Op-Ed: The Raw Video Revolution—All the World’s Eyewitnesses Are on YouTube

From-the-scene Internet TV is linking online viewers to a new age of global awareness and social action.

syria crowd on youtube captures global eyes

As illustrated in the screen grab above, much of what the world outside of Syria knows about the volatile and violent reality inside Syria has been communicated through the power of raw video from witnesses and participants. (Photo: YouTube Screen Grab)

In the mere seven years since we saw YouTube cofounder Jawed Karim talk about elephants at the zoo in the first-ever YouTube video, the growth in the depth, range and sheer volume of available raw, user-generated videos has been nothing short of breathtaking—matched only by our apparent appetite for them. But beyond our digital-age access to videos of dancing kittens, the potential for raw videos to galvanize public opinion, set the media agenda, and sometimes shock us into new awareness may not have been fully anticipated by YouTube’s founders (or maybe it was).

Consider just a small sampling of moments in which raw videos have changed the world—or have helped to shape social movements and actions:  Syrians take to the streets following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt; 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan is shot and killed in 2009, generating support for Iranian protesters; activist Asmaa Mahfouz calls for protests in Tahrir Square in a video that is known as the spark for the Egyptian revolution.

MORE: Viral Vérité: 10 YouTube Era Videos That Swept the World Stage

And even beyond galvanizing moments, there’s new data that show our willingness to think about raw videos as sources for information about world events. In fact, a study from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism recently revealed that unprecedented numbers of us turn to raw videos via YouTube during major global news events.

But how can we find what matters? How can we filter through 20,000 raw videos labeled “Libya” and make connections with the broader news context and voices on the ground? And perhaps most important, how can we connect our access to raw eyewitness videos to our ability to take action on issues we see and care about?

Raw video, combined with access to mainstream and alternative news sources, can no longer be seen as the novelty of the early YouTube years, but as stories that have the power to inform. Raw videos can be a piece of a tool for social change.

Independent, nonprofit broadcaster Link TV—created from the very DNA of this idea when, in 1999, a few journalists got together to launch a new satellite channel to offer global perspectives and programming that was unavailable elsewhere in U.S. media—wanted to answer that challenge.

Last year, the team connected with the social-justice-focused Bertha Foundation to create a digital news operation that would place global news videos from broadcasters around the world side by side with curated relevant raw videos, next to documentaries that offer more context, next to translated social media chatter from around the world.

The big idea—to “reinvent world news and social action for the digital age”—became the LinkTV World News app for iPad, which pulls in news and videos from mainstream, state-run and alternative news outlets—and the best eyewitness raw videos—from more than 125 sources around the world, most of which are unavailable outside their originating countries.

The app is designed to filter through more than 50,000 news sources—from major newspapers to small local blogs—to provide users with deeper context around every video story. And here’s where the connection to action comes in: A “Take Action” tool allows users to personally get involved by donating, volunteering, signing a petition, and do more directly related to the stories they are seeing and hearing.

So, take the story of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, continuing to unfold. Shot by the Taliban for failing to halt her public advocacy about education for girls, Malala’s story has elevated her issue. On the LinkTV World News app, you can see news videos (translated, of course) directly from Pakistan, hear from correspondents on the ground, and take action directly—get involved and donate to the Fund for U.N. Women, which supports girls’ education in developing countries with both financial resources and programs.

Raw video, combined with access to mainstream and alternative news sources, can no longer be seen as the novelty of the early YouTube years, but as stories that have the power to inform. At their most basic level, raw videos can be a piece of a tool for social justice and social change. We can see with our own eyes what’s happening around the world, we can share with others, and we can take action.

What are the most memorable raw videos you have seen? Share the lasting impression in COMMENTS.

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