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Etech09 Roundup 1: Sameer Padania, Witness, and The Hub March 19, 2009

Posted by sashahc in Trip Report.
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The Social Justice organization Witness is adding a new social media site to their domain: The Hub. Sameer Padania gave a talk called “Video for Change – The Tech Behind Building a Space for Human Rights Video”, discussing the process that Witness went through in moving into a Web 2.0 space.

Witness has been around for 16 years now. Their mission statement is: “WITNESS uses video and online technologies to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. We empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.” Until recently, all of the video that they posted on their website was fully curated. The Hub is a move in a different direction. It is a place for activists to blog, post videos and comments, and organize.

With this potential, however, come dangers and responsibilites that most social media sites do not face. For instance, in the recent riots in Tibet (I believe. Correct me if I am wrong.), organizers uploaded videos and the government was able to use those videos to track and imprison the organizers. The Hub, therefore, currently does not save any IP information for those who visit or upload content. They are also moving very slowly on bringing their site public to make sure it is ready for prime time. Sameer said something very compelling in regards to this, which was essentially, “It would be disrespectful to our users’ time to ask them to beta test our site.” At the moment, they are pre-moderating everything that comes onto the site. They have been very pleased with the quality of comments, however, so they will soon move to post-moderating. The idea is that eventually this will be fully user driven, but they do not want to move too fast in that direction.

I was hugely impressed, both by Witness’ mission and by the way they are going about it. They understand the power and danger in what they are doing and are respectful of it.

A few more notes that I wrote down:
– There is huge value in broadcasting important content to the world. There is also the potential to endanger the safety of the content creator.
– Bluetooth, because of its physically localized, p2p network model, has the potential to be modern-day samizdat, passing videos on phones from hand to hand. It can also be used by oppressors to keep video out of the public eye. Sameer referenced police that passed around videos of abuse to each others’ phones.
– Human reviewership is necessary to review Human Rights material.
– In the model of Open Source, Witness and The Hub are trying to create and encourage Open Culture.
– They are specifically leveraging the power of personal stories to bring attention where it is needed.