YouTube and Truthiness

Stephen Colbert
Cover of Stephen Colbert
As you know, I teach a course in Media in Amerian Culture. Maybe my sci-fi opera Libertaria or recently finishing the 1000+ page Atlas Shrugged has me looking over my digital shoulder a bit much, or maybe it's the years of training that I have had in video editing and new media, but I take everything on the Internet with a big grain of salt, and by big I mean a grain of salt that would bury the Statue of Liberty. 

I recently had an interesting discussion with a gentleman I respect about a political video's reliability and truthfulness (or truthiness, as Stephen Colbert would say). The content of the video matters a lot less than the blind belief that if it's on YouTube it must be true. 


So I thought I would provide a short tutorial on how to know if something is true or not. It is by no means comprehensive or definitive, but it may help. For those that are in the audiovisual experts, this is old hat. However, for those who are not aware of tricks of the trade, then this may help next time the "truth" is presented online, in an e-mail, or your favorite news show. 


But to start it off, I thought this BBC "out of context" video would be a fun way to start. Mind you, it's not censored, so please keep that in mind.




Obviously, the audio has been clipped and edited extensively. This may seem pretty obvious with the BBC announcing some pretty sordid and crazy news that hopefully is not remotely truthy, but this is a common technique in newsrooms, especially those that have a bent in one direction or the other.. 

If you close your eyes, though, you will notice that the audio is actually pretty well edited in this video. And this was just done by a bored YouTube fan. The pros  can make the audio seem seemless.

Another trick is to change the angle. For example, it may look like a candidate is admitting to stealing a million dollars from his poor grandmother, but moving the angle prevents you from really reading his lips. And forget about any shot where the camera pulls away entirely, is over the shoulder, or is cut in with other images. It is fair game if the audio and video even match, are from the same event, or even from the same person. 

A website called "Bad Lip Reading" takes this to the next level but dubbing in entire songs, speeches, etc. for politicians. The words almost perfectly match the lips of the candidates, and the editors employ all kinds of interesting techniques to alter the video, just for kicks.


These were just a couple of fun examples that demonstrate video techniques in obvious 
ways. 

Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/user/BadLipReading

How to find authentic videos online? That may be trying to find a single needle in a universe of media. However, try to look for "unedited" versions (that are really unedited). Try to see as many videos that are "live" as possible (although even a few minutes difference between the actual event and the broadcast can result in a few edits). Start watching for cuts in the videos, especially when a candidate, celebrity, your mom, whoever is talking about something controversial.

Soon you will see that many of today's controversies, gaffs, political issues, and the like are fabricated by media only interested in getting ratings. The tabloids have gone digital. Now it's up to viewers to spot the difference.
  
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