A million video cameras to change the world!

Something remarkable is happening with online public video sharing platforms: progressive non-profit groups worldwide are seizing their power to do good.

YouTube started off more like the people’s version of funniest home videos. But it’s no longer confined to that category. Activist and social groups are increasingly uploading their videos. As broadband Internet rolls out around the world, more people are actually able to watch these videos online.

In response, YouTube, owned by search giant Google, is creating a special section for nonprofits to air their videos and link them to its Google Checkout online payment system to receive funds directly.

“Nonprofits understand that online video isn’t just a way to broadcast public service announcements on a shrunken TV set,” Reuters quoted Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube, as saying. “It’s a way to get people to do more than just absorb your message but to engage with their user generated content as well.”

Pure Digital, maker of the Flip video camera, has said it plans to give away a million video cameras to non-profit organizations around the world to capture images and moments in places traditional media outlets might not be able to reach.

“Video has power and media has power but the challenge is that the media is limited to telling stories that are controlled by a very small number of people,” Jonathan Kaplan, chief executive of Pure Digital, told Reuters. “This program along with YouTube and other sites will expand the media universe for learning what’s really going on in the world,” he said.

Visit FlipVideo website on support for non-profit groups

Reuters quotes the recent example of the impact of clips of the Myanmar army’s confrontations with local protesters which were posted on YouTube and other Web sites. Some of the clips made their way to mainstream news media, which were blocked out of entering or covering events in Burma.

See an example of a YouTube video on what’s happening in Burma:

Our friends at Witness, an activist group founded by the musician Peter Gabriel in 1992, has long specialised in raising awareness of such previously unseen events through video. Sam Gregory, programme director at Witness, says online distribution has made it easier to put videos in front of the right people such as decision makers and others with a personal connection to the cause.

“It’s not necessarily about the size of the audience it’s about placing targeted video and turning ‘watching’ into action,” said Gregory.

Read the Reuters story on 19 Oct 2007: Nonprofits turn to YouTube to raise awareness, funds

My blog post on 1 Oct 2007: Shoot on sight: Rights Alert on Burma

My blog post on 30 Sep 2007: Kenji Nagai: Filming to the last moment

TVE Asia Pacific News story March 2007: TVEAP films now on YouTube

What’s happening with online video has a parallel in how activist groups seized the potential of the hand-held video camera. The handicam was invented in 1985 by Sony. Intended originally for entertainment and domestic documentation purposes only (ranging from family vacations and weddings), it did not take long to find new uses for this revolutionary technology.

The Handicam Revolution in media began when a video camera captured police beating Rodney King on a Los Angeles highway. The shocking amateur footage was broadcast on TV around the world. The acquittal of the police officers after their first trial sparked outrage, and riots erupted in a 20 block section of Los Angeles, leaving 54 people dead and over 2,000 injured.

Ever since Rodney King, broadcasters have been using amateur video to provide images of events that their own camera people have not captured. And human rights activists have started relying on the power of video images to capture the attention of the broadcasters to expose acts of human rights abuse and violation.