As of yesterday afternoon, the Talk That “TED Won’t Show You” had about 300 views on YouTube. Today it is up to more than 164,000–such is the power of the real new media: passionate viewers who have no trouble taking ownership of content and speaking up if they disagree with the media maker.
In March venture capitalist Nick Hanauer gave a speech at a TED University conference that lambasted income inequality in America and the widely held belief that wealthy Americans should not be taxed at a higher rate because they are great job generators.
The National Journal wrote an article that said the speech was so controversial that the folks at TED decided not to post it on their web site. Chris Anderson, the head of TED, fired back a response, and the talk is now posted on YouTube.
At the moment, there are now more than 1,200 comments on YouTube and another 375 on Anderson’s blog. You might expect all the debate to be centered around Hanauer’s ideas of taxing the rich and bolstering the Middle Class, who he sees as the real job creators. But, instead, the debate has centered on whether or not TED was correct to not post the video and if Anderson’s explanation was adequate.
In his blog, he wrote: “The talk tapped into a really important and timely issue. But it framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance. The audience at TED who heard it live (and who are often accused of being overly enthusiastic about left-leaning ideas) gave it, on average, mediocre ratings.”
In the old media days, this response from an “editor on high” would have generated a few letters and disappeared back into the ether where all dampened controversies go. But not anymore. The TED audience has taken ownership and is now debating the merits of their organization:
“If TED is in the business of filtering content, I can’t say I have much faith in the organization’s value in the long term. There is no “magnificent debate” when someone controls what arguments are heard. I used to love TED. Now I don’t,” wrote Sage Gerard.
“Sure Chris. Keep telling yourself that over and over again and maybe you’ll believe it. I smell a rat here. The fact is by not publishing this talk, Chris has made an overt political act,” another viewer wrote.
But, on the other hand, “Mr. Hanauer gave a mediocre, abrasively partisan talk that rehashed old ideas and stretched to conclusions that were not supported by any cited evidence. It flatly does not merit posting to TED’s home page. End of story,” wrote Arch Meredith.
There’s an irony here, one that speaks to the wonderful power of consumers to direct and advance a conversation. If Chris Anderson’s intention was to have the last word on the matter, his words have had the opposite effect. In publishing them he has stoked a very healthy and lively debate. Now that’s an idea worth spreading.