“The Innocence of Muslims,” a trailer for an anti-Islamic film that has served as both an excuse and a spur for the latest round of unrest in the Middle East, is only the latest example of a longstanding YouTube tradition. The Google-owned company has been redefining activism, for better or for worse, since its inception. Here are 15 similarly Earth-shaking videos.
There’s no denying the twin impacts of YouTube as a global video distribution network and the cellphone camera as a tool of citizen journalism. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.
The Top 10
Link TV compiled a list of what it considers the Top 10 raw-footage clips that changed the world, mostly shot by cellphones. Some might find the list objectionable: U.C. Davis Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying Occupy protesters made the list, for instance, while other footage of Iraqi veteran Scott Olsen being critically injured by San Francisco riot police didn’t. However it does spotlight the role of consumer video cameras in a host of major news events (and some that should have been, such as the tragic death of a toddler on a Chinese street while passersby simply trudged past).
But Link TV’s list leaves out several key YouTube videos. Here’s a further sampling of clips that shook the world.
Heeding the clarion call of 2011’s Arab Spring, the Syrian populace took to the streets. Unlike similar events in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrian protests did not lead to a relatively peaceful regime change. Rather, they ignited the ongoing conflict now known as the Syrian Uprising (or Syrian Civil War). Syrian rebels arm themselves with both automatic rifles and cellphone and video cameras to bring their struggle to the attention of people across the globe.
Guantanamo Bay Exposed
Leaked footage of the child soldier Omar Khadr sobbing for almost nine minutes while held at Guantanamo Bay spurred the anti-Guantanamo Bay movement and highlighted the abuse happening to prisoners of war at the offshore, US-maintained detention facility.
But why stop at cellphone footage? Many more deliberate YouTube productions have moved crowds and influenced geopolitics.
Joseph Kony in the Spotlight
The 30-minute film Kony 2012 changed the nonprofit landscape for good and ultimately made people hesitant to donate to charities. An almost overnight sensation – unusual for a video void of trending memes or kittens – led to a global scrutiny of the charity that was too much for the creator, who ended up having a very naked breakdown in a public street. The film currently has 92 million views.
Anonymous Goes Mainstream
The first global directive by hackivist collective Anonymous, uploaded in 2008, asked people to protest the Church of Scientology for attempting to censor the Internet, among other things. This was the shadowy organization’s first attempt at in-person activism that wasn’t purely for revenge or Internet “lulz,” and it introduced the group onto the world stage in fittingly spooky style.
The Genesis of Online Video Activism
By its very nature, the first-ever YouTube video deserves to be on this list. Titled “Me at the Zoo,” the 19-second clip features YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim talking about why he likes elephants. Today, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.