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As Citizen Journalism Rises, YouTube Offers Face Blurring




More than a third of all news video on YouTube was filmmed by a bystander, says Pew Research. Not surprising, given that a good portion of the world population is walking around with a camera in their pocket every time they go outside.

Homemade news footage is compelling because it personalizes the story. When you watch a riot happening just yards in front of the lens, or shaky footage of a major earthquake as it knocks the camera man off his feet, it’s more real. It’s more human and that’s why people are rushing to YouTube for their daily look at what’s happening in the world.

Pew says that 96 million people watched the top 20 tsunami videos in the week that followed the March 2011 disaster. That’s nothing compared to the number of people who watched the coverage on TV, but it’s proof that YouTube isn’t just about funny videos and entertainment. It’s news on demand and it’s easy to share, two attributes that fit very well with our busy lifestyle.

With citizen journalism on the rise, new issues are cropping up, including the big one — privacy. The man on the street with a camera doesn’t have to follow the same rules as a news crew from ABC, or do they? Setting aside the legal issue, let’s just consider at the ethical and moral implications of posting footage of people who didn’t give their permission.

To help in this area, YouTube has added the ability to blur faces to their editing toolbar.

The downside of the tool is that right now, it’s an all-or-nothing arrangement. You can’t choose to blur only some of the faces, which is okay if you’re filming a riot, but what about your kid’s little league game. YouTube uses a game as an example of when the average person might use blurring.

“share the winning point in your 8-year-old’s basketball game without broadcasting the children’s faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube.”

As the technology stands, you’d be blurring your own child as well, defeating the whole purpose of the video.

Moving forward, they’ll find a way to obscure selected images, not just faces but other identifying information in a video such as license plates, street signs, school names.

Of course, it will still be up to the individual to do the right thing and use the tools, but it’s a step in the right direction.