The power of citizen video to create undeniable truths | Yvette Alberdingk Thijm

The power of citizen video to create undeniable truths | Yvette Alberdingk Thijm

It’s 1996 in Uvira in eastern Congo. This is Bukeni. Militia commanders walk into his village, knock on his neighbors’ doors and whisk their children away
to training camps. Bukeni borrows a video camera
from a local wedding photographer, he disguises as a journalist and he walks into the camps
to negotiate the release of the children. He filmed footage of the children
being trained as soldiers. [Soldiers don’t worry!] [You’ll wear uniforms!] [You’ll have free cars!] [Free beans!] Many of these children
are under 15 years old, and that is a war crime. [Free!] But you don’t have to go to eastern Congo
to find human rights abuses. In America, a country
with a rapidly aging population, experts estimate
that one in 10 people over 60 will experience abuse. It’s a hidden epidemic, and most of that abuse
actually happens at the hands of close caretakers or family. This is Vicky. Vicky put an iron gate on her bedroom door and she became a prisoner,
in fact, in her own house, out of fear for her nephew
who had taken over her home as a drug den. And this is Mary. Mary picked up a video camera
for the first time in her life when she was 65 years old, and she asked Vicky
and 99 other older people who had experienced abuse
to tell their stories on camera. And I am Dutch, so in the Netherlands
we are obsessed with the truth. Now, when you are a child,
that’s a great thing, because you can basically
get away with anything, like “Yes, Mama,
it was me who smoked the cigars.” (Laughter) But I think this is why
I have dedicated my life to promoting citizen video
to expose human rights violations, because I believe in the power of video
to create undeniable truths. And my organization, WITNESS, helped use the Congolese videos to help convict and send a notorious
warlord called Thomas Lubanga to jail. And the videos that Mary shot, we trained Mary and many other
elder justice advocates, to make sure that
the stories of elder abuse reached lawmakers, and those stories
helped convince lawmakers to pass landmark legislation
to protect older Americans. So I wonder, billions of us now have this powerful tool
right at our fingertips. It’s a camera. So why are all of us not a more
powerful army of civic witnesses, like Mary and Bukeni? Why is it that so much more video is not leading to more rights
and more justice? And I think it is because
being an eyewitness is hard. Your story will get denied, your video will get lost
in a sea of images, your story will not be trusted,
and you will be targeted. So how do we help witnesses? In Oaxaca, in Mexico, the teachers’ movement organized a protest after the president pushed down
very undemocratic reforms. The federal police came down in buses
and started shooting at the protesters. At least seven people died
and many, many more were wounded. Images started circulating
of the shootings, and the Mexican government
did what it always does. It issued a formal statement, and the statement basically
accused the independent media of creating fake news. It said, “We were not there, that was not us doing the shooting, this did not happen.” But we had just trained
activists in Mexico to use metadata strategically
with their images. Now, metadata is the kind of information
that your camera captures that shows the date, the location, the temperature, the weather. It can even show the very unique way
you hold your camera when you capture something. So the images started recirculating, and this time with the very verifying, validating information on top of them. And the federal government
had to retract their statement. Now, justice for the people for Oaxaca is still far off, but their stories, their truths,
can no longer be denied. So we started thinking: What if you had “Proof Mode?” What if everybody had
a camera in their hands and all the platforms
had that kind of validating ability. So we developed — together with amazing Android developers
called the Guardian Project, we developed something called
a technology that’s called Proof Mode, that marries those metadata
together with your image, and it validates
and it verifies your video. Now, imagine there is a deluge of images coming from the world’s camera phones. Imagine if that information
could be trusted just a little bit more, what the potential
would be for journalists, for human rights investigators, for human rights lawyers. So we started sharing Proof Mode
with our partners in Brazil who are an amazing media collective
called Coletivo Papo Reto. Brazil is a tough place for human rights. The Brazilian police
kills thousands of people every year. The only time that
there’s an investigation, guess when? When there’s video. Seventeen-year-old Eduardo
was killed in broad daylight by the Rio police, and look what happens after they kill him. They put a gun in the dead boy’s hand, they shoot the gun twice — (Shot) to fabricate their story of self-defense. The woman who filmed this
was a very, very courageous eyewitness, and she had to go into hiding
after she posted her video for fear of her life. But people are filming,
and they’re not going to stop filming, so we’re now working together
with media collectives so the residents on their WhatsApp frequently get guidance and tips, how to film safely, how to upload the video
that you shoot safely, how to capture a scene
so that it can actually count as evidence. And here is an inspiration from a group called Mídia Ninja in Brazil. The man on left is a heavily armed
military policeman. He walks up to a protester — when you protest in Brazil,
you can be arrested or worse — and he says to the protester, “Watch me, I am going to search you right now.” And the protester
is a live-streaming activist — he wears a little camera — and he says to the military policeman,
he says, “I am watching you, and there are 5,000 people
watching you with me.” Now, the tables are turned. The distant witnesses,
the watching audience, they matter. So we started thinking, what if you could tap into that power, the power of distant witnesses? What if you could pull in
their expertise, their leverage, their solidarity, their skills when a frontline community
needs them to be there? And we started developing
a project that’s called Mobilize Us, because many of us, I would assume, want to help and lend our skills and our expertise, but we are often not there
when a frontline community or a single individual faces an abuse. And it could be as simple
as this little app that we created that just shows the perpetrator
on the other side of the phone how many people are watching him. But now, imagine that you could put
a layer of computer task routing on top of that. Imagine that you’re a community
facing an immigration raid, and at that very moment,
at that right moment, via livestream, you could pull in
a hundred legal observers. How would that change the situation? So we started piloting this
with our partner communities in Brazil. This is a woman called Camilla, and she was able — she’s the leader
in a favela called Favela Skol — she was able to pull in distant witnesses via livestream to help translation, to help distribution, to help amplify her story after her community was forcibly evicted to make room for a very glossy
Olympic event last summer. So we’re talking about good witnessing, but what happens
if the perpetrators are filming? What happens if a bystander films
and doesn’t do anything? This is the story of Chrissy. Chrissy is a transgender woman who walked into a McDonald’s in Maryland to use the women’s bathroom. Two teens viciously beat her
for using that woman’s bathroom, and the McDonald’s employee
filmed this on his mobile phone. And he posted his video, and it has garnered thousands of racist
and transphobic comments. So we started a project
that’s called Capturing Hate. We took a very, very small sample
of eyewitness videos that showed abuse against transgender
and gender-nonconforming people. We searched two words,
“tranny fight” and “stud fight.” And those 329 videos were watched
and are still being watched as we sit here in this theater, a stunning almost 90 million times, and there are hundreds of thousands
of comments with these videos, egging on to more violence and more hate. So we started developing a methodology that took all that
unquantified visual evidence and turned it into data,
turning video into data, and with that tool, LGBT organizations are now using that data to fight for rights. And we take that data
and we take it back to Silicon Valley, and we say to them: “How is it possible that these videos are still out there in a climate of hate egging on more hate, summoning more violence, when you have policies that actually say you do not allow this kind of content? — urging them to change their policies. So I have hope. I have hope that we can turn more video
into more rights and more justice. Ten billion video views
on Snapchat, per day. So what if we could turn
that Snapchat generation into effective and safe civic witnesses? What if they could become
the Bukenis of this new generation? In India, women have already
started using Snapchat filters to protect their identity when they
speak out about domestic violence. [They tortured me at home
and never let me go out.] The truth is, the real truth, the truth
that doesn’t fit into any TED Talk, is fighting human rights abuse is hard. There are no easy solutions
for human rights abuse. And there’s not a single
piece of technology that can ever stop the perpetrators. But for the survivors, for the victims, for the marginalized communities, their stories, their truths, matter. And that is where justice begins. Thank you. (Applause)


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    Kathryn Shaw

    Please don't forget the abuse of the disabled and women. John Engler, Governor of Michigan, destroyed the State Public Health Act in 1975 and closed all of the state mental health hospitals. He declared that it would be good for business. It was not good for those people who froze to death on the streets in the winter. It was not good for those faced with people passing themselves off as health care professionals. Over 40 years later, Michigan still has no health care controls in place. Judges are unlikely to listen when the witness is a woman and only has a still shot. People are unable to even show these videos to judges because of their inability to bring electronics with cameras into the courthouse. Engler's motivation was that he wanted to become Vice President. But no one has put in the time and effort to give us back a strong foundation for our state medical system to stand on.

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    Sky Gravity

    This 'power' is almost up due to the fact that AI created fake videos are now possible with a few sample photos and an easy to obtain app. What we really need now is some way to find out what is true in the media we're presented with.

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    Supernova Kasprzak

    I love this video. I find it hard to imagine that anyone could be anti-accountability, except for people who want to be able to commit crimes. To this point there aren't any comments here arguing against citizen video witness, though I imagine there eventually will be, and it won't be an honest argument.

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    I've heard about today's technology can actually create authentic fake videos by merging them with the help of digital programs. Means in the future this advantage of undeniable truth those videos have could be obsolete. It's sad but technology isn't always helping human rights evolution. Every brick we build can be broken the next day with the same tools we used to set it up.

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    Blood Angel

    Video still only shows part of the truth. It is often edited. Sometimes even modified. Rarely does it show the whole truth.

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    Vikki Ledgard

    This lady is fantastic. The work her organisation is doing is fantastic. If we don't start somewhere, we get……. Nowhere. Truth will out.

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    Thomaster шлепанцы

    Ah crap. Someone was attacked and I got triggered at the mention of "SJW-terminology"…
    All this BS identity politics has conditioned me to feel repulsion at the mere mention of certain keywords, regardless of the actual issue at hand…

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    Stanley F.

    Im from brazil and I know that my country is very hard. But exist a lot policemen dead every year for dealer drugs. I know also that exist bad policemen in brazil, but most of them are warriors.

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    PATRICK DeCambra

    We need these apps in the United States of America to keep track of our crooked cops they are so corrupt here Fraternal Order of Police Officers Thin Blue Line there nothing but a gang we need that app in America

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    Nando Freire

    Midia Ninja, in Brazil (mentioned in the video) is extremely biased and currupt. If she is friends with them, I would doubt everything she says.

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    Thank you for pioneering in this challenging arena, Yvette. You are amazing! If we can post anything for you (educational posts or reposts of instances of abuse) on, please let me know (as I'm a co-editor). Blessings

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    Home Wall

    Yes, video is the great equalizer, better than the gun. This is also key for the 'me too' movement, police brutality issues like BLM.

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    "undeniable truths" what a joke. Never heard of AI generated videos? And lets not forget that the media mistook video game footage for real warfare. The "proof mode", besides the fact that this puts power over what is real and what is fake into the hands of the creators of that mode, sounds easily hackable. In fact I'll take a look at it as soon as I have time and if I don't forget it i will report on my findings.

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    Séries News

    whoa great idea, using technology in that way would be very useful !! but how to prove that the video hasn't been modified ?

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    The western media is to blame for the thing in Mexico. fewer and fewer people trust the media, and rightfully so. 8/10 papers are lying about their stories to drive their agenda whatever that might be. If you take a good hard look at the media, you would not trust them at all. They are completely and utterly untrustworthy, and I always saw myself as a liberal, now I dont know. Its a shame, I cant stay as updated on what happening anymore. I need to sift though a web of lies in order to get information about things happening, and I just dont have the time for that. So I take everything said with a good fist or two of salt. I will not believe a single thing the media says, I can read it and know that one paper claims that this thing happened. I can not know anything more than that. And I always have to try and compensate for the fact that they are all left wing media, so I need to compensate and think the real story is probably not something that is that convenient for the left. Snowflakes, the "you are good enough as you are", "you are unique and perfect as you are" mentality is what leads to this. We have standards in the world and you need to abide by that, if you dont you are not good enough, you are a bag made of human skin containing biological trash. People dont respect society, a byproduct of bad parenting by an entire generation.

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    How can you know the media did not just edit that text into the image? Like for real, that is stupid easy. You know they would, the media does not care about being truthful, we all know that.

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    Carlos Roberto Cerqueira

    I'm from Rio de Janeiro, I think there is a very complicated situation about the police. It's not that easy like you said: "the evil cop abuse the poor black guy" That's an oversimplified view. Actually, there are abuse of both parts, and to be honest it's hard to make a judment about who is the perpetrator and who is the victm.

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