Tag Archives: Witness

Witness unveil the Video Advocacy Planning Toolkit.

Last summer I completed an internship with the not-for-profit organisation Witness, based in Brooklyn, to develop the Video Advocacy Planning Toolkit, which went live last week. The toolkit incorporates Witness’ decades of experience training rights advocates worldwide to use video in bringing about positive change. By shifting this training online Witness can reach many more activists, as demand for training far outstripped capacity. Under the watchful eye (and moustache) of the marvellous Chris Michael, I was involved in the initial stages of development and drafting the text; the task was to find a workable solution to an ambitious and complex technical need. Read Chris’ introduction on the Witness blog for the science bit.

Witness was set up by Peter Gabriel (of Genesis and ‘Sledgehammer’ fame) in 1992 after he videoed personal stories of those he met while touring with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! tour in 1988.  The police beating of Rodney King in 1991, captured on a handycam by a member of the public and beamed around the world, cemented the role of video as a valuable tool in defending human rights and exposing perpetrators; Witness was born.

Making and distributing a video has become technically easier over the years; anyone can pick up a video camera or mobile phone, press record and upload it to YouTube. However, the skill in effectively delivering an advocacy message in that video requires thought, patience, more time (and probably money) than you would initially imagine and asking tough questions of yourself and your organisation.

The Video Advocacy Planning Toolkit is not a ‘how-to’ guide to film making, although there are links to resources advising on getting the best out of your video visually, but taking on board Witness’ expertise on strategy, security and distribution are a must before picking up a camera. Is making a video the right medium? Who is the target/primary audience for your video and how will they see it? Does your primary audience have the power to influence change? How will you protect the safety and security of your crew and contributors? The toolkit asks searching questions which in the end will give your video more impact.

The toolkit is split into 12 chapters to take you from the initial planning stages to distribution. There are instructional videos, links to further resources and case studies from other advocates who share their experiences in making a video for advocacy.

You can save and return to the toolkit at any time and your plan can be downloaded to share with others. It may look like a lot of work to start with, but completing this plan will save you time and money in the long run and ensure all those working on the video are working to the same message and strategy.

The toolkit was released at the end of September and Witness will need your feedback in order to make improvements and ensure users are gaining a valuable resource.  Witness will be giving away flip cams to the first toolkit users and providers of in depth feedback, so have a go and report back to them. Good luck and well done Witness!

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Response: Did the Internet matter in Tunisia and Egypt?

In response to Nabila Ramdani’s article and podcast on opendemocracy.net:

Freedom of information is now perceived as one of the biggest threats to governments on the verge of collapse.  Knowledge, at last, is power.  The part played by the relatively new phenomenon of social media in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings certainly has value, in the speed at which information spread and the potential to mobilise people, but we shouldn’t be too hasty in crowning social media as the catalyst for revolution.

Social media sites are not free spaces, as Ramdani claims in the podcast with Tony Curzon Price, they are private companies with terms and conditions, run for profit. As Ethan Zuckerman wrote (and recently quoted by Sam Gregory of Witness),

‘Hosting your political movement on YouTube is a little like trying to hold a rally in a shopping mall. It looks like a public space, but it’s not – it’s a private space, and your use of it is governed by an agreement that works harder to protect YouTube’s fiscal viability than to protect your rights of free speech.’

It is uncomfortable to see civil unrest in the Middle East defined by the social media outlet used to publicise it.  To call the Egyptian uprising ‘The Facebook Revolution’ (and Ramdani is not the only one guilty of this) is frankly insulting. A revolution cannot be branded and we should be skeptical of companies using their incidental involvement as a marketing tool and opportunity for brand development amidst chaos and suffering. Is ‘The MySpace Uprising’ coming soon? I hear they could do with the publicity.

It is indeed telling that a government in a state of emergency will shut down the internet before rolling in the tanks.  Ramdani states that ‘Internet Service Providers were shut down’ [in Tunisia and Egypt], but this didn’t stop the revolution; so really how big a part did the internet play? In his article ‘Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted’, Malcolm Gladwell wrote, ” Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools.”  In short, PCs don’t start a revolution, people do.

There is also the very real issue of how to protect activists using platforms which jeopardise their anonymity.  Morosov highlights in ‘The Net Delusion’ how social media can be used against activists, for example surveillance, and this issue needs to be seriously addressed before social media can claim its place alongside the revolutionaries.

Morodov and Gladwell’s arguments were not proved wrong by events in Tunisia and Egypt, they highlight the urgent need for enforcing the right to freedom of expression and reinforce a note of caution. If these tools are indeed now a staple of advocacy, activists need to learn to protect their safety and security online as well as offline and out on the streets.

Would these events have happened if social media didn’t exist? We must remember the initial event that resulted in the fall of two dictators, uprisings across the Middle East and a newfound empowerment of the people. The suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia on December 17th 2010, was not posted on Facebook.

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International Women’s Day 2011: Women and Technology

There were some amazing happenings to celebrate International Women’s Day this week… even the bizarre (but arguably, valiant) effort  by ITN with their promo featuring Daniel Craig . The sun was shining and I flitted from a vigil outside the Swaziland embassy to a protest in Trafalgar Square to a talk at Amnesty International HQ, all the while receiving texts from the ladies I love celebrating, well, us.  I thought about my great-grandmother, who kept the family business running during the First World War and turned a handsome profit; my grandmother, who is very much the leader of our pack; my business executive mother, who was expected to give up work when she married my father (she happily informed  my father’s employer that as she was the bigger earner, this would not be happening) and the cunning entrepreneurs and creatives in my gang who are quietly smashing the glass ceiling.

Women are increasingly utilising technology to combat discrimination and change cultural norms.  During the Egyptian protests calling for the resignation of Mubarak, one of the poster girls was 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz.  Her vlog was a call to arms, radical in her own right, daring  the men of Cairo to accompany her to Tahrir Square.  Predictably, she received threats for daring to consider stepping outside unaccompanied, let alone joining the crowds on the street.  Sam Gregory from Witness recently blogged about how to combat the growing issue of visual anonymity in video and protect the vulnerable.  This will be discussed more in Witness’ upcoming report ‘Cameras Everywhere’ and word on the street is that Witness are also developing a new app around this area which should definitely be worth a look.

There has been a surge of initiatives to tackle street harassment of women and end its cultural acceptance. Comments to women about their appearance dished out by strangers on the street, from passing cars or on public transport, are not flattering or complementary- they are insincere and intimidating. Have you ever met a couple who got together after he shouted ‘nice arse’ at her while waiting at the traffic lights? The worse thing is, it’s accepted as part of being female and only really discussed amongst groups of girls like it’s a secret, which is a real shame as the boys I know were horrified to find out how widespread this kind of behaviour is as, obviously, it never happens when they are around.

Back to Egypt, I have been keeping an eye on the  Harrassmap project since it started at the end of 2010. This is an SMS service for women to text in incidents of catcalling, touching and worse on the streets of Egypt which are then mapped.  A similar initiative, Hollaback,  exists in the USA and UK as an app and a map and is currently being rolled out worldwide.  I like to think of these as a virtual alternative to a Mace spray, but what exactly will happen to the data once it is collected? Let’s hope these projects have teeth and go some way to changing cultural norms and encourage women to speak out about the unspoken.

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