My name is Taz Morgan.  I’m a new intern at the WITNESS Media Archive and was able to attend the two-day Open Video Conference last weekend.  There were a few panels dedicated to the discussion of open video specifically in relation to archives, such as the session Yvonne wrote about a few days ago.

What I found fascinating about this conference full of media makers, activists, academics, and tech experts was that archiving seemed to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, even in sessions that were seemingly disconnected from the archival community.  In conversations about the how the open video movement is still in its infancy, it was clear that documentation of projects from around the world and access to these various open source, open licensing initiatives is essential in connecting people and helping the movement to grow.  When proposing next steps for open video, the role of the archive as documentation and access center inevitably came into discussion.  As a student of Preservation and Presentation of the Moving Image at the University of Amsterdam, it is exciting to see that the notion of archiving is no longer bound to digging through materials from the past, but also very much relevant to present stakeholders in the open video movement.

In particular, the notion of the archive was ubiquitous in the session “Public Space, Private Infrastructure, ” which examined the use of private, proprietary online platforms such as YouTube as public forums for mass dialogue, and as more censorship-resistant than local or smaller servers.  I want to focus on one of the panelists – Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of Global Voices and researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.   Zuckerman discussed the challenges of online video in a human rights context, the ease with which governments and hackers can censor the net via denial of service attacks, and said that solutions will not be found in technology.   In proposing solutions to using YouTube as a platform for human rights video, he spoke about a few lessons that he has learned from working with Egyptian activist Wael Abbas, who has been using YouTube and various bloghosting sites to expose police brutality in Egypt.  Both lessons amplify core archival practice:

1. CONTEXT – If you post a human rights video on YouTube, put up a description of the content.  Video documentation of human rights violations exists in all kinds of forms and can be created by activists, victims, or perpetrators.  Some videos can be very graphic in nature, so knowing the origin of each video is essential in processing the images.  The editors of YouTube and the public audience need to understand what they are watching.

2. MULTIPLE COPIES – Do not rely on platforms like YouTube to be the repositories of your videos.  Uploading a video to YouTube does not mean that you are safely securing it online.  YouTube could easily take down the video, and servers are increasingly subject to hacking by censoring governments.  Therefore, keep multiple copies of your video offline, and post widely so that your voice cannot be easily silenced by any one platform.

What are some other archival tenets that video activists can employ to strengthen their voices?  And what are some activist strategies that archivists can learn from when thinking about how to best collect, document, preserve, and provide access to human rights videos?

6 thoughts on “Archiving Practices Strengthen Human Rights Video Online

  1. Hi Taz, I find the issues raised really interesting.

    As you already mention YouTube is a closed system where Google ultimately controls and (if like Picasa) owns what is kept on their servers. Not directly related in terms of content but…recently Constantin Films issued take down notices for all youtube videos of the 'Hitler Finds Out meme which relies on a scene from Downfall. Users responded by (when possible) simply re-uploading their videos on new accounts and even creating new responses based upon the actions of Constantin. YouTube doesn't have complete control but it does emphasise the issue.

    Again, you already mentioned uploading to a wide variety of sources but maybe this can be taken further by encouraging downloading of the content. I'm sure some of the videos taken down because of Constantin's request were lost forever and this could partly be because YouTube makes it difficult for users to download the hosted videos. As far as I am aware you cannot attach a creative commons license to your YouTube video and provide a download. As part of 'disaster recovery' policies archives often store duplicates off site. Maybe we need to start (at least sometimes) trying to re-host content we wish to link to be it on our tumblr, posterous, wordpress or yfrog page so that there is a proliferation of not just the link but the actual data too. Some large sites where I believe users can upload videos and attach creative commons licenses are, and

    The outreach issue is really tricky but it seems organisations such as Witness and Global Voices are doing a good job of providing Gladwell's 'structure' and 'hierarchy'. Do they provide designated (and protected) hosting services of their own?

    Dispite YouTube being a closed service it has many positives. Maybe the ability to watch 'autotune the news' on the same service is one of them? It's a large potential audience right? I appreciate it doesn't solve the issue of 'inaction' but outreach through viewership is surely the first step. Some channels on YouTube find thousands to even millions of viewers for each of their videos and often have communities which begin to spill in to real world events too. Not sure how relevant this actually is to my point but one such community can be seen on the vlogbrothers channel you actually seem to manage to create discussion on issue and ideas from faith to copyright to Fermi's Paradox…online community can exist.

    See Gladwell's article as mentioned by Lauren Franzen here

    and a response by Maria Popova here

    Not completely relevent but there was a nice summary of some more of the open video conference posted on the AMIA listservhere if anyone is interested.


  2. First of all, I appreciate the thoughtful feedback! Second, I believe both Andy and Lauren are addressing the issue of OUTREACH for archives with their two questions: 1.) How can human rights archives make the most impact? 2.) How can they engage and connect people?

    To engage users is a challenge for any kind of archive. Organizational transparency seems to be the first step in developing outreach. Archival institutions often use their websites, online databases, blogs, and twitter accounts to create a kind of transparency, to communicate, and to expose their activities to the outside world. But how to go beyond that? How to reach out to people who wouldn't actively seek out archival material, particularly human rights archival video, on their own?

    In order to find some answers, I believe archives need to more and more become sites of interaction, discussion and reflection rather than static repositories. As evidenced at the Archives Show and Tell panel at the Open Video Conference, changing how users connect to collections is a necessary part of ensuring relevancy in the 21st century.

  3. Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote an article for the New Yorker about the influence of media on activism. The problem that he highlighted was the fragmentation that happens with the increased use of technology – that the presence of Twitter feeds and YouTube videos may increase people's awareness of human rights issues but not actually motivate anyone to action because of the anonymous nature of these forums. People become activists for a cause when they feel a connection to the cause, typically because they have a connection maybe to the other people who are working for the cause. But in online forums, there is no real motivation for people to act on what they are viewing beyond hitting a "like" button or maybe donating a bit of cash. So we get the illusion that activism increases when actually it does not.

    A strategy then for activists, and perhaps archivists, is how to structure a sense of community around the moving image that will motivate people to action or at least encourage people to move beyond being mere consumers of media. Forums like YouTube seem particularly prone to the problem of inaction as you can just as easily watch a video about the situation in Darfur as Autotune the News or something. The pervasion of media can be a good thing in making it easier to get human rights issues out there, but how do you situate these issues in a way that makes them relevant? How do you prevent issues from all just fading into the unending stream of media that so many of us are saturated by?

  4. I keep thinking about the amazing outpouring of digital imagery and the power of the voice of Iran's youth rising up during the election last year. I feel like archiving these events is SO important to the survival and advancement of peace, equality and understanding accross the globe. I think the bigger issue is really, how do we bring these documents to the forefront where they can make the most impact.

    Contextualization and Copies… We're all familiar with the 'celebrity that takes up a cause' but what other methods of advertisement could be employed by archives to bring attention to issues that are so very important to the fibre of our world? Buy up a Superbowl ad slot? Maybe even create a news program on a major network dedicated to exposing these types evidence of actions accross the world.

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