Eyewitness Media Hub is embarking on a cross-industry study into the impact of traumatic footage — and we need your help
Eyewitness Media Hub, with the support of the Open Society Foundation, is conducting a cross-industry study into the impact of vicarious trauma on journalists, human rights investigators and humanitarian aid workers who frequently search for eyewitness media in their work. Sam Dubberley — who makes up the research team along with Pete Brown — explains why this is so important and what the study aims to achieve.
It was in September 2004 that I had my first experience of what turned out to be vicarious trauma. It was the height of the insurgency in Iraq following the invasion that had toppled Saddam Hussein over a year earlier. I had colleagues in Baghdad. I, on the other hand, was sitting in a newsroom in Geneva. On September 20th, Eugene Armstrong, an American engineer, was beheaded. The main television news agencies discovered and distributed the video showing his murder. For reasons that I do not understand to this day, I was the one who volunteered in my Geneva office to watch it. Bravado? An attempt to prove myself? Career advancement? Aged 27, it was probably a bit of all of those. One thing I know for sure, though, is that whatever compelled me to watch the video of the death of Eugene Armstrong on a rainy, late summer afternoon in Geneva, I wish to this day that I hadn’t. Read full article
Photo: Screenshot of a video from the Syrian conflict after it has been removed by YouTube. Screenshot taken from YouTube.
The most compelling evidence of a human rights violation captured on video can be lost if investigators do not save the video in question. YouTube videos are often removed, either by the uploader themself, or by YouTube because of violations of its community guidelines. It is thus most crucial for any researcher to first save any video that is being investigated. This is for preservation purposes only.
Why is it sometimes important to extract the exact local upload time of a YouTube video? Besides being helpful to find the original video among a host of scraped videos, it can also be crucial to determine the exact timeline of a human rights related event. Getting these facts straight can have significant implications, as for example the Syrian chemical weapons attack from August 21, 2013, has shown.
In response to the attack, Russian authorities at one point claimed that it was a staged event:
During the violent clashes in Cairo in August 2013 there was one particular YouTube video that received a lot of media attention. (The original video was subsequently removed from YouTube, but can also be viewed here.) The widely used description for this video, which for example appeared in the headline on a Washington Post blog post, was that protesters had pushed a police car off a bridge in Cairo.