What do you think about human rights (and your rights) online?

Posted on August 24, 2010 by Sameer Padania

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

Government police shutting down farmer’s protests in China. A tobacco company employing under-age workers in Kazakhstan. Iranian merchants striking to protest tax increases in Tehran. We’ve seen stories like these on our computers and phones every day, and YouTube has been documenting many of them on their breaking news feed on Citizentube over the past few months (and many were on the Hub). Videos like these are more than just breaking news images; they’re often political statements meant to bring about change.

Earlier this summer we started a blog series with YouTube, examining the role of online video in human rights. So far we’ve talked about why video matters to human rights and how you can protect yourself and the people you film when uploading to YouTube. In this post, we want to raise some key topics about the future of human rights video online, and to hear your thoughts and ideas in a special Google Moderator series that we’ve set up on these questions:

How can uploaders balance privacy concerns with the need for wider exposure?

YouTube and other websites give citizens the opportunity to tell stories that would otherwise not get get heard. But what if wider exposure could be harmful to the people you’ve captured on video? Google and YouTube talk a lot about the privacy of your personal data, but what about the privacy of your personal visual identity? There are some exciting technologies that can automatically identify human faces in digital media, but the implications of these technologies need to be considered carefully: if improperly implemented, they could make it even easier for governments and oppressive regimes to identify, track down and arrest activists or protesters (this has happened in Burma and Iran). While we’ve said before that people should consider blurring the faces in human rights videos and getting consent from those they film, inevitably judgment calls need to be made by uploaders who are trying to get footage out quickly to massive audiences to raise awareness. How do you think uploaders can find the right balance?

How can we stay alert to human rights footage without getting de-sensitized to it?

What image first opened your eyes to a human rights issue? In the past, in many countries, human rights images were largely filtered through the news media. But today, nearly everyone has seen a video or photo on the Internet that has made them aware of injustice. With access to these kinds of images getting easier, and more stories appearing from more places, the sheer quantity of this content risks either overwhelming viewers, or desensitizing us to its value. Researchers, educators and legislators are all thinking about how to build media literacy for the virtual age — and human rights is a growing part of that discussion. How do you think people can stay alert to the power of these images without becoming immune to them?

Does human rights content online require some kind of special status?

As many of the examples in this blog series illustrate, human rights video is unique, and it requires special consideration by viewers, activists, legislators and online platforms.  YouTube’s terms of service carve out special exceptions for videos that have educational, scientific, or documentary value. But in many cases, human rights content is subjective and requires special interpretation — and now that video can spread far and wide and can easily be reused and remixed beyond its original context (including by human rights abusers themselves), it’s even more important to follow some common guidelines. Every online hosting platform on the web has its own policies for dealing with this content and slowly, a new set of ethics and guidelines is developing in this arena. What do you think those guidelines should look like? And do you think human rights video deserves some kind of special status across the web? Why or why not?

We’d like to hear your thoughts on these questions. Submit your responses or questions to our Moderator series on Citizentube, in video or in text, and we’ll continue the conversation with thoughts on some of your top-voted submissions in a future post.

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

What Others Are Saying

  1. Michel P August 18, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    It’s very very sad to say the least that we have as a worldwide community come to the point were we have to monitor ourselves in such a way but, the fact’s are that human right’s violated on such a scale that one can’t stay impartial. Torture, Slavery, Organ’s on the black market, Genocide etc…Are common today. Will camera’s do a difference I doubt it why you may ask, I think that people have become ”immune” to these images that the mass media feed us on a daily basis for decades now, we have lost our human condition to be sensible and that in itself is the biggest tragedy.

  2. tina Penn August 24, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I think that ssme very important question that should always be asked are Who is putting out the footage? Whose interest are they serving? I have been in media footage with my permission, but through the editing process, I felt very used for the purpose of the media that was pushing their own agenda. There is a lot of mistrust of media, and for good reason. The future of media will be nonprofessionals putting out a majority of the footage. People who may have absolutely no experience or concern for ethics. I think the message that really needs to be put forth is Question what you see. I am a strong advocate for empowering those suffering the abuse to speak for themselves whenever possible. Most don't do this because they are afraid for good reason. Look at how media pushes ideas of hatered towards entire groups of people. No wonder people are afraid. Speak out and be persecuted more. This discusiion of human rights needs to brought into mainstream discussion.

  3. Susanna Lepianka August 24, 2010 at 7:03 am

    I don't think companies or individuals should be allowed to place any personal information online without express permission from the individuals in question. It makes a mockery of the Data Protection Act. In fact the only thing the DPA seems to protect are criminals and unscrupulous people/companies who seem to think it's a free for all to do what they want with peoples personal information.

    If you find yourself on, say, a cpmpanies list online and ask to be taken off it because you didn't want to be on it in the first place they make it difficult by getting you to apply for and fill in forms etc & even then they don't take you off their lists it's a complete joke.

    Then financial institutions and the like tell you not to put personal info online so as to protect your identity etc., but other people are putting your personal info on line without permission.

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