In the last few weeks, we’ve all watched something new unfold in the United States – including an unparalleled surge of activism and protests. That’s why last month, we released our “Filming Inauguration and Women’s Marches” tip sheet.  Activists have been filming – and they’ve been livestreaming. People all over the globe have been watching protests in the US via a variety of livestreaming platforms. In fact, Trump’s inauguration broke livestreaming records.

Livestreaming can be a powerful tool for human rights documentation. It can allow people from all around the world to view a scene as if they were there, it can document serious violations of human rights, and it can even be used to defend activists from criminal charges or in excessive force cases against the police.

But livestreaming also has risks, both for those being filmed and those doing the filming.

That’s why WITNESS has put together a new tip sheet, “Livestreaming Protests – USA“. This one-page resource includes safety and know your rights information, and tips on how to ethically create and preserve more engaging and powerful media. Keep reading below for additional tips and resources.


Additional Resources & Tips

Know Your Rights and Stay Safe

“Having a camera at a protest can make you a target for police.”

For more know your rights and safety information, check out:

  • This “know your rights” guide from the Electronic Frontier Foundation explaining your rights around searches of your electronic devices
  • This guide from the American Civil Liberties Union explaining your rights as a photographer
  • This guide to police encounters from the National Lawyers Guild.
  • This article about protest safety
  • WITNESS guides to filming protests and police abuse in the USA

Be ethical

“Livestreaming can expose people’s identities, protesters’ tactics and other sensitive information far more easily than recorded video that you can edit. Evaluate the security risks before filming.”

Like any video, livestreaming can reveal an incredible amount of detailed information. As noted in our guide on Basic Practices for Video as Evidence, “Video captured by eyewitnesses and on-the-ground human rights activists can be instrumental in drawing attention to human rights violations and support calls for policy change. But . . . with slight modifications, the footage citizens and activists often risk their lives to capture can serve as evidence in criminal and civil justice processes.”

But it’s important to ensure that you’re capturing the right information, and not capturing information that could endanger the people you are filming. Check out our tips for concealing identity and capturing useful information, and if you upload the footage to a site after filming it, consider using the blur features available in Youtube or via our ObscuraCam app. Remember that when you are livestreaming there is no easy way to blur faces and there is no going back once it’s online: the police and others can and will scrutinize your footage to identify and potentially target people. Lastly, remember that faces aren’t the only way your footage can be used to identify people.

For more on how to ethically capture video, check out:

  • WITNESS’ guide to obtaining informed consent
  • This blog post about “how to document a demonstration without incriminating its participants.”

Preserve your media

“If you think your video contains evidentiary content, it’s always a good practice to download and preserve a copy on your own secure devices.”

It’s important to know how the platform you are using for streaming works. Does it keep a copy of your video? Is that copy accessible? Periscope, Facebook, Ustream, and other sites all have different rules, so take a look, and if you need to, check out this blog on how to download and preserve a copy. For more on archiving video, check out our Activists Guide to Archiving Video.

Powerful and engaging livestreaming

Before you start livestreaming, think about what your video might be used for. Do you want to make sure the world is aware of brutal police repression? Do you want to create video that could be used to defend an activist or prosecute an abusive police officer in court? Or do you want to encourage viewers from far away to take some sort of action?

Livestreaming is uniquely situated to accomplish all of these objectives – but your media has to be carefully created to be successful and engaging.

Our tips for filming the details will help you create video is easier to be verified by viewers and has a higher potential of being used in a courtroom. For example, protesters who are arrested violently by police officers are often charged with assaulting a police officer. Video showing a protester going limp or curling into a ball as they’re violently arrested could keep someone out of jail, but it’s a lot more useful if you can show that it happened at the time and place in question, and if you’ve filmed the badge number or face of the officer. You can learn more about how to film a protest in our video series.

logo-MOBIL-EYES-477x477In addition to being useful after the fact, one of the unique features of livestreaming is the potential for immediate viewer engagement. WITNESS is developing that potential with our ’ Mobil-Eyes Us project. The goal of the project is to help livestream viewers to follow a series of experiences of frontline activism , and then engage these ‘distant witnesses’ at the right time and get “them to use their unique skills, leverage, or networks to take action – for example to deter illegal violence by their group presence, to rapidly share video material or invite others to act as well, or to provide direct legal guidance.”

Mobil-Eyes Us is still in alpha. But that doesn’t mean you can’t engage your audience right now. As the narrator of your livestream, you can ask viewers to take action. This can take many different forms, big or small. You can get creative – though you should ensure that you are complementing or coordinating with the work of organizers. For example, since the massive protests in Ferguson, livestream viewers have sent food to protesters (in fact, there’s even multiple websites and twitter accounts set up to send pizza to protesters). You could also encourage viewers to raise awareness on social media or ask viewers to contact lawmakers.

Download our livestreaming tips and related materials on using “Video for Advocacy” and on “How to Film in a Protest” and “Video as Evidence” at

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