Home Tough Questions for YouTube: How to Handle Videos of Human Rights Abuses

Tough Questions for YouTube: How to Handle Videos of Human Rights Abuses

YouTube is becoming an increasingly powerful weapon for people living in oppressive regimes to broadcast injustice. But it can be extremely dangerous to have your face broadcast in connection with a riot or protest in a place like Iran.

Naturally, YouTube doesn’t want to get people killed. But it doesn’t want to censor such videos either – not an easy place to be. The site is soliciting ideas about this delicate issue to stimulate discussion about the role of online video in human rights.

A video of a protest in China posted to YouTube. “The Chinese government has dispatched paramilitary troops to the city of Suzhou, in Jiangsu province, to control protesters demanding compensation for land that was razed to make way for factories.”

Citizen video is one of the most powerful ways to spread a message. YouTube is highlighting such videos on Citizentube, an official channel for breaking news viewed through the eyes of people on the street.

But YouTube’s emergence as a record of human rights abuses is also very scary, especially with new technology that can identify faces in a crowd. Online video can increase the effectiveness of a protest, but it can also increase the risk of retribution against those who are involved.

In China, for example, it’s not uncommon for a viral video to result in a “human flesh search” for the girl who is a subject of a cute love letter or the bully who was caught beating up a student. Users on message boards and blogs will post whatever they know about the target or the location of the video. Often the aggregated intelligence leads to a target’s name, address and phone number, like a prank you might see on the message board 4chan, only more frightening.

Targeting people who appear in a video would be even easier for government or the police, who could use YouTube videos to help them arrest dissenters.

YouTube is soliciting ideas about this delicate issue for future blog posts examining the role of online video in human rights.

YouTube is asking users to consider questions such as:

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?

Submit your ideas and answers to the Google Moderator.

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