On Monday, the Twitter feed of Andy Carvin, National Public Radio’s head of social media, filled up with video links. “Very bloody footage.” “Execution video.” “Horrible, graphic video.”
As on most days since the protests in the Middle East erupted, Carvin was busy aggregating the news and reporting on where the videos came from, what they were saying and what they showed. If the Vietnam War will be remembered as the first televised war, the Middle East protests may be remembered as the first conflicts uploaded and shared via YouTube.
Videos showing the uprisings in the Middle East and the resulting human cost are regularly uploaded to video-sharing sites and pushed out through social media. They can be very effective. Video of the violent death of Neda Agha Soltan, who was killed while protesting the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, made the 26-year-old the face of the opposition. Now, news organizations use these videos to supplement reporting.
YouTube usually doesn’t allow such explicit content, but the company has made an exception for these videos, Manager of News Olivia Ma told Beet.tv. She said that there is an exception for videos that are educational, documentary or scientific in nature, and that YouTube has decided that “these videos have real news value.”
On Monday, the dramatic videos showed Yemeni government forces reportedly opening fire on protesters with live ammunition, water cannons and tear gas. This video shows protesters in Taiz throwing rocks at a water cannon before dispersing at the sound of gunfire. Other YouTube uploads show bloodied and gravely injured protesters. More than 140 people have been killed since protests demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh began in January.
On Friday, a series of videos showed Syria’s “Friday of Defiance.” Robert Mackey posted 12 of them to the New York Times’ Lede blog, writing, “With Syrian government restrictions on independent reporting still firmly in place, activists have worked to document protests across the country by posting videos online.”
In countries where journalists have been banned, these videos offer a window into conflicts that previously would have not been seen. A protester in Syria named Adnan told Time magazine that he uploads videos from violent protests to YouTube to overcome government censorship. “The secret service is engaging in random mass arrests. They know information is being put out, despite their control, and that’s why they want to arrest everybody who goes out with a camera, a computer, or even a phone,” he said. When asked why he’s risking so much to film the protests, he answered: “Freedom. And dignity.”