The project is dedicated to the novel subject of video activism 2.0 among and between online and offline public spheres, social media and social movements. It sets out to systematically review and categorise the vast array of activist videos in the World Wide Web as well as the wide range of common video practices and customs. Ultimately, it aims to develop a comprehensive typology of video activism, its aesthetic and rhetorical practices as well as its socio-cultural environments and media surroundings.
Web documentaries such as UNDER THE DOME about pollution in China, citizen evidence videos like those on police violence in the US, campaign films such as KONY 2012 which portrayed a Central-African warlord, or whistle-blower videos like the infamous WikiLeaks publication COLLATERAL MURDER from 2010 which showed murderous attacks by US helicopter gunships from the perspective of the onboard camera – those are merely some of the most spectacular cases of a new form of, say, ‘civil online video activism’ that has been forming all around the globe since the emergence of the Web 2.0. A mere ten years ago videos needed to be shot, edited and distributed in a process as time- and resource-consuming as it was strenuous – nowadays, though, the recent advent of digital cameras, movie software, video platforms, social media and live streaming apps such as Periscope has facilitated change in the form of quick, simple and efficient distribution and circulation of such material.
All is not well, however. Recently, not only the plethora of terrorist propaganda videos available online as well as an increasing number of hate videos uploaded by certain YouTubers have raised doubts whether the new videos’ political, epistemic and affective potential on the Web 2.0 is of an exclusively democratic – and democratising – nature. Wars and other political conflicts often spark wars of and battles about video images. Many videos are heavily criticized for their dramatising and falsifying portrayal of facts or for commercial merchandising. Protesters filmed during rallies and informants wishing to remain incognito are half-heartedly protected from persecution with pixelisation software and other kinds of makeshift anonymisation procedures. Offering verification portals and ethical guidelines for the upload and production of eyewitness videos are human rights organizations’ new ways of reacting to and countering a trend of increasingly more wide-spread, purposefully strewn disinformation.
This new online video activism thus raises a number of socially significant questions. Are we dealing with a new way of participation for sophisticated “netizens”, say, a user-friendly update of the political counter-public? Or does this ‘video activism 2.0’ ultimately come to nothing, merely resulting in ‘clicktivism’? Are we moving in a virtual agora of communicative pictorial action or mauling each other to death in an anonymous online arena?
In the midst of the citizen journalist’s Vlog sphere and YouTube wars an important question arises: what about this new digital public’s audiovisual domain? The critical blind spot so often overlooked by previous research on this subject, stemming from the field media, communication and political science, lies precisely in the image itself: the political videos themselves never fully came into view, and their various types and topics, genres and aesthetics, rhetorical strategies and potentials for affective action, their trans-media and intertextual references, historical precursors and role models were never adequately observed. Systematic analyses of their multifaceted forms, shapes and distinctions have so far been just as critically absent from this field of study as an in-depth reflection on the context of their production.
The project therefore sets out to rectify this by opening up and extrapolating this research field and pursuing the following questions. How does this new type of video activism change political and documentary practices? What kinds of novel, previously unheard-of aesthetics, narrative and affective-rhetorical modes has it spawned? How are the unique possibilities of the audiovisual medium used in regards to the production of evidence, creation of knowledge and evocation of emotions? Are new norms and conventions of visual depiction and reasoning emerging? Do observable tendencies towards personalisation and emotional appeals result, in one way or another, in a consumable conformism of politics? And on the other hand: do popular, easily digestible forms always boil down to manipulation of some sort? Does the “power of images” promote elucidation or prevent complex issues from being properly solved? How is verification possible, and how can authenticity be feigned? What media environments are the videos embedded in, and how are they linked?
Our project will reflect upon this set of questions by closely observing current developments and actively seeking input from video activists. Our goal is ultimately to provide for the first time a comprehensive overview of the field of video activism on the Web 2.0.