This is the second in an occasional blog series about human rights video.  We are pleased to be collaborating with Steve Grove, Head of News & Politics at YouTube on the series.  The original post, written by Sameer Padania (former Hub Manager at WITNESS) and Steve, appeared onYouTube’s blog.  As always, we welcome your comments and feedback.

Last week we started a blog series with YouTube, highlighting the role that online video is playing in human rights advocacy.  And though activists around the world have shown how powerful YouTube can be as a tool to raise awareness of human rights violations, this kind of work opens up new risks, online and offline.  This post is designed to help you maximize the effect of your human rights videos while protecting those you’re trying to help — and ensuring your videos don’t get taken down from YouTube.

Before you even start shooting video, it’s important to assess the risk, understand your audience, and develop your message. This short animation, part of a series that WITNESS released, will help you think through your preparation:

One of the most important factors in creating human rights video is protecting the people you feature. In the past, videographers could generally control the size and scope of their audience, but nowadays it’s safe to assume that if a human rights video is online, it’s only a matter of time before the offenders see it.   So it’s always good practice to get informed consent from the people you film.  That means making sure they understand the possible negative consequences of appearing in your video.  You can also blur or obscure faces, to mitigate the ability of authorities to reveal someone’s identity or location.  This is important: authorities in Burma, for example, have used online footage of protests to identify and arrest activists.  Here’s a good example of protecting an interviewee’s voice and face, from a human rights organization in Israel:

But you don’t need editing software to protect someone’s identity.  You can do it with back-lighting, too, as in this video:

Once you’ve addressed the ethical and safety issues of your video, it’s time to think about distribution.  In some cases, it’s not important how many people see your video, but who sees it.  Activists worldwide use YouTube to post human rights footage and advocacy videos, but in some cases it may not be the best or only choice.  You might have better results by keeping your footage private, but threatening to make it public — or you may not need to put the video online at all and hold a local screening instead.

That said, your potential to reach a large audience online is a big advantage.  If you do decide to post your human rights footage to YouTube, you should thoroughly read their Community Guidelines to understand what kind of content is acceptable on the site. Though YouTube doesn’t accept violent or graphic content, exceptions are made for content that is educational, scientific or documentary in nature.  When reviewing the content that is flagged by their community, YouTube’s bias is toward free expression — with necessary limits to ensure the site remains a safe and vibrant platform for the discussion of ideas.  Understanding the context surrounding your content, and its original intent, is important for the YouTube team.  Here are a few things you can do to protect your videos and keep them on the site.

  1. Add as much context as possible. Titling and tagging your video correctly is the best way to add context to your videos.  When the YouTube team is reviewing flagged content, titles or tags with words as simple as “human rights” or “police abuse” will help them understand the context of the footage you’re uploading.  Try to add some specific information into the description: who is in the video, what is happening, where and when did it happen, and why.  You can also add this detail directly onto the video itself, using the YouTube annotations tool.
  2. Get consent. As we mentioned before, it’s important to get the consent of those you’re filming.  If someone flags your video and complains about appearing in it, YouTube may have it taken down, particularly if they are not a public figure, are in a private place, or make other claims of harassment.
  3. Understand local laws. Given the global scope of the YouTube platform, they comply with different sets of laws in the various countries in which they are launched (to see where they are launched, go to the footer and click “Worldwide”).  If the content in your video is illegal in one of these countries, YouTube must comply with the local formal legal processes.  That means that in Thailand, for example, they don’t show videos that denigrate the King, and in Germany they don’t stream videos that are sympathetic to Nazism.  Know your local laws before you upload.
  4. Understand copyright. It’s important to have a good handle on YouTube’s copyright policies.  If someone makes a claim against your video, perhaps because they believe they own the soundtrack or the footage itself,  you can file a counter-notice.  Though it’s not YouTube’s role to make fair use judgments on content, here is a helpful guide that we recommend you consult on fair use issues in online video, and some ethical considerations for when you’re re-mixing human rights footage.  Many content creators license their videos and audio for re-use with Creative Commons licenses.
  5. Be in touch with YouTube. They want to hear from you.  If you believe your YouTube account has been hacked, for example, visit their Help Center to let them know, and they’ll investigate.  CitizenTube, YouTube’s news and political blog, also tracks breaking news videos from citizen sources.  Send them a link to your video in the CitizenTube comments section or tweet it to @citizentube.  (And don’t forget that WITNESS is on Twitter too: we’re @witnessorg)

Sameer Padania for WITNESS, and Steve Grove, Head of News & Politics, YouTube

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