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Ten years ago, when the UDHR turned 60, we invited you to share images that had opened your eyes to human rights.  Responses poured in from around the world, each one a deeply moving testament to the power of images to mobilize, expose, catalyze change.

Fast forward to 2018, and the seemingly never-ending bombardment of Trump/Orban/Bolsonaro/Duterte news has left many of us human rights defenders T-I-R-E-D, dizzy, exhausted, exasperated really.  Empty coffee cups decorate our desks, news notifications ping relentlessly on our phones, reports and new playbooks try to help us make sense of these times, and our walls generously allow themselves to be covered in post-it-notes as we restrategize yet… again…

If this feels familiar, stay with us!  The UDHR is turning 70 on December 10th and we’d like to celebrate by changing the conversation.  To hope.  To celebrate by inspiring each other.  So we ask: in these times, what image gives you hope for human rights?

{cool video coming soon here, check back shortly}

For me, it’s this one (I tried to explain it in this video).

On the seven-month anniversary of the killing of Marielle Franco in Brazil, activists distributed 1000 street signs named after Marielle in downtown Rio.  Credit: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil

So join us, won’t you? Tell us about your image – the one you go to when you need to rekindle your faith in humanity, the one you look back at when you’ve had a hard day in the fight for human rights. Record a video describing it and tag us on December 10th (scroll down for how to tag us). We’ll be featuring your responses and inviting the world to reflect on which images we choose to focus on, and the true revolutionary power and promise of hope.

#UDHR70 #Video4Change

Here’s how to join the conversation from your corner of the world:

Because hope, in these times, can be the most powerful act of resistance!

The post What image gives you hope for human rights? appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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There’s a reason why, when courts function properly, they offer more due process than corporations when it comes to making decisions about free expression. Deciding what speech can take place in public forums in democratic societies is not an easy task. While standards range from permissive jurisprudence of the First Amendment to the broader prohibitions against hate speech found in German law, at least these standards can be litigated, discussed, and understood. So why is the European Commission trying to push through a legislative proposal that would not only force private corporations to regulate broad swathes of expression, but would actually require the use of opaque filters and artificial intelligence driven algorithms to do so? The only answer is that this proposal, set to be considered today, is political—and it must not pass.

The proposal

The European Commission has proposed a regulation on “dissemination of terrorist content online,” based on a process which started in September 2017. The Commission adopted a recommendation on “illegal content” more broadly in March of 2018, and proposed specific legislation on “terrorist content” in September of this year. A recent draft introduced slight revisions from the September version, but not in a way that addresses the grave concerns raised by civil society and business alike. The most recent version can be found here. The legislation is being discussed today in the Justice and Home Affairs Council and supporters are trying to push a “general approach,” which means less opportunity for discussion

The ostensible goal of this legislation is to force “hosting service providers” to remove “terrorist content” within one hour upon receipt of a removal order from any EU member states “competent authority,” and to use proactive measures, “including automated means,” to detect such content and prevent reappearance. The quotation marks all signify places in the legislation where definitions are unclear or poorly worded. The proposal would create specific obligations for hosting service providers to remove, to report on removals, and to coordinate their required “proactive measures” against terrorist content with authorities on an ongoing basis. Member states designate their own competent authorities, and set their own penalties, which can be up to “up to 4% of the hosting service provider’s global turnover of the last business year” if the state concludes that the hosting service provider has systematically failed to comply with the regulation. Furthermore, terrorist content is defined by each member state, and can vary from country to country. For example, in Spain a single law prohibits the glorification of terrorism alongside “humiliating victims of terrorism”—conflating two very different forms of expression.  

The problems

Much has already been written about the dangers of this legislation. Unfortunately, however, WITNESS has first-hand experience with how this proposal could go very, very badly—both inside and outside of the European Union—through dangerous copycat legislation and overuse of automated content moderation.

We agree with our allies, including the signatories to a letter sent to the Ministers on December 4, that the legislation is poorly written, unnecessary, and overbroad–and that it appears to be getting pushed through as a ploy, coming before the 2019 parliamentary elections. For good general background information and legal analysis, check out these articles:

We have two concerns about how, based on our experience, this legislation will be harmful.

Automated content moderation  

First and foremost, this proposal encourages increased use of machine-learning algorithms for identifying terrorist content, as well as increased automatic takedown through shared databases of material that has been deemed terrorist content. This architecture already exists, and it is shrouded in secrecy and error.

Through the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), many major companies already have a shared database of extremist content that violates their Terms of Service (which means it might not even violate the law.)This database helps companies take down content before it is ever seen. Unfortunately, the GIFCT provides almost no information about this database publicly, including information about quality checks or reassessment. Errors in this database will be propagated throughout all of GIFCT’s members if not corrected.

Facebook and YouTube, who are GIFCT founding members, also already use machine-learning algorithms to detect and remove so-called extremist content. We have been dealing with the fallout of YouTube’s extremist content algorithm since August of 2017, and alongside our partners the Syrian Archive, we have observed removals of hundreds of thousands of channels and videos that are documenting human rights abuses in Syria.

What we don’t know is almost anything at all about those algorithms. We don’t have the most basic assurances of algorithmic accountability or transparency, such as accuracy, explainability, fairness, and auditability. Platforms use machine-learning algorithms that are proprietary and shielded from any review. Groups like WITNESS have to look to patterns and hearsay to get any idea of how they’re working. Unless they’re specifically designed to be “interpretable,” these algorithms can’t be understood by humans, since they learn and grow over time—but we can’t even get access to the training data or basic assumptions driving the algorithms. There has never been any sort of third-party audit of such proprietary technology, although we would strongly support this if companies were open to it.

When it comes to accuracy, we have seen how even existing systems are already having disastrous effects on freedom of expression and documentation and research of human rights abuses. As noted, Syrian Archive has seen hundreds of thousands of videos go missing, and whole channels shut down. We have reviewed many of these videos personally. They are coming from groups recognized by journalists and human rights bodies like the United Nations. When they do depict extremist activities, they often indicate that they are trying to show the world the human rights abuses taking place in Syria. But many of these videos simply have no link to extremism—they are showing demonstrations, or the aftermath of a bombing.

Syrian Archive isn’t the only group relying on such open source knowledge to investigate human rights abuses. That list includes the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and even prosecutors in Sweden and Germany trying to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and terrorism in Syria. These investigators don’t have an alert system in place with platforms that would allow them to review deleted material and save evidence that could later be crucial from being lost forever.

We have no doubt that this legislation strongly incentivizes companies to open the floodgates on automated content moderation.

A bad precedent for the world

WITNESS works at a global scale, and we have seen how policies made in democratic societies can be used to repress human rights in the wrong hands, or even simply how policies in one setting don’t work elsewhere when they are copied. At its most basic level, this legislation takes decisions about what speech is legal or illegal away from courts and lawmakers, and places those decisions with corporations and poorly defined “competent authorities. It encourages platforms to create machinery that easily could be used in undemocratic societies to silence critics. And it encourages the idea that fighting “terrorist content” can justify any legislative excess—an idea already embraced by Russia, Egypt  and many other countries with terrible human rights records.  

The role of the European Union in setting norms that can potentially affect the human rights of billions is only growing larger. What’s more, no legal system has caught up with the Internet, and every new piece of legislation regulating it matters. Legislative responses to problems raised by the Internet, can and do spread globally, even when they pose a threat to free expression, like the many legal responses to misinformation popping up around the world . That’s why we’re deeply concerened about the bad precedent that would be set globally should this legislation pass.

This is not hypothetical. Germany’s NetzDG law, which creates a dangerous system for rapid removal of “illegal content” on social media, has already been cited as a positive example  by many countries, including Russia, a country with an obviously atrocious record when it comes to free expression. In fact, Reporters Without Borders says that a dangerous Russian law passed in 2017 “”is copy-and-paste of Germany’s hate speech law.” Even within Germany’s democratic system, NetzDG has already been used to silence Tweets that were parodying hateful speech from a far-right Alternative für Deutschland politician.

Governments around the world already abuse platforms’ terms of service to silence critics. Imagine how expertly governments that already abuse Facebook’s terms of service to silence dissent, such as Cambodia, will abuse legislation like the terrorist content proposal in their own countries?

What’s next?

Although this legislation is being pushed hard, it’s not likely to pass before the European Parliament goes on its winter break on December 13. WITNESS will monitor the legislation, and will be sharing the above analysis of it with Ministers and Members of Parliament. We will continue to support efforts of our allies, such as this open letter from La Quadrature du Net. For the most up-to-date news, follow us on Twitter: @witnessorg

6 December 2018


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The post European “terrorist content” proposal is dangerous for human rights globally appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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As we noted in our other WhatsApp focused blog post today, “Whats Up, WhatsApp?”, activists and journalists all over the world use WhatsApp to communicate and share sensitive human rights related media and information.  While WhatsApp is not necessarily the most secure option, we think it’s incredibly important to share harm reduction tips for this app. WhatsApp is incredibly popular, it has end-to-end encryption, and it is sometimes even free or very cheap with mobile packages from providers in many countries. But WhatsApp is missing some important features, as we discuss below—and if you aren’t using it properly, you could be putting yourself and others at risk.

So you’re still using WhatsApp? Use it as safely as possible

WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption enabled for individuals and groups. That means that the contents of messages can only be read by those writing them and receiving them, and not by anyone in the middle- including law enforcement who may serve a legal request to WhatsApp for your data.

However, there are many ways that this encryption is not foolproof.

Security is a community issue

First, regardless of how great your own security is, you are also relying on the security of others you communicate with—and they are relying on you. As we wrote in the security and legal risks section of our guide to creating police violence databases, it’s important to talk about security with others, and to think about who is most at risk and how you can take special care with them. For example, you can protect the identity of especially vulnerable contacts, such as community leaders, by regularly deleting messages, videos, and images you may have received from them, and possibly even saving their contact information under a code name.

You may also want to have security agreements for group members. This is useful for groups of people who know each other, but especially for larger public groups. You could communicate expectations by having a welcome message you send every time a new person joins the group.If you are part of a group that includes journalists, you could include information about exactly how journalists can interact with group members. You could include information about the process for adding new members, expectations around deleting old content, and agreements about what you will or will not say in the group.  For example:

Welcome to the group for organizing filming of the police in our neighborhood. Please do not add any new members without first getting approval of at least three other members. Please delete messages and media, especially videos, from this group chat after 3 days. Please do not use cloud backup for your WhatsApp messages. Please do not discuss physical locations in this group. Security is solidarity. Thank you for understanding!

Be clear on metadata

While WhatsApp does not have access to the contents of your messages, they do still collect subscriber information that can say a lot about who you are, who your friends and community are, where you are going, and when you are using the app. It’s not entirely clear what WhatsApp has access to, but their “Information for law enforcement authorities” page notes that they can provide to law enforcement “name, service start date, last seen date, IP address and email address,” as well as “numbers blocking or blocked by the user,” and “‘about’ information, profile photos, group information and address book.” One reporter reviewed court materials in the US and discovered requests for location data as well.

The safest thing to do is to think of WhatsApp’s privacy as only applying to the content of those messages.

Facebook is connected to WhatsApp

WhatsApp is part of the “Facebook Family.” In 2016, WhatsApp changed its terms of service to note that it would start “connecting your phone number with Facebook systems.” WhatsApp has some special limitations in place in the European Union due to the General Data Protection Regulation, but elsewhere this data-sharing appears to be in place. This means that your contacts on WhatsApp can—and most likely will—be analyzed and connected with your contacts on Facebook. WhatsApp’s privacy policy notes your information may be used to make “product suggestions (for example, of friends or connections, or of interesting content).” This means that if you are in a WhatsApp group with someone, they may be suggested as a contact on Facebook. This can be particularly dangerous in a larger group with human rights related material floating around in it. You can lessen the danger by ensuring that your phone number is not associated with Facebook and you do not have the Facebook app on your phone. If you have already shared your number with Facebook or installed the app on your phone, your only option may be to use WhatsApp with a different number, especially since WhatsApp provides no way to opt-out of this information sharing.

Take Care of Physical Security

Digital and physical security are one and the same, and WhatsApp is a perfect example. WITNESS partners and human rights defenders around the world have experienced heightened attention on WhatsApp during physical stops. It is common practice for law enforcement to force people to open WhatsApp and share content and contacts. That information is then used to further harass other activists or members of marginalized communities, such as Rohingya people or residents of Brazil’s favelas.

It is best practice to regularly delete WhatsApp messages after backing up any important content (more on how to do that below). You can delete a message from everyone’s phone for up to one hour after you’ve sent the message, but after that you have no control over what you’ve sent to others, and they have to delete messages on their own. Also consider the physical security risks that come with keeping or transporting the data you have exported or backed up locally and consider encrypting your devices, although we know encryption doesn’t help when you are threatened with physical violence or detention if you don’t give up your passwords.

Are they who you think they are? Verify contacts

First, it’s important to use common sense here. In large WhatsApp groups, you are likely to encounter people who you haven’t met offline. Use the normal methods you would use to determine who someone is, such as asking the administrator of a group or searching somewhere else like Facebook to see if you have mutual friends with that person. This is especially important because WhatsApp does have a security flaw that would allow someone with access to WhatsApp servers to join a group uninvited. If you’re dealing with a journalist in a large group, search for them online or ask them for links to stories they have written. In general, the best way to know who someone is is to meet them in person, and the next best way is to check with trusted mutual acquaintances.

Once you have determined that you know someone, it’s best to make sure you are actually messaging that person. WhatsApp end-to-end-encryption uses “keys” to verify that the message you are getting really comes from that person. When this works, it’s a very strong system. But there are important ways to make sure that it is actually working. First, you can verify that you are getting messages from the correct person by verifying their key. Check out EFF’s great instructions for WhatsApp key security on Android or iOs– the process takes only a minute.

Once you have verified someone’s key, you should also turn on security notifications to see if someone “changes their key.” This happens when people reinstall WhatsApp on a new phone, but it can also mean that someone is trying to impersonate your contact, so if you get that message you should check with people through another channel such as a voice callThis is especially

Don’t bypass end-to-end encryption with Cloud Backups

Do not enable automatic iCloud backups in iOs or Google Drive backups in Android. These backups are encrypted on Google or Apple’s servers, but this third-party storage of your messages renders end-to-end encryption in the app meaningless, because Google, Apple and anyone who can legally compel them or otherwise gain access, can read, download, or analyze your WhatsApp messages. Apple will provide iCloud data to law enforcement, and Google will respond to legal requests for data as well. By backing up via the cloud, you lose protection against court orders and subpoenas to gain access to WhatsApp data on third-party servers. If this were to happen it is possible that users would never even hear about it, depending on the kind of order used. For those using WhatsApp to communicate about on sensitive issues or with marginalized communities, this third-party storage of messages, videos, images, contact details, and detailed network information is a significant safety and privacy concern.

If you don’t want to backup your WhatsApp, but instead want a record of your chats and media for accountability or preservation purposes, you can export and save them outside of the app. WITNESS will be releasing a guide on saving copies of important content such as videos, images, voice, and chat messages from WhatsApp as soon as possible and we will update this post with a link to that guide.

WhatsApp made two changes for Android users that came into effect on this week. The first is that on 12 November, Google deleted any WhatsApp backups that have not been “backed up” in the last year on Google Drive.

The second update is that going forward, WhatsApp and Google will offer Android users unlimited, free storage of backups of WhatsApp on Google Drive without it counting towards your storage quota on Google Drive. While this may be tempting, as noted above storing this content in Google Drive defeats the point of having end-to-end encryption in the first place.

We strongly recommend that users never use Google Drive for WhatsApp backups. Instead, you can use a file manager on your phone to find the local backup as outlined in this tutorial from WhatsApp, and you can use our forthcoming guide to get contents of chats and media off the app.

Making WhatsApp better

There are some features missing from WhatsApp that would be really helpful for human rights defenders, and would improve privacy and security for everyone.

First and foremost, WhatsApp should add “disappearing messages,” meaning it should be possible to send messages that delete themselves after a set amount of time. This means you can rely less on good security hygiene from others.

Second, WhatsApp should allow users to opt-out from data sharing with Facebook at any time. This lessens the danger that unwanted connections will be made. Similarly, WhatsApp should simply make it clearer exactly what metadata it collects so that users can make informed choices about how they use the app.

Third, WhatsApp should enable “no knowledge” (also known as “zero knowledge“) encryption for backups, meaning these backups would still only be readable for users. If WhatsApp isn’t ready to do this, it should provide clearer in-app warnings that make it clear that iCloud and Google backups are not encrypted at the same level as messages stored on your phone.

Finally, regardless of whether it makes improvements, WhatsApp should not get rid of end-to-end encryption.

Make sure to check out our other blog post today, “What’s Up, WhatsApp?” for suggestions around addressing misinformation on WhatsApp. Share your ideas with us on social media using the tag #WhatsUpWhatsApp or on our website.

13 November 2018


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The post Harm Reduction for WhatsApp appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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Mobil-Eyes Us is a project of WITNESS and the WITNESS Media Lab to explore potential new approaches to livestream storytelling for action. We look at technologies, tactics and storytelling strategies to use live video to connect viewers to frontline experiences of human rights issues they care about, so they become ‘distant witnesses’ who will take meaningful actions to support frontline activists.  We have developed a series of storytelling experiments, in collaboration with favela-based human rights activists in Rio de Janeiro, which has lead to an app. This app, Mobil-Eyes Us (which is in its alpha stages), enables an activist group to curate a series of eyewitness Facebook live-streams and push these to the relevant people in their network to watch and take individual or collective action. They would be able to rapidly share a stream so more people are present and witness an incident,  help translate, provide guidance or give context.

In the following series, our Project Lead in Rio, Clara Medeiros, will share the practices learned from the live videos of 18 activists from Rio de Janeiro and collectives from favelas who have had an impact on their communities, both by denouncing  human rights violations and by giving support to initiatives to and from the favelas. We hope to better understand the strategies and techniques that frontline activists used successfully from the analysis of these live streams, that encompass solidarity marches, planned actions, broadcasts documenting rights violations and call-outs. This text was originally published in Portuguese on WITNESS Português.

By Clara Medeiros

In September 2011, I was attentively following what was happening in New York during Occupy Wall Street from Rio de Janeiro via numerous live broadcasts. From that moment, I began to research this new media that became very popular on Brazilian streets and social networks during the demonstrations in June 2013.

Iconic photo of the demonstrations in Rio that year

During these demonstrations in Rio, there were many situations were Brazilians’ rights were violated such as during the occupations and repossession suits. But in response, there was a boom of individuals using livestreams in order to guarantee these rights through the evidence recorded and shared in real time. And it was precisely because of this that I began to broadcast – to have the recorded live data of any possible police abuse saved online, avoiding any loss of evidence if the police took my recording equipment. After two broadcasts with just a few worried friends and family members watching as my audience, I joined the media collective Rio na Rua and format and structure of my streamings started becoming more professional. I further explored possible best uses for this tool as the collective improved its own organizational structure and its audience reach grew.

As a result of my work with Rio na Rua, I was invited by WITNESS during the Rio 2016 Olympics to participate as a consultant in the Mobil-Eyes Us initiative. For the project, we would be testing how we could bring audiences and “distant witnesses” to engage with live broadcasts, where we would provide them with valuable context and timely translation, while also offering meaningful ways to take action. We looked for ways to enable a sense of shared presence and participation in the same space of the streamers rather than just becoming spectators as events unfold. You can check the live streams we made at Vila Autódromo, Penha and the Olympic Boulevard during the #FomeDeViver direct action in the first phase of the pilot.

Screenshot of one streaming in Vila Autódromo (RIO 2016 – EXCLUSION GAMES)

At the time, the app was in its conceptual stages, so we provided the translation and context, both directly in the comments box of the broadcasts and in location next to the activist leading the broadcast. We also tested a notification system via SMS, which would later be incorporated into the notifications within the app itself. We experimented with the idea of action tags – so instead of a #hashtag, we used an ^actiontag to provide a signal to distant witnesses and viewers of the actions that streamers wanted them to take. We would notify people to ^makevisible a broadcast when streamers needed their stories to reach a wider audience; to ^bepresent so people could make themselves present and carry out tasks such as ^translate and give ^context among other ways of getting more richly involved.

Timeline with key events

We also created a hot site to gather together all relevant information about the streamings during the Rio Olympics Games in 2016. On that page, people could interact with the videos using Deepstream (a platform that doesn’t exist anymore) and we created an interactive timeline to contextualize key moments and facts that year. We used Crowdvoice as well in order to curate additional social media information about the social and human rights context of Rio 2016, such as video streamings from other sources.

Since then, I have been monitoring and analyzing live videos produced by community communicators from Rio. Over 100 video streamings were studied during the process to learn more about the potential of live broadcasts as a tool for creating new and strengthening existing networks, while creating impact both on and offline. This analysis also generated a contextual report for each case that was shared to technology platforms like Facebook, highlighting what was being produced in Rio de Janeiro within the platforms, and what they could do better in terms of policy and product to support these and so many other grassroots activists. We will address this further in another future publication where WITNESS Program Director, Sam Gregory, will detail what we think tech platforms can do differently to support a more effective co-present live streaming.

periscope Vila Autodromo - YouTube

As we’ve analyzed this process, we divided streaming types into five categories that we will focus on in upcoming blog posts as part of this series:

  • Call-out;
  • Solidarity marches coverage;
  • Pre-planned direct action;
  • Rights violations registered on video streamings to be used as evidence;
  • Long duration streamings

A key part of Mobil-Eyes Us is to have a collaborative network capable of curating a more complex narrative. During this process, we closely followed streamings from Coletivo Papo Reto in Complexo do Alemão (Northern Zone of Rio de Janeiro), providing context and translating pre-planned actions. This was the case of the call for tenders for the construction work on the area known as Favela da Skol, located inside Complexo do Alemão which we have been following since the Olympic Games in Rio,  and emergency campaigns like that of Rio de Janeiro police invading homes in Samba Square (link to the article in Portuguese). From these cases, it was clear that there was an already existing support network among community activists from different territories of Rio de Janeiro. And since one of the objectives of the initiative is to strengthen the connections between those activists in the frontlines and those who can’t be present but want to show their solidarity, we began to closely monitor the exchange made between activists from collectives such as Fala Akari and Maré Vive.

Stemming from this research, we also developed a broadcasting workshop that analyzes and discusses live streaming as a tool not only from the point of view of the creator who is interested in learning how to produce a live video, but also from the point of view of an active witness/spectator. It was structured around fostering a culture of support and exchange between frontline activists and all types of distant witnesses, those who can only engage with the action remotely, with the goal of understanding the needs, abilities and availabilities of each participant.  We also considered how to take advantage of effective techniques and tips to enable participants to collaborate on impactful actions.

In the next post we will detail the call-out strategies and techniques used successfully by frontline activists based on the experience from three live broadcasts. Stemming from this participatory framework, we will understand how to produce an impactful broadcast not only while live but also afterwards, enhancing shareability, reach and the impact of these actions. Follow us on Witness Brasil on Facebook (in Portuguese) for more.

The post Introduction to Mobil-Eyes Us appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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This post is part of the WITNESS Media Lab’s new project, “Perpetrator Video in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)”. This project examines how human rights advocates and journalists can turn the proliferation of eyewitness and perpetrator video into more ethical and effective storytelling and documentation of human rights abuse in the MENA. Follow along each month as we share resources, case studies, and more to strengthen and protect communities against harm through safer, more ethical and more effective use of video in contemporary reporting and advocacy in the MENA.

90% of all Kuwaiti households employ a foreign domestic worker. Over 620,000 migrant domestic workers in Kuwait, accounting for over 21.9% of the country’s total employment.

Source: Migrant-Rights.org

By Raja Althaibani

In April 2017, a Kuwaiti woman posted a horrifying video of Ethiopian domestic worker Adesech Sadik clinging to a windowsill, crying for help and then falling to the street below. Instead of responding to her cries for help, the filmer is heard saying, “oh crazy, come back”—before the maid lost her grip, and fell several stories. In addition to filming the moment of the fall, the Kuwaiti woman calmly walks to the window and captures one final image of Sadik lying on the roof of the adjoining building below, clearly injured and possibly dead.

Another Snapchat user captured the paramedics team arriving, treating Sadik’s injuries, and rushing her to the hospital. Both videos were widely circulated online, leading to the Kuwaiti employer’s arrest. She was charged with not helping Sadik even though she was in obvious distress, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison according to the Kuwaiti penal code.

Among the final charges confirmed by the Ministry of Justice were the following: filming an individual without consent and publishing a video of an individual without consent. Months later, Kuwait’s Appeals Court sentenced the woman to one year and eight months in jail.

Sadik’s Viral Video Sparks a Public Outcry and Competing Narratives

The viral video sparked outrage on social media in the region, with the hashtag #Ethiopia_falling trending for two days in the country—triggering widespread condemnation and dialogue on migrant abuse. Human rights organizations also took to their platforms, calling for investigations and to raise alarm over similar cases reported in Kuwait.

Video of a woman in #Kuwait dangling from window is not the 1st time a domestic worker attempted a dangerous escape https://t.co/jaSpVDrWwf

— Tara Sepehri Far (@sepehrifar) April 3, 2017

Media outlets also rushed to report on the viral video, flooding audiences with competing narratives of Sadik’s attempted “suicide” or “escape”.

However, even though both social media and news media consistently misreported the incident as an attempted suicide, it was actually an escape. Despite multiple clues that Sadik is attempting escape—particularly that she calls for help—prominent newspapers such as The Guardian still recycled headlines like “Kuwait woman detained for filming maid’s suicide without helping, even though there was no indication from the domestic worker that this was a suicide.

Later, Sadik provided video testimony from her hospital correcting this narrative, saying that her accident was not a suicide attempt, but rather an an attempt to escape from her abusive employer who had threatened to kill her. Her testimony was captured and disseminated in multiple languages by Ethiopian media and rights organizations who had been monitoring and reporting on this issue and these cases. The website Africa News also posted the video, contextualizing her testimony in the overall narrative of the experience.

“I wasn’t trying to commit suicide, I was trying to escape from the woman who tried to kill me.”


Migrant Abuse Captured Frequently in Burgeoning Social Media Environment of the Arab Gulf

The MENA region is among the top three global markets for the social media platform Snapchat, developed by technology firm Snap Inc, according to Hussein Freijeh, general manager of the firm’s regional team. Residents from the Gulf increasingly use social media to discuss issues of public interest, for self-expression, and to communicate and interact with one another in ways that are otherwise restricted in reality because it allows a sense of privacy and anonymity. For example, in Saudi Arabia, social media quickly became an outlet and one of the few spaces where female candidates running for office could campaign without getting into trouble. Saudi women also use tools like Snapchat to run their businesses.

However, social media platforms are also a window into the prevalence of negative views of migrant workers.  Recently, Vogue Arabia’s social media influencer and beauty guru, Sondos Alqattan, who uses Snapchat and Instagram to give fashion and health advice to her 2.3 million followers, shared a video where she vocalized her criticism of a new law that offers greater protection to migrant workers in Kuwait. During her derogatory rant, Alqattan said that domestic workers, who she referred to as “servants”, should not be given days off. Her video went viral, leading to public outrage and severed ties with leading beauty brands where she served as a brand ambassador.

These broadcasts are expounding indicators of a culture of dehumanization of migrant workers in Kuwait and the Gulf – also highlighting resistance to reforms to end widespread abuse in the Gulf state. Moreover, it sheds light on the critical role of the kafala system, which in of itself, creates the inhumane conditions faced by hundreds of thousands of domestic workers while offering protection to culpable sponsors from any accountability or punishment.

In an interview with the Tempest, Diana Alghoul, a feminist journalist who covers the region explains that the practice of broadcasting abuse of domestic workers on social media is very common, particularly because people know they could get away with it. “It isn’t enough to shut down the Snapchat account, or even hold the perpetrator to account. Widespread reforms must be carried out in all countries that practice the sponsorship system, which must be dismantled for there to be any hope of improving the depressingly substandard conditions domestic workers are forced to endure.”

What these videos and tools have also helped surface is an underlying racism that exists within Gulf culture and what Alghoul explains as a more deep rooted issue of racism that extends to the Arab feminist movement as well, where self proclaimed “humanitarian” and women’s rights activists have used tools like Snapchat to film and taunt domestic workers.

@Loreal As a brand that supports women's rights ,is it acceptable for your brand ambassador @OlaAlfares to treat domestic workers as slaves? pic.twitter.com/ZgSV0xIPFL

— Farah Mesmar (@Missmarized) March 28, 2017

How can journalists report ethically on perpetrator videos shared in social media platforms like Snapchat?

These videos present a unique challenge for journalists and human rights defenders; while we want to use them to enhance our understanding and reporting on perpetrators’ human rights violations, we do not want to further the objectives of the abusers.

This challenge is particularly acute in reporting on migrant abuse in the Gulf where there is a persistent lack of data, fact-checking, and little understanding of the context of these violations, crimes, and risks. However, in some cases, a short video can serve a witness to a crime that is otherwise anecdotal and unproven.

Metadata embedded in most cell phone video can often provide additional information and evidence on where and when the crime took place, and, in some cases, who committed it. When the video is filmed by the perpetrator themselves, it can provide rare access to information regarding who the abusers are, and who else is involved.

But what should we, as journalists and human rights defenders, be aware of when using one of these videos as a source or human rights documentation, or, further yet, posting it? Here are some key safety and ethical considerations to help journalists and human rights defenders report on migrant abuse using Adesech Sadik’s case as an example.

Fact Checking Migrant Abuse
  1. Consider the local context and biases

For international reporters, it is important to consider that migrant labor is reported from the perspective of the employer and from government circulars which are often shared and found in Arabic and English (common search languages), and could very well be biased in their narrative. In the case of Adesech Sadik, some of the reporters using these sources did not further investigate these claims that her accident was an attempted suicide, until Sadik had to come out and correct it herself.

  1. Work with local media and rights groups when searching for stories, content and fact checking

Social media and eyewitness footage rarely tells the whole story. Most documentation and evidence of migrant abuse in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is anecdotal, which makes access to verified video and information difficult. While local and social media can be an invaluable source, it often lacks the context and verification standards needed to create a balanced report. In breaking news situations like in Sadik’s case, it’s important to do a thorough fact check and not rely on one narrative, such as the perpetrator of the abuse who uploaded the video. Try to locate and speak with the victim directly. This problem is exacerbated when international media pick up local stories and don’t verify or conduct original sourcing of their own. Make sure you have access to a diverse range of sources and experts who understand the underlying causes of these issues.

  1. Get perspectives from media outlets in migrants’ countries of origin  

One way to combat this is to build a list of credible sources from migrants’ countries of origins. Don’t limit your search to English or Arabic-language social networks and sources. Broaden your search pattern, and search for content in multiple languages; particularly the language of the migrant involved in the case. Often coverage of these cases starts in the local media of the migrants’ home country, and can prove vital to sourcing, verifying and contextualizing a story. These local outlets are also more likely to understand the perspective of the migrant as seen in this article, from Ethiopian media about a woman who was badly beaten by her employer in Lebanon. They let her speak for herself, or in the most vulnerable cases, coordinate with organizations specializing in migrant rights to strategize the most responsible media coverage.

Resource alert! Bellingcat on How to Collect Sources from Syria If You Don’t Read Arabic.

  1. Include verified, first-hand accounts from migrant workers in your reporting

Often, migrants upload or share their own photo/video testimonies to social media. Search for these first-hand accounts, and build the context from there rather than sifting through the noise on social media. Other videos can be used to elaborate on patterns of migrant abuses which further contextualize the story as part of a trend, rather than an isolated incident.

Abdul Sattar Makandar, an Indian man working as a truck driver in Saudi Arabia, filmed a video of himself stating how he had been denied to visit his home and that how he hadn’t always been paid in time by his company. He sent the video to Kundan Srivastava, an Indian activist, who then uploaded it to Facebook, where it was watched more than a million times. And though the company denies these claims, you can still compare the claims for consistency with those made by others, as well as reviewing them with local rights groups and interviewing people connected to the case, such as Srivastava.

And consider subtitling these first-hand accounts. There is an enormous need for this type of translation and if you are able to provide it, this helps the story spread and get picked up by international media. Local media and rights organizations can assist with translation support, in addition to those sharing the video on social media (i.e. crowdsourcing).

Reporting the Bigger Picture

Eyewitness and perpetrator videos document the widespread mistreatment of migrant workers, ranging from humiliation to torture and in some cases, murder. While authorities continue to report these cases as isolated instances of abuse, these videos illustrate that these abuses are symptoms of widespread racism and a culture of impunity that results in flagrant disregard for human rights.

These videos can support demands for accountability and assist existing efforts to end the structures that have allowed these abuses to perpetuate, unchecked.

In upcoming posts, we will explore the role of context and ethical considerations to weigh before publishing, so not to play into the perpetrator’s narrative.

Journalists and human rights defenders can advance the conversation by ensuring that their reporting places migrant workers’ stories in the specific context of the kafala system and broader migrant and labour system—not just as a one-off incident. These incidents are tied to each other and reveal a troubling pattern of systemic abuse in the region. Ethical reporting can help expose and address these abuses, and make sure that the world listens.

Additional Resources

  • Refer to our ethical guidelines for more information on using eyewitness videos in human rights reporting and advocacy and on how you can begin to create your own standards on how to handle footage.
  • Although access to accurate and up-to-data data on migration to GCC is hard to find, there is a wealth of information available in countries of origin, especially those in South Asia. See Migrant-Rights.org’s network page for more on these and other resources.
  • The Global Investigative Journalism Network, in collaboration with Migrant-Rights.org recently launched their first bilingual guide to teach journalists best practices, tools and steps in reporting on human trafficking and forced labor in the Gulf Countries.
  • The “Know Your Rights” guide can serve as a handy resource for journalists and human rights defenders to better understand the risks that workers being interviewed may face as well as legal context for stories you’re reporting on.
  • PANOS along with the United Nations Alliance of Civilization has released a comprehensive terms of use: Media-friendly Glossary on Migration. This tool comes as an answer to two ongoing trends. On one side, the changing aspect of human migrations and of words used to characterize these movements. On the other hand, the pressure put on journalists – who don’t always benefit from a specific training on migration – to report in print and audio-visual media with precision and appropriate terminology.

The post Suicide or Escape? Fact Checking Reporting on Migrant Abuse in MENA appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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In early August 2018, a wave of mass protests seized the city of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Sparked by the deaths of two young school children by a speeding bus, students, mostly attending high school or university, thronged the streets demanding that their government improve road safety. For about a week, Dhaka, home to over 18 million people, was in gridlock. Largely steering nonviolent assemblies, youth were seen sloganeering, creating human chain links, addressing student unions at university premises, or stopping buses, trucks and other vehicles to check whether they were in roadworthy conditions, as in this video (in Bangla) filmed by the Daily Star:

Students Check Licenses, Discipline Traffic - YouTube

Violations of Media Freedom

Inspiring widespread anger on social media, a nationwide youth-led movement for road safety began to emerge. A few days into the capital’s standstill, the world witnessed the transformation of peaceful demonstrations turn into bloody violence. The reported brutality meted out by state-sponsored groups, such as the Chhatra League which is linked to the ruling Awami League Party, and the police in the form of tear gas, rubber bullets, violent beatings, mutilations, rape, and murder were not just against students, but also journalists. According to media updates, including international news reports, journalists had been beaten for covering the protests, their phones and cameras destroyed, and their lives threatened if they did not delete recorded footage.

Veteran photojournalist, writer, activist, and human rights defender, Shahidul Alam, spoke out against the government clamp down with Al-Jazeera during the week of protests. Inspired by the youth of his country, Alam took to the streets to document students and be a witness. He has since been arrested, interrogated and jailed for being outspoken, under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s infamous Information and Communication Technology Act, which could see him in jail for up to 14 years. The government has accused him of “spreading propaganda”, but Amnesty International has declared Alam “a prisoner of conscience”.

Image by @freeshahidulalam, sourced from Instagram The Right to Record

Alam has been witness to many pivotal moments in Bangladesh’s history, starting with 1984’s people’s resistance against the then President Ershad’s military junta, and in 1990 when people power forced their president to step down from his protracted seat. In 1991, the country saw its first free elections and Alam’s photography stands as important records of Bangladesh’s democratic history. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who has ruled the country since 2009, has repeatedly favored the curbing of dissenting voices. 

Telecommunications network shutdowns to silence any voices against the State is becoming all too common in the South Asian region, not just in Bangladesh. WITNESS has previously advocated against shutting down the Internet with the intention of control, viewed as a stifling of the freedom of expression. WITNESS has also emphasized the importance of demanding tech companies to be more transparent in how they make their decisions, in light of Facebook’s complicity in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, etc.

The ‘Right to Record’, which we view as the “right to take out a camera or cell phone and film the military and law enforcement without fear of arrest, violence, or other retaliation” has been approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body Bangladesh has recently joined in October 2018.

Occupying the Internet

With the help of cyber activists in Bangladesh and abroad, students were able to mobilize on the Internet in order to get their messages across through multiple streams. As news of the protests broke into international terrain, Prime Minister Hasina’s government sped up the approval of a draft Road Transport Act. The Dhaka Tribune reported that the expediting of the Act, which also outlines death penalty for wilfully fatal road accidents, was due to students’ protests.

In its trainings across the Asia Pacific region, and worldwide, WITNESS has and continues to advocate for the use of encrypted, low bandwidth, secure messaging apps during crisis situations. As mobile networks began to slow down and were eventually halted, calls for the use of secure messaging apps like Signal and FireChat were not uncommon. Trending hashtags #RoadSafetyBD and #WeWantJustice further helped amplify student voices, as their movement gathered momentum on the Twittersphere, Instagram and beyond. 

While mainstream media, predominantly pro-government, withheld from covering videos of State-sponsored violence, videos of student testimonies desperately pleading for help and eyewitness recordings of human rights violations quickly spread across social media. Facebook was also used by students and citizen journalists for livestreaming videos and for scheduling student meeting points during protests. Meanwhile, Twitter helped get the attention of international media:

A top tweet, according to Trendmaps

In surge situations such as this, it can be a difficult task to filter digital evidence that is authentic, and without endangering individuals’ lives. Over the years, WITNESS has shared many resources, guidelines, and tools for those curating online videos. Among these, a brief 4-step guide on How to Verify Footage of Human Rights Abuse outlines some important techniques to determine, to the highest degree possible, that what a video documents is true and can be trusted.

In this manner, WITNESS’ Asia-Pacific team was able to collaborate with a group of students in Dhaka to publish their verified video, in an instance where the students were able to corroborate accurate metadata, ensuring valuable security information was protected, and crucial information was succinctly disseminated:

Videos that are authenticated and are kept intact through an organized archiving effort, thus tend to be more trustworthy and prove useful in a lengthier advocacy campaign or, in a courtroom. Such efforts by cyber activists operating on Reddit, a popular social news aggregation and discussion site, should be applauded. Reddit contributors continued to upload evidence on GoogleDrive, including video evidence, sidestepping the media censorship enforced by the Bangladeshi government. Live updates of the protests and the arrest of Shahidul Alam was made available on the site as well as a valuable archive of digital video evidence containing testimonies.

The curation and collation of all information pertaining to the situation in Dhaka in a single, secure, recorded space safeguards valuable evidence that may come to greater use, especially since after the lifting of telecommunications disruptions where videos uploaded have, mysteriously, disappeared. Not only that, digital archiving serves to preserve a capsule of the moment, recorded for posterity. 

Eyes on Bangladesh

Bangladesh has recently been applauded for its role in assisting Rohingya refugees to ensure safe passage from Rakhine, Myanmar to camps on Bangladeshi soil, that aided and sheltered over 600,000 refugees, but it is clear that its treatment of truth-tellers has been appalling. The Bangladeshi government has been looking into further controlling social media by installing a body to monitor cyber threats. It has recently deployed security agencies to assist in this crackdown against dissent, already arresting individuals for posting anti-state propaganda videos. It has also looked to Facebook for cooperation in this endeavor.

The new Digital Security Act, the draft of which has been rejected by the country’s journalists, is set to further stifle freedom of opinion and will see Bangladesh violate its obligations to several international covenants. The government has also recently endorsed a Broadcasting Bill with restrictive provisions and approved a Mass Media Employees Bill governing working hours and days off.

International human rights organizations and media institutions such as Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, World Press Photo, the Pulitzer Center, the International Federation of Journalists, amongst others, continue to highlight Shahidul Alam’s unjust imprisonment. Worldwide condemnation has been growing, including a joint statement from public intellectuals Arundhati Roy, Vijay Prasad, Eve Ensler, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky. In Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere in South Asia, journalists, artists, and activists have been vocal in their demand for the release of Alam and are not showing any signs of backing down.

A movement that started with calls for road safety has, indeed, shown the world that there is a lot more at stake here for the future of a nation, and certainly, in upholding its youths’ fundamental freedoms. Will it charter a course towards meaningful change, away from a long history of subduing student-led dissent? All eyes are now on Bangladesh.

Image by Mayan Mahmud, sourced from Instagram

Meghana Bahar is WITNESS’ Social Media and Communications Consultant for the Asia-Pacific region. She is a gender and media specialist, with 19 years of experience in transnational women’s and human rights movements. 

The post Occupying Dhaka: appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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This post is part of the WITNESS Media Lab’s new project, “Perpetrator Video in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)”. This project examines how human rights advocates and journalists can turn the proliferation of eyewitness and perpetrator video into more ethical and effective storytelling and documentation of human rights abuse in the MENA. Follow along each month as we share resources, case studies, and more to strengthen and protect communities against harm through safer, more ethical and more effective use of video in contemporary reporting and advocacy in the MENA.

“For any mistake, she would hit me with her hands, a knife, scissors, sticks and sometimes bite me, pull my hair and other times pour boiling water on my body. I came to this country in good health, and now I return home with a disability. I just want to go home.”

A 28-year-old Indonesian housekeeper living in the United Arab Emirates

Source: The Washington Post

By Raja Althaibani

The proliferation of eyewitness and perpetrator video presents a unique challenge for journalists and human rights defenders. While we want to use them to enhance our understanding and reporting on perpetrators’ human rights violations, we do not want to further the objectives of the abusers.

This difficulty is particularly acute when reporting on migrant abuse in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, where there is a persistent lack of data, fact-checking, and little understanding of the context of crimes. Perpetrator video of abuse against migrant workers has emerged as a source of information of the violations they face, but how to use this content ethically hasn’t been widely explored until now.

Migrant abuse under the Kafala system

Migrant workers comprise nearly half the population of the GCC countries and nearly 90% of the workforce in some states. However, their working conditions are unfair and often inhumane. Migrant laborers are sponsored in the GCC under the kafala system, through which they are required to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employers who are responsible for residency permits, work visas, and even the permission for workers to exit the country and end employment. The system often renders temporary workers completely dependent on their employers’ will. This systematic disempowerment leaves workers at the mercy of their sponsor. Many migrant workers have their passports confiscated by their employer, and domestic workers are often isolated in their homes and forced to work without a day off. This makes it more difficult for them to escape–or even alert authorities–about abusive conditions.

If migrant workers attempt to escape from an abusive or unsafe working environment, they can be charged with absconding, which in most GCC countries carries a jail sentence. Most migrant workers cannot change jobs without their employer’s permission or an extremely protracted process, which in an already abusive situation leaves them susceptible to further abuse with few options to escape.

While employers have been accused of abuse—sometimes to the point of murdering an employee—authorities rarely prosecute them, dismissing migrant workers’ allegations as anecdotal rather than evidence of systematic violence. Low-income migrant workers rarely receive justice through the legal system.

Eyewitness video can be crucial for documenting crimes against migrant workers, generating public outrage, and putting pressure on legal proceedings.  These videos can support migrant workers’ testimonies, be used by journalists and human rights defenders in their investigations of abuse, and by prosecutors in order to build cases against abusers. Ultimately they can be used to demand reform of the kafala system, enforcement of labor/domestic workers’ laws, and improved grievance mechanisms.

This happened ... to me - YouTube

In some cases, a short video can serve a witness to a crime that is otherwise anecdotal and unproven. Metadata embedded in most cell phone video can provide additional information on where and when the crime took place, and, in some cases, who committed it. When the video is filmed by the perpetrator themselves, it can provide rare access to information regarding who the abusers are, and who else is involved.

Dilemmas of using perpetrator video to expose migrant abuse

But what should we, as journalists and human rights defenders, be aware of when using one of these videos as a source or human rights documentation, or, further yet, posting it? Is our access to content (and our understanding of it) limited? What is the context of the video, and how can it be used to further collective understanding of a certain issue, such as migrant abuse, as a whole? Does the video show the victim breaking the law (such as absconding) in a way that could ultimately be used against them? Could sharing the video ultimately do the victim more harm than good?

In collaboration with Migrant-Rights.org, in the upcoming use cases we examine the role and impact of perpetrator video in exposing and perpetuating abuses against migrant workers in the GCC and will highlight best practices and key considerations for human rights defenders using this type of video to research and report on abuses against migrant workers.

We will explore several different cases where journalists and human rights defenders used perpetrator videos to shed light on human rights abuses, what each achieved, and what each could have done better in order to shed light on this issue.

Stay tuned as we analyze in our next installation how a viral snapchat video was covered by media and how we can take ethical and safety considerations into account to get to the facts and understand its context. For now, be sure to explore Migrant-Rights.org’s interactive narrative, Life under Kafala: A Migrant Worker’s Perspective, below.

The post Trapped in the Gulf: Exposing Migrant Abuse appeared first on WITNESS Blog.

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