Last year, citizen journalists contributed to our collective awareness of human rights issues in an unprecedented way.
Smartphone footage of protesters in Turkey's Gezi Park ricocheted around the globe, inspiring satellite demonstrations all over. YouTube videos taken from passenger seats documented a movement of Saudi Arabian women defying the country's driving ban. Russian homophobes' own recordings of abuse heaped international criticism on the country's anti-gay policies. There are countless other examples, from Egypt to the United States, to Syria, and more.
Many of these videos are included in a
Human Rights Watch Witness roundup of influential citizen journalist videos published today. And many of them deserve a second, a third, and fourth look, captured by the quick thinking and courage of people in crisis.
The videos highlighted by The Human Rights Channel are verified by Storyful's Open Newsroom project, a coalition of international journalists who focus on social media. But, as Witness, a nonprofit centered on human rights video, points out, some videos that are stripped of metadata aren't so easy to source. This is critical to keep in mind when these videos are used as evidence—like the CIA presenting 100 crowdsourced videos documenting a chemical weapons attack in Syria to Congress—or when documentation of atrocities remains unverified.
"Citizen footage can and is throwing a spotlight on otherwise inaccessible places such as prisons, war zones, and homes," Witness's Madeleine Bair wrote in a blog post highlighting the Witness montage. "But given the uncertainties inherent in such footage, reporters and investigators must use it with caution."
Now that social media plays such an integral role in informing the public, the tension between viral reactions and slow-cooked truth is here to stay. (For an anatomy lesson on misinformation wildfire, check out Alexis Madrigal's must-read dissection of the Boston bombings accusations.) But what we now recognize as "journalism" could look very different in 20 years, and verifying what shoots through the information pipeline could likely become a cottage industry of its own.