President Obama’s announcement that he supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples may be almost two weeks old, but the impact on the Internet is still reverberating. A recent AP story indicates that both posting and viewing of YouTube videos related to marriage equality rose sharply and remains strong.
In fact, on the day of the President’s interview, searches for “gay marriage” and “Obama” spiked 458% between 10 am and 6 pm. According to the AP
Following Obama’s announcement, more videos with the key words “gay marriage” were uploaded on YouTube than ever before, drawing more than 3 million views and 100,000 comments.
In fact, a quick look at a few search terms on YouTube and its parent company, Google, is very informative. Searching the term “gay marriage” (which tends to be the most common term used although the LGBT community prefers the more accurate “marriage equality”), YouTube has over 6,800 videos uploaded in the past month, accounting for 17% of all relevant videos. On Google, the term yields nearly 28 million hits in the past week. For the same week (May 15 – 22) in 2011, the number was just over one million. Interestingly, that week also had big news, with a Gallup poll showing majority support for marriage equality for the first time. Searching related terms like “same sex marriage” and “marriage equality” finds smaller numbers but similar trends. For those of us on Facebook, the issue of marriage equality has become a dominant theme.
The intersection of gay rights and social media is no surprise. The LGBT community were early adopters, as isolated or closeted people found powerful new ways to build social connections. Age is also a factor. While interactive online sites and tools are hardly the unique province of the 18 – 25 set, younger users tend to be more embracing of and more deeply engaged in them. This same demographic is also more broadly supportive of gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular as well.
Social media also allow a broader sense of engagement with the stories, which allows topics that might not otherwise rise to national attention to go viral. Iowa student Zach Wahls wound up creating his own website to handle all the attention he received when he made an impassioned speech asking lawmakers to recognize marriage for his lesbian moms. Nerdy Apple, aka “Daphne’s Mom,” got the surprise of her life when a sweet post about her son dressing as a female cartoon character for Halloween got the attention of gay rights supporters and opponents both.
Even people in the news can benefit or suffer from exposure of their civil rights stands on YouTube. Former presidential candidate Rick Perry’s ad “Strong” — in which he opposes the active service of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military — has over 8 million views. Likes = 26,448; dislikes = 768,696. He also inspired dozens of parodies and responses.
Marriage equality is hot topic like never before. Strong popular (and Presidential) support is at odds with ballot box success. Upcoming votes in Maine and Minnesota and possibly Washington will either continue or break the trend. Whatever the case, social media and personal engagement in the story is finally driving a narrative in the “mainstream” media and that’s a good thing.