Your Ideas on Human Rights and Free Expression on YouTube

Posted on September 21, 2010 by Sameer Padania

This is the fourth in an occasional blog series about human rights video, written by Steve Grove, Head of News & Politics at YouTube, and Sameer Padania, former Hub Manager at WITNESS, cross-posted from YouTube’s blog.  As always, we welcome your comments and feedback.

About a month ago, as part of our series of blogs about human rights and video with YouTube, we asked for your thoughts and ideas on some of the key topics on the future of video activism.  Now we’re responding to some of your top-voted questions and comments within the Google Moderator series we set up to facilitate the discussion.   We’ve picked out some of the top-rated responses below, and to see the full discussion on privacy, impact, and classification of human rights videos online, click here.

But the conversation only grows from here.  This week, we’re with around 300 activists, nonprofits, and thought leaders in Budapest for Internet at Liberty 2010, a conference that Google is sponsoring in conjunction with the Central European University to examine key issues in online free expression.  Google has been collecting users’ thoughts on how to keep the Internet safe for online free expression in another Moderator series; many of your ideas will be discussed in the panels and discussions that take place in Hungary. The conference is being live streamed, and YouTube is posting videos of the sessions to a special channel dedicated to the discussions that take place.

People everywhere use platforms like YouTube to share their stories with the world every day. Sometimes those stories are as simple as an idea, a thought or a diary of life through your eyes; other times, those stories expose abuses of power or human rights violations in ways that are changing how justice is served around the world. Whatever you decide to use the web for, we believe it’s vital to a free society to keep the Internet open, and it’s through discussions like these that we can continue to teach each other how to do so.

“Human Rights issues are always political and legal issues. If a special status should be given to this kind of content, the servers where this content would be stored must be located in a “safe” location, thus protecting them from governments.”
Acetal, Mexico City, Mex

Steve Grove: Agreed. Google’s servers are protected and have the highest standards of security. Other organizations work to protect servers and use software such as Tor (mentioned by Zoasterboy below) to keep content safe by relaying it to several different nodes on the network.

Sameer Padania: It’s crucial that important human rights content is kept safe, secure and free from interference or the likelihood of takedown. For that reason, we always advise people we work with to try – where possible – to upload their content to at least a couple of different trusted sites, so that there is always a backup somewhere.

“When uploading a video to YouTube the user should be given the option to blur all faces in the video (as detected by face detection software) and preview the video to verify before making public.”
Zoasterboy, Washington State

SG: I like this idea. Not currently on our product roadmap, but it’s something we’ve discussed.

SP: Likewise – great idea, and would help activists enormously. WITNESS and other activists are looking at issues like these at the Open Video Conference in NYC from October 1-3, which includes workshops and a hackday.

“More stories the better – desensitization will wear off and be overpowered by the awareness of the plights of people. Provide background context for people who wish to drill down and communication avenues for people to make leaders aware.”
xicubed, Boise, ID

 

“There should be a system that displays human rights issues that are in need of help built into social networking sites, perhaps through an API, via some sort of dynamic node based distribution system, like Tor.”
Zoasterboy, Washington State

SG: Interesting idea – would love to hear more about your thinking. Currently, it’s not possible to publicly track where someone uploaded a YouTube video from, unless they choose to geo-tag their video. But protecting distribution pipes to push the video out is smart, and we’re big fans of what Tor can do. One of the benefits of YouTube is that your username can be anything you like – so you can keep your identity anonymous. For more information on privacy at Google, click here: http://www.google.com/intl/en/privacy.html

SP: It’s becoming more important, the more content there is available, to find ways to get important human rights content to the eyes that need to see it – and to get it into new and diverse contexts so that more people can engage with it and act on it. It would be great to make it easy to feed human rights video and its related background information to people using different social networks around the world, without making it intrusive or insensitive, and in a way that maximises security.

“Threats to humans rights are urgency issues and they have different importance to different groups. Government murdering = International. Government inaction = National. Missing child = Regional. Missing pet = Local. Only examples.”
Daniel de Souza Telles, Baixo Guandu, Brasil

SG: So true. All politics is local, as they say. And context is so important: in each of these cases, surfacing useful contextual videos around each story gives the audience a broader understanding of the conflict and why it matters to them. On YouTube, we’ve been looking more deeply into our curator community — people who are great at discovering good videos, or grouping content into very useful playlists, channels, etc. — to see if we can better harness this data to serve more robust sets of content in our search results.

SP: What the internet has shown about human rights is that issues in the past that we thought were only relevant to local people actually sometimes resonate with people around the world in surprising ways, and video makes these connections even more powerfully.

“Does YouTube offer any translation support? It seems like one of the main barriers to some videos’ uptake would be linguistic, and perhaps in the submission process users could request basic assistance via a third-party partner like WITNESS.”
Kirstin, Brooklyn

SG: We do offer some automated translation support… if your video is in English, you can use the auto-captions feature to pull a text caption set for the video, and then use our auto-translate service to translate to other languages. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. As for auto-captions for other languages, we’re not there yet — but hope to be soon.

SP: One other way I think it might be possible to do this is to use Google Sidewiki – you can add information about the page you are viewing, and that could be, in the case of a video, a synopsis or even a transcript in another language. It’s becoming more and more important to translate cultural contexts for each other – what someone in Iran takes from a human rights video from Tehran might be very different from what someone in China or Colombia or California would take – so using tools like Sidewiki could help provide more detailed context or explanation in other languages that the uploader might not include themselves.

“Desensitization is inevitable as it increases with the number of views of violence. Also, the number of views a video has will (probably) decrease the likelihood that a person will help (bystander effect). Limit views per user, don’t display total.”
Zoasterboy, Washington State

 

“Images, soundbytes, and video clips of disaster and human tragedy cycle repeatedly. Some get repeated to the point that they lose their meaning. Allow viewers to deprioritize such media and replace it with something new, but contextual.”
Robert, USA

SG: I agree context matters… the “related videos” section helps users get beyond just the clip itself to contextualize — but good curators of human rights videos are the best sources of relevant content on particular human rights issues.

SP: This is all about providing context, both when you upload videos, and when you share them – whether that’s by forwarding, tweeting, or blogging – and as ever, have an audience in mind. I’m intrigued by the idea of replacing the video with something else contextual rather than being able to filter it out – this could mean being able to drill deeper, into eyewitness footage or interviews, or expert analysis, for example. Also, it’s not a magic bullet, but it often helps if the video is linked to some way to take action or help – for example by contacting your representative, signing a petition, or translating the video into a language you speak. And on the violence issue, it’s good to bear in mind that not all human rights videos depict violence or disaster directly – the majority of those we encounter at WITNESS are of testimonies about abuses, or campaign demands from activists themselves.

“Already at the upload process: a checkbox labelled “human rights content”, and if checked, it will ask the poster e.g. if it could be important to blur faces and gives hints how to do it, or if in general it can be dangerous for others to post this.”
Bernie, Berlin

SP: It’s a great idea, similar to what Zoasterboy suggests above – and it would be a great asset for activists everywhere to be able to mark their videos as human rights videos, and to be able to protect the identities of those they filmed, not just on YouTube, but on any video platform. The only concern I’d have is that once human rights is an official category, although it might be easier to protect, it might also be easier to block it out.

“Put HRA videos on one channel. Require any URL posting to the channel to sign off on a “terms of use” type-statement that details possible harm that could be caused by posting videos before each posting. Delete HRA videos found outside the channel.”
Pagecrafter, Eugene, OR

SP: I think creating a human rights channel is definitely a good idea and would provide much-needed visibility to a lot of human rights issues – but I think you should still be able to find the content in other places and in other ways outside of that channel. Good curation is key. As for the idea of signalling the possibility of harm, it makes a lot of sense to make sure uploaders understand the potential harm they can do by uploading videos into the public domain without getting consent, and protecting identities where necessary, and viewers need to understand the nature of what they’re watching and what, if anything, they can do.

“Think mobile under censorship: In countries like mine, Cuba; people can’t practically surf the web, but they shared info phone to phone using Bluetooth. So including a downloadable share-ready version for mobile to mobile will be great.”
PolO, Corpus Christi, TX

 

“I think Human Rights Video deserves a special status globally. To think that this is about restoring the dignity of the human person and fight against all forms of oppression. I cannot begin to assume what that status should be, but the technical persons can come up with the appropriate terms. For every human rights footage, to ensure that we don’t get desensitized, there must be an ensuing lively discussion that follows and a consequent broadcast on reliable global media, where policy makers can be confronted with the need to take action.”
calabarboy.com (comment on original blog post)

SP: These are great points – discussion and action doesn’t just happen online, and finding creative ways of getting videos from online spaces to people who can’t access the internet easily is more important than ever – especially in repressive environments. As for the media, now that videos from YouTube and elsewhere are more and more part of mainstream news reporting, media have an important role to play in providing context on human rights footage and pursuing accountability. That said, it would be pretty eye-opening to see policy-makers’ responses to important human rights videos directly on YouTube too, as well as on the television.

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