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Good Journalistic Hygiene: When Reporting on Online Abuse, Don’t Add to the Problem

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Detail of the Youtube blurring interface, allowing facial anonymizing during upload.

Detail of the Youtube blurring interface, allowing facial anonymizing during upload.

Mediashift discusses the need to visually anonymize people who face violence for speaking with reporters and the victims of viral-video abuse, which is particularly important in the click-to-embed world of video journalism.  Bullying and abuse is increasingly filmed and posted online to prolong the damage done to the victim, and reporting on those events with the victim’s face identifiable adds to the danger they’re in.  For the 15-year-old Russian boy who was bullied by a homophobic gang and told he would become “an internet celebrity” via the footage they took to circulate among Russian neo-Nazi groups, the outcome of having the video circulated by LGBT activists is largely the same.

For journalists who aren’t the video creators, reporting on video that reveals the identity of victims can be a dilemma.  In the case of the video of the Russian boy, the uploader spreading it to LGBT activists went back and anonymized the subject, but only after it’d been embedded on Gawker, Buzzfeed and HuffPo, and seen by over half a million people, while the Daily Mail posted it after re-uploading it to their own media player with faces blurred.  Not everyone has the resources to blur the identities on someone else’s video or the time to wait until the uploader responds to a request to do so.  When that happens, the responsibility to the victim of the crime is to report the story without the embedded video, until it’s been anonymized.

For video creators and uploaders, there’s more discussion of tools to visually protect the identities of vulnerable sources and subjects over at Mediashift.


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