The Growing Role of Image Verification in Venezuela’s Protests
Posted on April 11, 2014 by WITNESS
By Madeleine Bair and Vienna Maglio
Since Venezuelans took to the streets nearly three months ago to protest violent crime, food shortages, and economic insecurity, approximately 40 people have been killed in violent clashes. More than 2,000 protesters have been detained, and dozens of them have reported torture.
While the Human Rights Channel has been curating citizen video of the protest movement, our team has learned about innovative ways Venezuelan citizens—from protesters to technologists, journalists, and politicians—are using photos and videos to document human rights abuses and draw international attention to the issue.
Addressing Verification through Technology and Media Education
As reported previously on the WITNESS blog, at the beginning of the protest movement, the circulation of false images on social media threatened to undermine the thousands of authentic photos and videos that citizens were recording every day. It didn’t take long for activists to recognize the need to produce footage that could be trusted by third parties.
Within two weeks, Mood Agency, a Venezuelan publicity firm released FotoAhora, a free mobile app for Android and iOS. In two clicks, a user can take a photo and share it on Twitter, where the image appears with a line of metadata taken from the phone, including the date, time, and location of the photo. The tweet also contains a shortcode that a viewer can enter into this website to verify that the photo was indeed taken then and there with FotoAhora.
— Horacio Salas (@hsalasd) March 12, 2014
The idea of using metadata to create verifiable citizen footage is also behind InformaCam, a beta app in development by WITNESS and the Guardian Project. While FotoAhora’s functionality differs from InformaCam’s, the intent is similar, and Mood Agency’s Vanessa Mennechey told us that the app was created quickly for the immediate needs of Venezuela’s media activists. After polishing the photo version, she said, they may move on to develop a version capable of working with videos as well.
For those filming and curating videos of the protests in Venezuela, activists are sharing best practices on filming and uploading videos, and are warning others to think before sharing footage on social media that may not be authentic. (This Spanish guide from WITNESS offers tips on how to verify online video.) In fact, another tool by Mood Agency is a Google Chrome plug-in that allows users to check if a photo shared on Twitter is original by looking it up in Google image search.
The Video Congresswoman Corina Brought to the OAS
As local activists document violent clashes throughout Venezuela, others are taking that footage to international organizations to draw attention to alleged human rights violations and put pressure on the Maduro government. After the Organization of American States canceled a scheduled meeting to discuss the situation, Venezuelan opposition politician Maria Corina Machado found her way to address the regional body through the back door—or, as it were, from a sympathetic Panamanian delegate.
34 embajadores OEA no vieron video;385mil ciudadanos ya lo han visto http://t.co/Y5cmqFMUIq
— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) March 22, 2014
Following the closed-door meeting, Corina shared with her Twitter followers a video she was unable to present to OAS members. The 4-minute video, with the YouTube title, “Video Maria Corina Brought to the OAS,” compiles raw citizen footage—some of which has been verified and curated on the Human Rights Channel—and first-hand testimony of violent attacks by security forces in the streets and in detention. Thus far, the tweet has been shared nearly 10,000 times, and the video viewed by nearly one million. Venezuela’s government has since stripped Machado of her seat in the National Assembly, and troops blocked her from entering the legislature.
Human Rights Watch has credited videos with forcing Venezuela’s attorney general to take initial steps to investigate allegations of abuse. For more citizen videos, keep an eye on the Venezuela playlist on the Human Rights Channel.
Recent videos document the military’s presence in San Cristobal, violence in the Chacao neighborhood of Caracas, and testimony from a student injured in clashes on the campus of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). We are also curating advocacy videos about the situation, such as this video by the Venezuelan human rights organization, Foro Penal, which uses citizen video and narration to report on the protest movement and human rights abuses.
Image: Video still from “Video Maria Corina Brought to the OAS.”