McConnell’s ‘viral’ sensation (literally) comes at a price

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I had a little fun last week, briefly mocking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) new campaign video. The Republican lawmaker who’s spent his career fighting for the rich presents himself in the clip as some kind of nouveau-populist, with over-the-top music and a visual montage better suited to a Michael Bay movie.

It did not occur to me at the time to appreciate its total number of views, which, as it turns out, is far more interesting than the video itself.

According to YouTube, this video was posted by McConnell’s campaign team on Thursday morning, and by mid-day Friday, it had 651,021 views. Just 16 minutes later, it had 1,036,039 views. And then, between Friday afternoon and right now, it managed to get about 40,000 views.

To borrow a word, I’m calling bullpucky. There’s just no way this is legit. There are plenty of companies folks can pay to increase their YouTube views total artificially, and I have a strong hunch Team McConnell wrote a nice check and bought 1 million hits to their silly video.

Which, if true, is kind of a sad move for a Senate Minority Leader to have to resort to.

McConnell’s claim seemed fishy to Aaron Blake and Rachel Weiner, who explored further.

Did the video really go viral? “It doesn’t have the characteristics of an organic viral video,” said Eugene Lee, Founder and CEO of ChannelMeter, a YouTube analytics site. A viral video, he said, would have more pickup in social media and would accumulate views steadily rather than spiking quickly and then dropping off. He suggested that it was a “paid buy” — this article from the Daily Dot explains how YouTube views can be bought.

McConnell’s campaign attributes the sharp increase in views to an innovative social media strategy and the presidential campaign quality of the video.

Is this claim possibly true? Yes. Is it likely? Not even a little.

On his best day, McConnell videos might get 1,000 views on YouTube. The Republican senator has an online presence – Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. – but it’s quite limited.

And we’re to believe a silly, two-minute campaign video generated over 1 million views in a day and a half? Including 400,000 views over the course of 16 minutes?

No. Bullpucky.

The post on McConnell’s Facebook page announcing the video has 239 likes and 66 shares. Another post directing visitors to the video on his campaign website is far more popular, with 5,307 likes and 533 share. A subsequent post announcing that the video hit the million-view mark has over 621 likes and 62 shares. Twenty-two people have clicked on a Bit.ly shortened link to the video. A Google search for the video’s unique marker (found at the end of the url) turned up 21 different links. By comparison, a Google search for a video of Michael Buble singing in the New York City subway, which has 441,272 views, finds 360 links. That Google search doesn’t catch many sites that embed videos in blog posts, so it is imperfect measure, but it gives an idea of the impact. The video was not on YouTube’s trending chart.

The questions for McConnell, then, are pretty straightforward: how many donor dollars were spent to inflate the video’s reach and why does one of Congress’ most powerful lawmakers feel the need to pretend his videos are more popular than they really are?

Mitch McConnell

McConnell's 'viral' sensation (literally) comes at a price

Updated