Case Study: Navigating the Ethics of Citizen Video

The online journal Arab Media & Society published an article by Madeleine Bair, WITNESS’ Human Rights Channel Curator, in which she explores the ethical considerations and verification challenges newsrooms and civil society face when using citizen video in their reporting and research documentation.

Here’s how she begins:

From documenting the war in Syria to capturing police killings in New York City, citizen videos are exposing important events and becoming part of the fabric of the media ecosystem around the world. Yet for newsrooms and journalists, traditional protocols and practices do not adequately address the editorial, ethical, and technological complications of using citizen videos. Issues of trust, consent, preservation, and safety must be reconsidered when videos are captured by amateurs, uploaded by anonymous individuals, and managed by the policies of technology companies.

In the article, Madeleine draws on lessons learned from a filmed sexual assault in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to outline a variety of issues legacy and new media newsrooms face as they increasingly leverage citizen reporting in their news coverage.

While the viral video put sexual violence at the top of newly inaugurated President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s agenda, it also exposed the potential of eyewitness video to re-victimize individuals on camera, disappear from YouTube, and lead to more questions than answers surrounding the issue it documents. Legacy and new media outlets reported on the video in a variety of ways, demonstrating the inconsistencies of reporting with citizen footage and highlighting the need for new tools and guidelines to facilitate its safe, effective, and ethical use. As citizen footage becomes an essential and ubiquitous medium for social documentation, the video offers one case study of the serious concerns that must be addressed, not only by the news industry, but also by technology companies, civil society, and the public at large.

Read on at Arab Media & Society: Navigating the Ethics of Citizen Video: The Case of a Sexual Assault in Egypt.

For more on issues and ideas surrounding citizen video, visit The Human Rights Channel.

About: Arab Media & Society explores media, technology and their “interaction with society-at-large” in the Arab world. It is supported by the American University in Cairo.



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