YouTube’s new ‘Town Hall’ feature puts 2012 candidates head-to-head

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With the 2012 electoral season kicking into high gear, even the world of tech isn’t safe from getting sucked into the political hellstorm. The newest casualty: YouTube, and its new “Town Hall” channel, which puts candidates’ positions on the issues head-to-head in a kind of online debate.

The Town Hall page shows two videos, side by side, each from a different candidate. The videos, made especially for Town Hall, show the candidates discussing a particular issue, like the national budget or energy. The format of the channel lets users hear exactly what two competing candidates believe about a particular topic, which could have serious benefits for voters who want to clarify what their candidates’ positions.

YouTube users can pose the questions they want members of Congress to answer. And each month, candidates will upload new videos to the site to give their views on the plethora of topics important to the American voter.

In addition to hearing candidates’ views on the issues, user can also select which person’s opinions with which they agree. The results of those votes are then posted to the YouTube Town Hall Leaderboard, which lists the candidates that have received the most “votes” on their videos.

To help make the Town Hall less partisan, YouTube does not reveal the party of each candidate until after a user makes his or her choice.

Google (which owns YouTube) isn’t the first tech giant to jump on the 2012 bandwagon. Last month, Facebook got into politics in a big way, hosting the first-ever online “town hall” meeting with President Obama. The meeting was held at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, and was available exclusively to Facebook users (all 600 million of them).

As we draw closer to election day, expect this kind of thing to pop up all over the place. From what we can see so far, however, YouTube’s Town Hall stands a good chance of being one of the most useful new online political tools of the year.

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