On July 20-21 EngageMedia participated in Video Vortex #7 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I spoke on the second day on the "Video Online: Impact, Effect, Affect" panel along with Ronny Agustinus of Marjin Kiri. The panel looked at the nature of networked videos in Indonesia, from celebrity sex tape scandals to human rights abuses.
I was particularly interested in 3 "witness" videos that had each sparked a major political event in Indonesia, but had had very different effects. Those videos were the mobile phone video recorded by soldiers of the torture of West Papuan farmer, the lynching in West Java of 3 people from the Ahmadiyah religious minority, and the celebrity sex tape scandal featuring boy band singer Ariel Peterpan.
All the videos have no narrative, they are captured by chance due to the ubiquity of video recording devices. They all conform to an 'aesthetic of authenticity' in that they are grainy, shaking and have bad sound; authenticity being associated with poor production values.
As a video activist I wanted to know what why some videos are successful at mobilising people and sparking change, and why others aren't, even when the evidence of criminality is undeniable. Both the Ahmadiyah and Papua videos for example show violence being inflicted and clearly identify the perpetrators. It the Ahmaniyah can you can even clearly see the individual that delivers the "death blow" to one of the victims. Yet no one identified in the video received more than 6 months jail. Similarly the soldiers in the Papua video received no more than 9 months prison, and this was only after much international pressure.
These cases seem to disprove the previous held thesis that video is a powerful tool to capture abuses and deliver justice. George Orwell's statement that "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act" seems to no longer hold. The truth is clearly available, but there is little direct link to justice.
My conclusion was essentially that power structures determine the political possibility, regardless of the evidence, and cultural programming determine how this media is read, interpreted and acted upon.
I showed the Lost in Papua trailer as an example of the racist lens through which most Indonesian's view Papua. Here Papua continues to occupy the space of the 'other'. It's dark, it's wild, it's violent. The torture documentation video in fact fits easily into this narrative and justifies attempts to control this untamed and ever violent space.
These two videos contrast with the effect of the Arial Peterpan sex tape. The result of that video was a 42 month sentence for Ariel for distributing pornography. In his case thousands of Islamic hardliners protested at his sentencing demanding the maximum penalty. Though it must be said that many of those attending were potentially paid to be there, a common occurrence in Indonesia. While many civil society organisations were active around the Ahmadiyah case, there were no mobilisations on the same scale.
It may be obvious that political and cultural structures determine the nature of a video event and it's impact, but I think these examples fly in the face of the current hype around video and the internet based distribution. There is an assumption that speaking truth to power is enough.
These extreme examples demonstrate that without effective social movements, civil society and an uncorrupted judiciary and political sphere even unquestionable video evidence of violations does not bring justice.
More photos on flickr.
An impossible to imagine number of people and plenty of utilities, it seems, are doing video. Children, teachers, sports professionals, activists, workers and the unemployed, radio and print journalists, the police, military and security firms are all swinging cameras some where on planet earth. In many countries now we are videoed in trains, elevators, in our cars in traffic, from the skies and even from space!
Video has become, as Witness's Sam Gregory describes, spreadable, mailable and accessible by more means than ever. It has become, in less than half a decade, ubiquitous. It's portable, potent and powerful. Hollywood and the largest media corporations in the world, Disney and News Limited, no longer command the publics total attention at the screen. No country and no individual is immune from the lens.
In a country where internet security issues are either unknown or are not taken seriously, where more and more people are using video to document abuses and record first-hand testimonials, and where Facebook has become the internet for millions of citizens, the means to both securely publish and access video in and from , for example, Indonesia is more critical than ever.
Along with the opportunities afforded by new technologies, there too are the threats. Creators of social justice video, for instance, can be located if they use an internet cafe and are not aware of how easily their location can be traced. The video they carry on USB sticks can be read on any computer and the people they capture on video may not be aware that they could be seen by thousands of people, all over the world, including the perpetrators of the injustices they may describe or have been subjected to. Anonymity and consent are little understood in Indonesia.
People have a right to free expression, but they too ought to have the right to anonymity should they wish it. Being seen and heard is one thing, being recognised and literally hunted down is another. It happens. Israeli authorities used Facebook to gather names of pro-Palestinian protesters and had them black-listed to prevent them travelling to Isreal. Iran's authorities scrutinised mobile phone footage on Youtube to identify demonstrators whom they later arrested along with passers-by who just happened to be in shot. Iranians are also crowd sourcing, a common social networking technique, encouraging the general public to identify alleged protesters in photos and video found on the web. A more recent initiative has seen the general public swarm to Tumblr and Facebook offering their videos and photos of the hockey riots in Vancouver that raises serious questions about “name and shaming” and whether this constitutes “vigilantism or community policing.”
In addition to these ethical issues, many of which are being tackled through international forums and public discussion at every conceivable opportunity, there are immediate concerns regarding the day to day practise of video activists. For example, video files can be large and they can take time to upload. Getting them to a server from an internet cafe in Aceh, for example, can pose problems, particularly if connections are not secure, or more commonly, slow and costly. People need to be prepared, they need time and they need to be anonymous. Additionally, once online how secure and / or reliable is the site one publishes to? Youtube looks like a public space, but it isn't. Facebook encourages openness and sharing, but why does Julian Assange describe it as “the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented?”
As more video is produced and as more people, from all sectors of society use what ever means available to them hold up their cameras and send their images across networks and devices the means to do so ethically and securely needs to be both understood and readily available.
What means are available, how ought they be used and what more needs be done to support those already working in the field is a work in progress. Various groups are tacking video security issues, from informed consent to visual anonymity. A However, a comprehensive resource is yet to emerge. The early stages of EngageMedia's Secure My Video Guide was researched, compiled and discussed at EngageMedia's Secure My Video Sprint held in Jakarta, July 2011.
The objectives of the sprint were:
- To review standard methodologies and tools for secure storage and transport of digital video files and draft findings and recommendations.
- To review standard methodologies and tools for secure publication of digital video online and to draft the findings and recommendations.
- To review and re-draft for final publication on a public wiki, or an equivalent publishing platform, in both English and Bahasa Indonesian.
- To assist in either improving on, contributing to or identifying gaps in video security.
- To supplement existing security advisories.
In my research towards the sprint, and in discussion with my colleagues at EngageMedia and Witness.org, I'd identified the following video security issues.
In the field one can either plan ahead or, if in the wrong place at the right time, work quickly to document events as they play out. If you have the luxury to plan your shoot you can decide on the most suitable camera for the task and prepare it accordingly. You can also inform those whom you might interview of the implications of their appearance on camera, giving them to choice to consent to being seen or to remain anonymous. But if you don't, then you have to make do with what you've got and be prepared to take minimise the risk to yourself, your sources and your subject(s).
Storage devices are conceivably more easily concealed, but even-so, any device can be easily read for its contents. Almost every digital device, from a cell phone to a GPS is a store for data.
You need time to upload video and the internet may know who and where you are. The IP address from where you publish a video can be concealed, but if your video contains recognisable faces they can and will be identified. Facial recognition software is now widely spread. Additionally, publishing via mobile devices can be risky. Carriers may collude with authorities to shut down networks, intercept video uploads and provide details of individual users. Mobile phones, for instance, may also embed your location within video meta-data.
The right to free expression sits side-by-side with the right to remain anonymous. However, not all governments value this and many are still debating the pros and cons of a charter of rights that supports anonymity on the internet. People want to speak out, but not everyone may want to be recognised. The question is, how can we work within such a powerful and visual medium and yet remain anonymous?
Hosting / mirroring
Hosting video content is not a minor task. Unlike text based content backing up discs crammed with videos can take hours, if not days. If an independent video hosting site goes down what can be done to ensure its content is available else where and within an acceptable period of time.
Released October 2011, EngageMedia's Secure My Video Guide.