close encounter with war via the internet.

In another video, a team of soldiers routinely inspects cars as they drive through a security checkpoint. Two vehicles pass through the checkpoint without much scrutiny. After stepping up to the third vehicle, the inspecting soldier suddenly steps backwards and an explosion from the car floods the entire frame of the checkpoint's security camera.

For Mishra, these video clips provide a valuable source of information aside from traditional news media.

"This lets you get a little more personal with the soldiers because, through this medium, you're hearing the reality -- random noises, gunshots, shouting. I was able to put myself in their shoes," Mishra said.

Conversely, with the surplus of information and videos on the internet, Joseph Hilgard '07 felt less impacted by these firsthand clips.

"It's a video clip on the internet; they're a dime a dozen," Hilgard said.

The political influence of this user-generated content will most likely be minimal, according to Deborah Brooks, a government professor with a background in politics and psychology.

"Videos posted on YouTube and similar outlets will most likely be viewed by a small group of individuals who purposefully seek out information on that topic. The people who seek out those kinds of videos are probably more likely to be polarized in their opinions on the conflict," Brooks said.

The hits for videos posted online vary widely. The video Mishra watched had 20,000 views, while the security checkpoint car-bomb video only had 1,500.

According to Brooks, YouTube's video footage might be picked up by television news sources, increasing its influence.

"But even then, it is not necessarily clear how the effect would be different than that of current-day network video coverage of wars," Brooks said.

Michael Gwaze Th '09 said he believes that the videos posted by amateurs and soldiers provide a level of uncut information necessary for a full understanding of the war in Iraq.

"If it is just some footage on a big, corporate news channel, my first impression is that they are trying to make the news as dramatic as possible to try and sell the news," Gwaze said.

On the other hand, Gwaze also said that the video scenes uploaded to the internet are usually going to be the worst scenes of the war.

"I've never been to Iraq, and I don't know what the scale of the war is. But, somehow, I think the videos do dramatize the war a bit," Gwaze said.

Independent of their external political influence, videos increasingly posted by soldiers indicate internal criticism of the war, according to government professor Linda Fowler.

"If you thought the war was hunky-dorry, why would you put [these videos] up?" Fowler said.