UCLA Student Tasered: is YouTube a human rights tool?

Here's an example I picked up from Global Voices that shows the power of YouTube to reach a mass audience with a human rights story. It shows University of California police officers repeatedly using a taser gun on an Iranian-American student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, in the Powell Library at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).
Its pretty harrowing to sit through the whole clip (especially the audio). Incredibly, the video got 425 000 viewings in 6 days, which is off the scale by comparison with the readership of most human rights briefings.
The question for human rights organisations is how to take advantage of this immense interest. Even if only a small percentage of those visitors go on to take some action it'd be a big boost for any campaign.
Of course, out of that many people you're going to get a seriously wide range of responses - many or most would be disturbed, some outraged - but some might think it's completely justified. There was a disturbing illustration of this in the vox pop interviews in the Daily Bruin news report (the local student news channel) which is also on YouTube. Several of the students say stuff to the effect that 'well, what do you expect if you don't show you're ID card when the police demand it'. Is this the culture of an ID-based society; where any objection to a demand (e.g. because of perceived racial targetting) is sufficiently deviant to justify cruel & inhuman treatment?
p.s. Wikipedia has a useful page on the 'UCLA Taser incident'.

Copyright versus Campaigning

I caught a great presentation at the Internet Governance Forum called FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION vs. COPYRIGHT given by Dirk Voorhoof . The folk at my day job are good enough at spotting traditional censorship i.e. direct repression by governments, but one of the main things I wanted from the IGF was to sharpen up on how copyright impacts freedom of expression. Dirk's presentation hit the spot by showing how copyright is used as a tool to inhibit campaigning, by harassing groups like Greenpeace when they use something similar to a logo or brand to criticise a corporate through parody or imitation. This also seems to me a great way to get the message through to traditional campaigning NGO's that copyright is a key issue. oil logosoil logos The other great aspect of Dirk's presentation was the image he conjoured up of a titanic clash between two legal regimes, namely Intellectual Property Rights versus Human Rights. As he put it, we need to decide between "Copyright/trademark protection as a principle and freedom of expression as an exception or Freedom of expression as a principle and copyright/trademark protection as exceptions".

WDM Death Counter

Under the slogan "Don't forget the real world" the World Development Movement (WDM) have placed a large death counter in a prominent place in ‘Second Life’ . The digital counter records the number of children who have died as a result of preventable global poverty since Second Life was founded.

WDM Death Counter

WDM Death Counter

I respect the WDM for getting it together to do this. And yes, I can relate to the frustration - "don't these people realise we need to get out there and do something". But i think their Death Counter comes across as preachy, with that musty old school NGO feel, and doesn't see the positive, activist potential in the creativity that goes in to Second Life stuff. Surely there must be more creative ways to intervene there; for example, the virtual Camp Darfur which I blogged about before . Despite the controversy around Camp Darfur in Second Life, it's hard to imagine WDM's Death Counter being guarded by the Green Lantern Core . Now that the novelty of SL is starting to wear off, I think any NGO going in to SL has to offer something constructive that takes advantage of the creative and (dare i say it) playful nature of the space.

Web2.0 Mobilization and Institutional Inertia

A flyer at Netsquared for the Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net) caught my eye, because the front page listed spaces on Flickr and MySpace tagged with 'genocideintervention'.


GI-Net is a formal organisation rather than an informal network, so how come they're so quick to embrace the social web? I think it's because their constituency is students, and they're naturally going where the students are (MySpace , Facebook and so on). So it was interesting to talk to Heddy Nam at Netsquared because she's got a foot in both camps; by day, she works on operational stuff in Amnesty-USA, but outside of work she's part of an international youth network called Never Again which aims to prevent a repeat of a genocide like Rwanda. As Britt Bravo already pointed out, the Never Again network are using almost every social web tool available e.g. wikis, blogs, tagging & webchats. Like Heddy, I've also had experience of both large organisations and activist networks, and it makes me wonder whether big human rights organisations can really be agile enough to take full advantage of social web tools, or whether they'll be prevented by their own institutional inertia. Maye big organisations should stay out of the social web and just let the kids and the activists get on with it.

Second Life and Bare Life

The last session i attended at the netsquared conference was a demo of Second Life , "a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents...inhabited by over 200,000 people from around the globe". Blow me down if there wasn't a conversation straight away about a 'Camp Darfur' that some people had built to draw attention to the Darfur crisis (& which, apparently, some other people tore down - 'virtual vandalism'). It so happened that i'd just got an email from my office alerting us to the imminent stepping up of our Darfur work, including the online presence. So this virtual Camp Darfur got my attention! How strange, that a prominent subject in this second world (which is essentially a luxury extension to a wealthy western technosociety) should be those who are stripped by displacement to the state of 'Bare Life' articulated by Giorgio Agamben. SecondlifeSecondlifeThen folk started discussing how people streamed music in to Second Life and even hold gigs there , as my new BBC acquaintance confirmed. (She also gave me the skinny on the controversy around the virtual Camp Darfur, which Ethan Zuckerman has pitched in on; he's always got something worthwhile to say so i must check out his blog on it). Whatever the nascent politics of Second Life, it does seems like a platform for remixing and creative intervention. Then I get back to my desk at work and discover that the American Cancer Society run a virtual version of their fundraising run online (Second Life Relay For Life). I'd already been chatting to Erin from ACS at netsquared about their adoption of Drupal so i know they're up to speed on the tech front. I passed the info on to Amnesty's fundraising crew & we'll see what they make of it. In the mean time it seems a no-brainer that, one way or another, Second Life is ripe for some kind of experimental intervention by Amnesty. Closing thought: one of the things I had heard before about Second Life is the size of it's economy, and how Linden dollars are traded for real dollars. Any place with an economy has the potential for economically-related activist interventions, no?
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