Platform politics vs. content – How we communicate science on YouTube

Platform politics vs. content – How we communicate science on YouTube

Author: Andrea Geipel – Munich Center for Technology in Society (TUM), Germany

As leading social video platform, YouTube is especially known for music videos, gaming content or how-to-tutorials. However, since 2015, the number of channels in the category ‘Science’ went up from one Mio to 15 Mio displaying the growing number of interest in this niche topic. Prominent YouTube channels, like Vsauce, AsapSCIENCE or kurzgesagt (in a nutshell), present their videos to 3 to 12 Mio subscribers with topics like the fermi paradox or the napkin ring problem. Nevertheless, only a small number of studies give insight in how and to what extend YouTube as a platform influences science communication.

Using the example of five ‘Science Channels’, I argue that producers have to adapt to the platform politics of YouTube to become visible, create a community and gain success. Based on interviews, platform and video analysis as well as ethnographic methods I work out how these platform specific rules lead to a loss of relevance of the specific scientific content presented. Becoming visible is predominantly achieved by following the logics of the algorithm, that is deciding which videos are recommended to users. In addition, producers need to perform authentic and therefore coherent to their own brand and in contrast to other video producers and build networks with others.

While in newspapers, press releases and TV shows the accuracy of the content together with the reputation of the presenter wins the audience’s attention and solace, YouTube in contrast, rewards authentic performance, entertainment and adherence to algorithmic logics of gaining visibility. In the end, this changes the public image of science as well as the way science will be communicated in the future.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices