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Campaign for Iraq Pullout Hits YouTube

By JAKE COYLE
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 5:31 PM

NEW YORK -- A YouTube video from a British man calling for the pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq has stoked a small online protest and tested the video sharing site's potential for viral demonstration.

A 26-year-old user named warren25smash last week posted a video titled "The YouTube Get Out of Iraq Campaign." Speaking into a camera, he strokes his cat while he says, "I'm going to make a request. Please make a video stating nothing more than `Get out of Iraq.' Add whatever else you wish."

The video has been seen by more than 21,600 people and elicited at least 188 video responses _ a large number for any YouTube clip. In the past week, it has ranked as the second most-discussed video among videos categorized as "News & Blogs." (It's still nowhere near the week's most-viewed video _ one that's falsely advertised as a striptease.)

The responses thus far have come in from YouTubers of various ages and backgrounds who often cite the mounting casualties of U.S. troops or present photo montages of violence in Iraq. Thus far, more than 3,000 members of the U.S. military have been killed. President Bush will address the nation Wednesday to announce a revamped strategy for Iraq that's expected to include an increase of 20,000 troops.

Some video responses, of course, disagree with the online protest. One claims to have found other like-minded supporters and then presents photos of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and others. Words on the screen conclude: "All of you who protest this war from the comfort of your computer, can thank a soldier for dying in a war to give you the freedom to do so."

A user named faintstarlite, a 23-year-old postgraduate student, agrees that the war is wrong, but questions the campaign's effectiveness.

"Just saying `Get out of Iraq' _ yeah, that's nice to say," she says. "But the truth is, we should be having a dialogue about how do we do it."

Those posting videos on YouTube and wanting to interact with the site's community of users often invite video responses and comments. But so far the waters have not been notably tested in terms of organizing a coordinated political protest.

The closest examples are probably videos that have evidenced police brutality and created clamors for justice. Footage of a police officer striking a suspect named William Cardenas in Hollywood, Calif., for example, triggered an FBI investigation after it became popular on YouTube.

"Those real-life events that are not scripted but captured, I think it's easier for them to become viral videos as opposed to some random guy who's vlogging and trying to organize a campaign," says Edward Lee, an Ohio State University law professor who blogs extensively on YouTube at http://theutubeblog.com/.

The originator of the "Get Out of Iraq" campaign did not return e-mails Tuesday requesting an interview, but on his YouTube profile, he describes himself as a "Peace-loving British expat with a passion for politics and not trusting politicians." He frequently vlogs _ or video blogs _ about current events.

There is nothing especially coordinated about his campaign _ it has no objective other than to inspire more protest videos. In a blog that he keeps at http://www.bloglines.com/blog/Warren25, he writes, "I do not believe (the campaign) will influence the world but (it) has influenced me."

Nevertheless, if even warren25smash's offhanded, rambling suggestion of a protest can create a small movement, it hints at the larger possibilities of viral video protest. Ordinarily, YouTube's power is wielded with parody and relentless exposure of gaffs _ Virginia Sen. George Allen uttering of "macaca" being exhibit A.

Could YouTube actually drum up support for an anti-war movement?

"YouTube is still a limited number of people who actually go there and many are not going there for commentary by strangers as opposed to videos that are more entertaining," says Lee. "YouTube as a platform to get the word out and organize is probably still dependent on traditional media. At the same token, there's great room for developing this platform."

One of the most successful YouTube campaigns was held in November by user MadV. Called "One World," it invited people to "make a statement" and "be part of something" by writing something, anything on one's hand and post a video of it. More than 2,200 people posted video responses.

The popularity of "One World," however was given a considerable boost by YouTube, which featured it on its front page. A protest video, though, is unlikely to win such real estate, which is typically reserved for lighter fare. The page was topped late Tuesday with a 3-year-old singing "The Cuppycake Song."

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On the Net:

http://www.youtube.com

http://theutubeblog.com/

© 2007 The Associated Press