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Is Online Video-Sharing a Double-edged Sword?

Sabina Panth's picture

As much advantage as there is to the world of the internet, there are disadvantages too, the main inconvenience being securing privacy.  This has become a particular issue of concern when visual images against political reprisal are exposed.  Granted, this very exposure can draw world-wide attention and support for a cause or struggle, but often it leaves advocates involved in demonstrations vulnerable to political targeting and exploitation. 

The increased popularity of video sharing platforms such as You-Tube has allowed individuals from all walks of life to post a variety of video clips. The vast majority of these are frivolous but many involve serious subject matters, including shots of political uprisings and human rights-related footage.  These clips, however, are not always done with the permission or knowledge of the subjects appearing in the videos.  To their credit, You-Tube has begun taking some precautionary measures, but the questions of the safety, security and privacy of the subjects appearing in the world of online video-sharing remain to be answered. 

To further complicate the issue, traditional modes of uploading and archiving the video footage, which at least permits some level of screening and filtering, are being surpassed by newer, more advanced technologies offering no such safeguards.  I recall reading a report in the British newspaper, The Guardian that when browsing through one of the many new video platforms, the author, Victor Keegan happened to stumble upon a live meeting in Japan that an attendee was broadcasting to the public using his iPhone.  Accompanying the live broadcast was a link to a text box and a map showing exactly where the brainstorming session was taking place.  Granted, such advanced technology can be powerful tools in many situations, such as to detect and remedy incidences of crime, but going back to my original issue of concern: what about the unprecedented invasion of privacy, safety concerns, and other impacts of those involved or exposed in the uploading and broadcasting of these visual images?

WITNESS, a human rights organization founded by Peter Gabriel, had this concern in mind when it came up with The Hub, an online video-sharing platform related to human rights abuses.  Realizing that both the users and the subjects of the video could be subject to harassment, arrest, or worse if their identities were revealed, the initiative took the security of users and their data very seriously.   A team of editors reviewed each submitted video for propaganda as well as privacy concerns.  It also added detailed the context of the posted video and linkages to the related region and the human right issues there, which allowed contextualization of the subject matter to avoid dangers for misinterpretation and exploitation (particularly on a sensitive issue like human rights abuses).  This also allowed the videos to be valued as human rights documentation than arbitrary take-down, encouraging viewers to be more educated on the subject matter and mobilizing individuals and groups to connect with and take collective actions on interested topics. The Hub has since disabled its uploading features but has evolved into a “video for change” platform providing urgent messages on human rights abuses through its archived videos and video-advocacy toolkits. 

Metacafe is another platform that carefully reviews online videos.  Videos go through an approval process and a ranking system by a panel of community members, which makes it more secure and well worth the time of the viewers.  Similar to The Hub, the highest ranked videos on the home page are updated more frequently for more focus and contextualization of the subject matter.

These are just a few initiatives that have taken steps towards ensuring the privacy and security of contributors and their subjects in online video sharing. With the way things are going now, it won’t be long before everyone has a mobile phone capable of streaming whatever is happening around them. As Victor Keegan writes in The Guardian, “Whatever our fears about governments collecting data about ourselves, we seem to be two steps ahead of them in revealing it all ourselves voluntarily” and if all this is accepted, we may need to redefine what the word ‘privacy’ means.

Photo Credit: HH-Michael (Flikr User)

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