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?