What are our ethical responsibilities when recording video of people under oppression?
Guest post by Sam Gregory
In June, my colleague Sameer Padania and I were part of a panel at the Open Video Conference in New York City on Human Rights, Indigenous Media and Open Video. We used the opportunity to launch what will be a continuing effort by WITNESS to engage with the human rights issues around dignity, re-victimization, consent and security raised by contemporary online video.
Above is the video we used for the WITNESS presentation at the conference. Watch and tell us what you think — what should WITNESS (and others) be doing in this area?
My colleague Priscila Néri’s post on the footage of Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran is a thought-provoking place to start: Iran Protests: A Woman Dies on Camera — to post or not to post?
WITNESS was created over 15 years ago coming out of the Rodney King incident asking this question: What if every human rights worker had a camera in their hand? Now, nearly every citizen does have a camera — and it is participants, witnesses and perpetrators who are filming.
Use of video, particularly mobile video, has publicized and documented many emerging human rights struggle from Rangoon to Tehran. Online there is an abundance of peer-produced content for the social good.
A respect for each individual’s well-being
However, despite the growing online circulation of images of human rights violations, victims and survivors, there is limited discussion of related safety, consent and ethical concerns. At the heart of human rights is the idea of respect for the dignity, worth and integrity of every person. We have an ethical responsibility as witnesses to violations to share the suffering of others in a manner that empathizes with — rather than re-violates — the victim.
From a human rights perspective, new issues around consent, representation and direct re-victimization and retaliation emerge in an open and networked online environment of reworking, remixing and re-circulating video and other imagery.
So how do we go about “incorporating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” into the “terms of service” of online video — an idea first suggested by Dan McQuillan? How do we introduce ideas around consent and human dignity into the broader culture?
This discussion needs to happen at a technological level (how do we build these concepts into platforms and technology, as we have tried to do with the Hub), and it is also a conversation about skills, media literacy and cultural norms.
We need your help to consider how to move this conversation forward — please contribute your thoughts, questions, and ideas in the comments field below.
This post originally appeared on the Witness.org Hub blog.