‘Videoblogging’ Human Rights on YouTube: An Ethical Dilemma

‘Videoblogging’ Human Rights on YouTube: An Ethical Dilemma

Jacques DM Gimeno (University of Asia and the Pacific, The Philippines) and Bradley C. Freeman (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-159-1.ch006
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This chapter discusses what happens when, instead of co-existing, our online and offline worlds clash. In an age where the difference between virtual reality and real life becomes almost impossible to distinguish, a re-examination of core values and ethics becomes a necessity to ensure that human decency is not abandoned and that ethical standards become a core part of virtual public spheres. This chapter discusses a fundamental theme of modern human communication that involves a shift from traditional face-to-face interaction to one that is heavily mediated. Specifically, this chapter focuses on the role of different websites in providing a virtual public sphere, one exemplified by YouTube, where anonymity and immediacy greatly influence human communication in ways that may result in either fomenting greater divisions among societies and propagating a culture of carelessness and disregard for human rights, or one where human rights abuses are exposed, but victims’ identities are concealed and carefully protected.
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An Internet journal (weblog) used to be limited to text and audio and mainly hosted for free on an individual webpage where the number of hits or visits from other users usually reflects its popularity. However when YouTube came into the picture, the world of blogging drastically changed. Before video streaming, a text-based blogger would have to write about controversial issues to merit regular following; but on YouTube, despite millions of videos being uploaded every day, many videobloggers can expect to get hundreds of hits in just a few minutes after posting.

One of the factors that has led to YouTube’s popularity is its community-oriented format which allows users to videoblog on a single common platform accessible to everyone (individually-hosted blogs are viewed mostly by people within the blogger’s circle). YouTube constitutes a virtual public sphere, one where the marketplace of ideas is so vast and disorderly that one can barely keep track of all the information being exchanged. Of the many concerns regarding online communication, this chapter will focus on ethics; specifically, the ethics of videoblogging involving human rights videos. For the purposes of this chapter, we define human rights videos as those that include actual footage of where a person or persons’ human rights are seen or understood as being violated. In 2007, for example, an amateur video of a woman being stoned to death in Iraq was circulated on the Internet and posted on YouTube. As a consequence of the Internet’s accessibility, speed, and immediacy, verification of information can be compromised when videobloggers compete for attention by posting these videos before they first verify their accuracy. Furthermore, videobloggers are posting without regard for the safety of the victims – as is evidently happening on YouTube in videos involving torture, mass killings, violations of children’s rights, among others.

Since videoblogging is a form of online communication that facilitates active interaction among members, this chapter will discuss how such interaction on YouTube, in the context of human rights violations, becomes a threat when videobloggers fail to adhere to ethical guidelines protecting the victims from further harm. To support this thesis, this chapter will make a case of the downside of the use of the new medium with respect to human rights activism amid claims that the technology helps champion human rights around the world. This chapter will revolve around the ethics of videoblogging (this term will be used interchangeably with blogging in this chapter) by discussing issues pertinent to online communication namely freedom of expression, right to information, human rights victims’ right to privacy and dignity, anonymity, and immediacy. In order to understand the movement behind activism on the Web, Habermas’ concept of communicative action will be discussed as a starting point in this chapter. Moving forward from previous and current scholarship on media ethics, a case study comprised of an analysis of videos on YouTube and a worldwide survey of YouTube users conducted by the authors will likewise be presented. As a contribution to the ongoing debate on ethical blogging practices, the authors recommend a set of guidelines for proper blogging. The authors hope that this chapter will further the cause for scholars and media practitioners to seriously consider the establishment of a universal code of ethics for videoblogging in light of human rights as a universal concept.

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