90 countries. 1,892 videos. 137 in-depth human rights playlists. 1 year of the Human Rights Channel on YouTube.
This marks the culmination of the Citizen Video for Journalists blog series, as well as the one-year anniversary of the Human Rights Channel. 12 months ago, WITNESS and our partners at Storyful launched the first dedicated space on YouTube for verified citizen video on human rights issues. 1,892 videos later—after 365 days of footage from Syrians living in wartime, 12 Gangnam style protests, one Webby nomination, and one memorable sunset—we’re pausing to share what we’ve learned.
No one knew precisely where the Channel would be on its first birthday. But discovery is part of the mission: discovery of human rights footage that could be lost in an ever-rising sea of content; discovery of human rights stories that have been hidden in the shadows; and amplification of these videos and their stories, so that news media, investigators, advocates, and other citizens can act on what they see.
Today, ordinary citizens in nearly every corner of the world have the ability to film, upload, and share video from their communities. Through the Channel, we’ve discovered and shared their incredible stories, which range from northern Mali to southern California, from central Iran to rural Myanmar.
We’ve learned other things, too:
Filming is only the first step
Exposing abuse is the first step to action, but it is not always enough. Sadly, the war in Syria offers an example. Brave citizens risk their lives every day to document the war, but the deluge of footage has not moved the wheels of diplomacy. In fact, one must wonder if it causes foreign eyes to glaze over, uncomfortable with horrific scenes that offer no easy solution. By contextualizing videos in a way foreigners, human rights investigators, and diplomats alike can understand, the Human Rights Channel strives to create useful meaning out of the Syria videos, with playlists examining purported use of chemical weapons, or videos that document apparent war crimes.
Video evidence makes a difference.
On the other hand, video can spark action where knowledge alone cannot. Even if a rights violation is known to occur, catching it on camera can be the spark needed for social change. When the police in South Africa fatally abused a man, the citizen video of the incident shocked the country and the world, even though police abuse has been well known and documented in the country. The officers involved in his death have been arrested and are awaiting trial.
Cameras may be everywhere, but so is repression.
Whether in the United States or in Sudan, professional and citizen journalists, as well as the people in their videos, face the risk of repression by the state or others. That’s why the Human Rights Channel is reaching out to the people behind the camera, sharing tips on how to assess their risk, how to blur the faces of the people in their videos, and, if they witness human rights violations, how to film video that can be utilized by news outlets and investigators.
We invite you to raise a camera—or a glass of bubbly, if you prefer—and join us in celebrating the Channel’s first year. If you’ve been watching, submitting, +1’ing, or tweeting the channel, cheers and thank you! Curation is only one element of the truly collaborative process of citizen journalism. Tweeters, reporters, verifiers, translators, and advocates are a critical part of this enterprise.
We encourage you to look back on the last year in human rights, through the Channel’s playlists. We also encourage you to revisit the blogs in this Citizen Video for Journalists series: Della Kilroy of Storyful offered tips on how to discern the authenticity of a video. NPR’s Andy Carvin explained how to engage the citizen reporter in the entire reporting process—to help contextualize videos, verify their authenticity, translate language, and analyze their meaning. Liam Stack of the New York Times discussed what it is that citizen videos say, even when they leave us with more questions than answers. Syria Deeply’s founder Lara Setrakian shared ways news outlets can offer context and analysis to citizen media. Finally, Yoav Gross from B’Tselem described how the organization’s community video project became a trusted source for Israeli reporters.
If there is one common denominator to all of their insight, it is their belief that citizen video IS important, and that we can ALL play a role in ensuring that when a witness documents human rights abuse, the entire world takes notice.
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