YouTube Asks What You Think of Human Rights, Social Media, and Online Video

With the increasing accessibility to social networking and video-making capabilities has come the rise of a citizen journalism that is exposing some of the most egregious human rights violations worldwide. And arguably YouTube has quickly become the premier site in which people are sharing their videos.

Police shutting down protests in China. A tobacco company employing under-age workers in Kazakhstan. "Videos like these are more than just breaking news images; they're often political statements meant to bring about change," says YouTube. And recognizing this, it has formed a specific CitizenTube channel that focuses on breaking news. And earlier this summer, YouTube partnered with WITNESS, a human rights video advocacy and training organization, in order to run a blog series examining the role of online video in human rights. Some of the posts have touted the importance of social video to human rights campaigns. One addressed some of the steps people can take to protect themselves and the people they film when uploading the videos to YouTube.

This week, YouTube updated its blog to ask its users "What do you think about human rights (and your rights) online?" In the post, YouTube asks three important and interesting questions:

How can uploaders balance privacy concerns with the need for wider exposure?
How can we stay alert to human rights footage without getting de-sensitized to it?
Does human rights content online require some kind of special status?

Social media sites like YouTube have given people the opportunity to share stories that might not otherwise be told. But there can be severe repercussions to those who've been filmed, that go far beyond some of the privacy infringements we often discuss. With the advent of facial recognition technology, for example, YouTube asks if it should, perhaps, blur the faces of people in some videos.

And what are the legal rights and legal requirements -- along with the ethical concerns -- associated with airing these videos. YouTube writes, "our terms of service carve out special exceptions for videos that have educational, scientific, or documentary value. But in many cases, human rights content is subjective and requires special interpretation -- and now that video can spread far and wide and can easily be reused and remixed beyond its original context (including by human rights abusers themselves), it’s even more important to follow some common guidelines." But what should those guidelines be?

And how do we continue to share these stories, keep vigilant about human rights violations and alert to human rights footage without becoming desensitized? The death of Neda Agha Soltan, a young woman protesting in the streets of Tehran is the perfect example of this. Shot by a sniper, in footage uploaded to YouTube, we see her die. The video is shocking, and it drew a lot of attention to upheaval in Iran. Will these sorts of videos lose their impact as more and more people have the ability to share stories of their local human rights struggles?

YouTube's questions are important for all of us to think about. While YouTube shoulders a great responsibility as the platform where these videos are uploaded, shared, and viewed, all of us have a responsibility to think about the ways in which social media and human rights are intertwined.

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