YouTube Supports Citizen Journalism with Blurring Technology

As online video becomes a leading force in citizen journalism, YouTube is helping to facilitate that those videos are seen with the least amount of harm to both the videographer and those featured in the video.  A couple of weeks ago YouTube announced a new face blurring tool that provides visual anonymity.

It makes sense that YouTube would go in this direction.  According to a study released by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, YouTube is a global leader in video news and that “citizens play a substantial role in supplying and producing footage.”  In addition to YouTube’s Human Rights Channel and CitizenTube, video blurring seems to be a natural, next step.  Furthermore, according to the international citizen journalism group WITNESS’ Cameras Everywhere report, “No video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blur faces or protect identity.”  However, there are apparently ways to blur video using iMovie.

Nonetheless, it seems that this technology is geared towards video makers who have limited access or training with video editing systems and/or shooting and editing on the go with their mobile phones.  In light of the recent Arab Spring uprising, blurring is useful for citizen journalists recording sensitive footage that could put many people at risk.   Blurring isn’t just for protecting protestors; it should be pointed out that blurring can also be used for more mundane cases like protecting the identity of children or anyone who didn’t consent to appearing in a video.

YouTube stressed in a press release, that the blurring tool is not perfect, as it is “emerging,” and “sometimes has difficulty detecting faces depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality. It’s possible that certain faces or frames will not be blurred.  If you are not satisfied with the accuracy of the blurring as you see it in the preview, you may wish to keep your video private.”  Also, YouTube might consider developing a complimentary voice changer.

Jordanian journalist Natasha Tynes shows how to use the blurring technology using video she shot in Syria:

Certainly, the blurring technology is not perfect and doesn’t guarantee total anonymity.  This is why YouTube included the following instructions about video safety.

…1. Assess your risk. You and the people you film may face risk by posting video online. You may risk your own safety and that of your subjects while filming sensitive footage, during the editing process, and when you distribute your film online. After assessing the vulnerability you and your subjects face, you can make more informed decisions about when to film, whether to distribute your footage, and how widely you want to share it.

2. Consider other information which may give away identity. Video footage of your face is not the only way someone can detect your identity. Other factors that may be caught on video can also identify you or your subjects. Watch out for vocal identifiers, like recognizable voices or saying someone’s name on camera. Other footage can give away identity like a license plate, a name tag, or even the background scenery. Make sure that the imagery in your videos does not give away information about your location or identity.

3. Protect yourself when uploading. Consider, for example, local laws that may allow authorities to track the mobile device from which you upload. In certain countries, merely purchasing a sim card puts users at risk of tracking by government…

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