For those of you who participated in WITNESS’ Hub project (thank you!) and for all of you in the “Video for Change” community interested in online human rights video, I am writing this post to explain what’s happening with the Hub and WITNESS’ new online strategy.
First, Some Background:
WITNESS posted its first video on the Web in 1998 (are Internet years like dog years? That seems so long ago…). So when WITNESS first envisioned the Hub in 2005, we already had an idea about the importance and potential of online video to protect and promote human rights. That same year, YouTube (which first emerged on February 14, 2005) and other video sharing platforms were just being launched. They enabled people to post home videos, clips of their favorite TV shows and movies (often without permission), and their own films – including human rights-related footage. These online providers were not giving much thought at this early stage of mass online video distribution to the questions of safety, security and privacy for those human rights activists who were uploading, viewing and appearing in the videos – but WITNESS was.
What’s more, these platforms didn’t allow for much contextualization of video. And while it’s often true that “a picture is worth a thousand words” not every piece of video is self-explanatory, thereby leaving room for the dangers of misinterpretation, particularly when the video is documenting a human rights abuse.
And so after much exploration and an incubation period as a blog on GlobalVoicesOnline, the Hub was built in 2007 to provide a safer space for human rights media to be displayed and contextualized in a manner that was (and today still is) missing from other video platforms. For example, an activist could upload their content, provide detailed context, link it to a region and human rights issues, provide web links to additional information and opportunities for viewers to take action and connect with groups and organizations. On the Hub, this activist’s content would not be subject to arbitrary take-down, but rather valued as human rights documentation and preserved.
The Hub was the first dedicated website for human rights video created by activists for activists. It advocated for a new global standard for human rights video online. The Hub evolved into a growing “Video for Change” community of hundreds of groups, thousands of users, and millions of views (see this 2 year retrospective for more detail).
Changes in Online Video Sharing:
The world of online video has changed significantly since we launched the Hub and the increasing ubiquity of video sharing is having broad implications, both positive and negative, for our work and the protection of human rights. The positive news is that this ubiquity is part of WITNESS’ dream come true: billions of people are equipped with cameras (often as part of their mobile phones) in their hands – what can they document and what will they change?
Rapid development of platforms, applications and tools has created a world where “video for change” is an increasingly familiar concept. Human rights defenders leverage all the tools and resources available to create change. However, as my colleague Sam Gregory likes to say, “in 10 years 90% of human rights video will be shot by non-professionals, without formal human rights training.” (Check out a new article Sam has published in the Journal of Human Rights Practice in which he discusses this trend and more.) Today, the “Video for Change” community that WITNESS has been part of for 18 years, is a rapidly growing, diverse, and vibrant global movement that ranges from students demonstrating in Iran to grassroots activists in Cambodia to elders in the U.S.
For WITNESS, this means that we must support both “traditional” human rights defenders and citizen activists wherever they are. Our new strategic vision addresses shifts in the use of video by activists and change makers. We can no longer be focused solely on building and maintaining the Hub (a destination site). But how will we encourage a safer and better contextualized environment for human rights video without the Hub?
Encouraging the Effective Use of Existing Technologies:
The concerns that motivated the creation of the Hub and underpin WITNESS’ work are even more critical today: human rights defenders’ safety, security, and the need for contextualization of online human rights video remain in sharp focus. Very practically this means that we will more proactively go where people are, as opposed to asking them to come to us. To achieve this, we will use our own and third party websites to highlight best practices and lessons learned, and to provide resources, such as online toolkits. We will also engage social media platforms and technology providers to adopt policies and practices that enhance the safety, security, and effectiveness of human rights defenders using video for change. Furthermore, we will collaborate with existing technology developers to ensure the needs of human rights defenders are taken into consideration as tools and platforms continue to proliferate.
What’s Next for the Hub?
Due to technical difficulties with the Hub site, and the fact that there are so many other platforms that are being used for human rights video, we are no longer registering new users or accepting uploads. For those with media on the Hub, know that your content is safe and will remain viewable via the Hub, which will continue to exist as an archive of important grassroots human rights video. If you have specific questions or concerns about your content, please contact us here. We are assessing The Hub and putting a lessons learned document together that we will share with you in the fall.
If you’re looking for an alternative space that will provide a safe and non-corporate home for your videos, visit Internet Archive (and look out for Link TV’s ViewChange which is currently in beta). In addition, we’d love you to continue to share videos with us and in the community via our Twitter hashtag: #video4change.
Help Us Build the Video For Change Community:
That said, with a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who has participated in and built The Hub, we believe that it is one of the things that really helped support and foster the “Video for Change” movement online. We hope you will continue to use the content on the site as a resource as we plan to draw from it for years to come. We also hope that you will continue to engage with WITNESS via our website and here on our blog or any number of online spaces where we are present. Please keep us informed of the places where you are so we can be sure to meet you there.