Sometimes it's hard to remember that Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) YouTube has great potential for the democratization of content; that's not illustrated well by the clips of laughing babies or sneezing pandas. However, recent events remind us of the video site's best attributes -- capturing important current events and opinions on the scene and in real time.

Yesterday, BBC World News reported on the progress of the Olympic torch through London and Paris -- although "progress" isn't quite the right word. Pro-Tibet protesters have been causing security issues with their attempts to disrupt the torch's progress or extinguish the flame. Several times, the torch had to be transported by bus to elude demonstrators.

The BBC also said that, at least at one point, many of the most viewed clips on YouTube were user-generated videos covering the pro-Tibet protesters. Apparently some Chinese patriots have uploaded their own videos, too, in rebuttal.

It's been easy to get a little disillusioned about YouTube, which Google paid a pretty penny for; so often it seems like its "best" content is copyrighted material or weird (even tragically bizarre) clips. It's not surprising that it was mocked by Comedy Central's South Park, which featured a satirical "who's who" of popular (and arguably weird, silly, and trivial) YouTube clips in last week's episode. And of course, Comedy Central's parent company, Viacom (NYSE: VIA), has gone after Google for Comedy Central clips that got posted on YouTube; this in turn has helped reduce copyrighted material on the site.

However, the popularity of the homegrown pro-Tibet protest videos is a strong reminder of YouTube's powerful potential as a tool for freedom and democracy. Months ago, China blocked YouTube because of the Tibetan protests. Clearly it sees that power, and it doesn't like it. And of course, many Internet companies, including Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Google, have faced conundrums and possible perceptions of evil-doing when it comes to dealing with the Chinese government.

Regardless of how you feel about the Olympics, China's human rights record, or the pro-Tibet movement's decision to mess with the torch relay, this story highlights the best of the Internet, and how user-generated content can bring important issues to the forefront. We'll have to wait and see if Google ever really monetizes YouTube properly, or if its attempts to do so will alienate users, but I think video scenes from these passionate protests (and personally, I'm all for the demonstrators and the idea of a free Tibet) underline the real reason YouTube is important.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.