10 Camera Phone Videos that Shook The World

“A camera on a phone has only aided the perverted, the nosy, the violent, and the bored.”

Thus proclaimed Michael Agger writing for Slate in January 2007, just as “cameras on phones” had really begun to hit the mainstream.

Adding video capability simply increased the “madness,” according to Agger. The most prominent uses of these devices that he could dig up at that time included “happy slapping,” “streetkissing,” and “old-fashioned humiliation,” leading him to conclude that “In glorious retrospect, it seems like a terrifically bad idea to give the world a spy camera that looks and functions like a cell phone.”

Even as he wrote that, YouTube, as the platform that made it easy to actually share camera phone video content, had been blocked in Thailand. Since the platform’s launch in 2005, it has been taken seriously enough to be blocked in at least 12 countries – not to mention by corporate firewalls and in school districts across the USA.

So many of us now produce and consume camera phone content as a matter of course and hardly think of it as “madness.” Yet if Agger’s swift dismissal of the camera phone strikes you as silly today, try this trick: substitute the words “Google Glass” (or maybe even “dashboard camera”) for “cell phone camera” in that Slate article. It works. And will probably continue to work, every time a disruptive new technology is introduced.

I’ve had a keen interest in the transformative power of being able to create and share content easily — equally relevant inside an enterprise such as SAP (where I work) as out. In 2010, I conceived and managed a project that made it easy for anyone to share a video inside SAP. That project achieved astronomical success and came to be known as Media Share, now formally “productized” on our corporate portal. Yet we also had our naysayers from the outset, insisting we would get in trouble for allowing people to share whatever content they pleased.

This was in fact the thing I liked best about working on Media Share: helping people represent themselves who could not before. You could always publish a video and share it – if you had funding and your content was vetted. To be sure, we’ve seen slick promo videos, formal training courses, official communications and corporate advertisements alike (not to mention our powerful and meticulously produced It Gets Better: SAP Employees) – all of which stand to gain from the ease of distribution on video platforms such as YouTube and Media Share. These things of course have their place — but sharing raw footage from your hand-held device cuts more profoundly to the bone.

Why?:

  • It’s ok to be an amateur. It might even make you more credible.
  • You don’t need to be a corporation or have funding to create content. You don’t even need a fancy camera.
  • You don’t need anyone to tell you it’s ok.
  • You can – in fact, you probably will — easily share your content, whether or not your content “goes viral.”
  • As you take your hand-held device around the world with you, you are a witness, a reporter, a human.
  • This changes EVERYTHING.

Agger did concede in Slate in 2007 that some camera phone videos can “testify to the power of first-person witnessing, and how a digital copy of that witnessing can upend neat narratives and certainties.”

What Agger failed to contextualize is that this “upending” is more than just bored hooliganism. This is “Truth 2.0.” When you represent your world by sharing your camera phone video, you do more than put the You in YouTube – you MAKE the news.

Sure – with over 60 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube every minute, there is more footage than anyone will ever see and perhaps care about, but you need the dinner parties, the elephants, the fire-breathing kittens, the everyday moments of life to have the really big moments that shake the world. In short: You actually need to be human.

And if you still doubt that the camera phone has changed the world (and not just for perverts and the nosy, violent, and bored), or rather – that you can change the world because you are a human using your camera phone, browse the list and remember the moments below, listed in the order in which the events they recorded occurred.

As beloved San Francisco Bay Area radio personality Scoop Nisker used to say: “If you don’t like the news… go out and make some of your own.”

 

December 26, 2004
Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami

This is just one of many videos about this event, which was “the first global news event where the majority of the first day news footage was no longer provided by professional news crews, but rather by citizen journalists, using primarily camera phones.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPUlU3Uwi2g%5D

 

April 23, 2005
Me at the zoo

YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim in the first YouTube video. Ever.

“Elephants have really, really really long trunks!”

Because… without elephants we would have no YouTube. Or something.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNQXAC9IVRw%5D

 

July 7, 2005
London underground bombings
Perhaps the first major news event captured by ordinary people using their cell phones. Changing news forever.” (Despite Wikipedia already calling it in 2004, above). “CNN executive Jonathan Klein predicts camera phone footage will be increasingly used by news organizations.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3266GdfvMI%5D

 

April 29, 2006
The Hong Kong “Bus Uncle” video

“I face pressure. You face pressure. Why do you provoke me?”

It’s not only famous people and world leaders who face pressure. Every-day “normal” people, all around the world, face pressure. Whatever our differences, we are united by this common thread: We Are Human. Respect your fellow travelers.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H20dhY01Xjk%5D
January 1, 2009
Oscar Grant – police shooting at BART
I almost included this Rodney King video in the list. Since the videographer, George Holliday, used a Sony Handycam, it violated my rules. But this was 1991 – years before camera phones. In many ways, the Rodney King video set the stage for much of the citizen journalism that was to come.

Oscar Grant’s story is a good companion story. Like Rodney King, Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a police officer.

Unlike Rodney King’s story, in a chilling difference: With improvements in technology, the Oscar Grant video was easily more viral. And the officer involved was convicted.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmJukcFzEX4%5D

 

June 13, 2009
Iranian election protests

Before Egypt, before Syria – there were the Iranian election protests. This was one of its first viral videos.
There are too many videos to list here (see Mashable’s list of 10), and many are more graphic than we can ever hope to experience, including the precedent and inestimably earth-changing recording of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan.
If you look at the footnotes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Iranian_election_protests there are countless citizen-generated videos bearing witness to police gunshots into crowds. Not only did “Major news outlets, such as CNN and BBC News, gained much of their information from using and sorting through tweets by Twitter users and videos uploaded to YouTube,” but this galvanized and sparked a “Persian Awakening.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54XQ7Vf-bVY%5D

 

January 18, 2011
Meet Asmaa Mahfouz and the vlog that Helped Spark the Revolution

I realize this may not be a hand-held camera phone, but at the very least the revolution this sparked was propelled by camera phone witnessing. “As one Egyptian activist succinctly tweeted during the protests there, ‘We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.’”
More on the story: Asmaa Mahfouz & the YouTube Video that Helped Spark the Egyptian Uprising

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgjIgMdsEuk%5D

 

November 18, 2011
Police pepper spraying and arresting students at UC Davis

Not only is this another in a series on the watchdog capability of camera phones , but to many, the incident became the iconic badge of the Occupy movement itself.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmJmmnMkuEM%5D

 

2011-2012
People & Power : Syria: Songs of Defiance

User-generated content becomes mainstream and goes underground at the very same. This is a remarkable compilation of footage from an Al Jazeera journalist’s cell phone camera. “An unusual but compelling first-person account of a country in turmoil and a revolution in progress”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnvPXspjLtU%5D

 

 

November 6, 2012
2012 Voting Machines Altering Votes

Never again should the validity of your voice and your vote be subject to doubt.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QdpGd74DrBM%5D

 

Footnotes:

 

I’ve been working on this list for a long time. Above are just some of countless examples. Since I began thinking about this, there are other such lists – including an excellent compilation from linktv of Top 10 Raw Videos that Changed the World (which contains many images too rough for me to stomach) – and the 15 YouTube Videos That Changed The World (deliberately not all camera phone footage).

I’ve left out incredible historical videos of events that changed the world way before camera phones and YouTube. And clearly I’ve omitted many other notable social movements including Pussy Riot, Gangnam Style knock-offs, and “the funniest kitten you will ever see!”

Have I left out something important from your camera phone? Let me know!

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Tsunami Warning San Francisco, and other dirges in the dark

A peek at “local media” during a disaster in the dead of night

Disasters – natural or otherwise – don’t always strike at reasonable hours – and when an insistent pounding on the front door woke me from a deep sleep early in the morning of Friday, March 11, it wasn’t a reasonable hour.

It was 1:30am and our neighbor had woken us to tell us about the hugely incomprehensible 8.9 (later revised to 9.0) earthquake in Japan — and to warn us of the massive tsunami headed our way.

I then proceeded to try to figure out what was really going on — and what, if anything, to do about it. I pored over the tweets for credible news, first relieved that our good friends in Japan were safe, second reading about terrible devastation, in-between baffled by regular life apparently continuing with #ipad2 and #sxsw, and finally trying to parse the warnings about the West Coast of the USA, where I lay awake all night.

tsunami warning san francisco bay area - from http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mtr/

Tsunami warning San Francisco Bay Area - from National Weather Service at http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/mtr/

On the Web beyond the tweets, I gaped at incredible maps with great red bands all up and down the coast of Northern California – red meaning “warning” – and “warning” apparently meaning, according to the automatically generated Tsunami information I could find, evacuate.

While I tried to parse this information to figure out whether I did, in fact, need to pack my family up and ship out, the official word from San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management was to “monitor local media for updates.” “Which local media would that be?” said SF friend @jamiedsongs. Good question.

At SFGate, the Web site that backs San Francisco’s major newspaper the San Francisco Chronicle, the lights were on but there appeared to be nobody home.

SFGate in the early morning on March 11, 2011

SFGate in the early morning on March 11, 2011

Though it had apparently been (automatically?) alerted to the major quake and tsunami, the front page was obviously stale to say the least, advising “no warning for CA coast” when the National Weather Service had already stuck us in the red “Tsunami Warning” category. Featured feeds were truly strange (live TV from Al Jazeera? Live blog from WSJ?) or virtually irrelevant (a quake details page leading to California earthquakes).

Automatic news is often worse than no news at all. I desperately wished for the “local media” to wake up and interpret all of this.

The only live person I found anywhere close to SFGate was featured columnist Jeanne Cooper, @Hawaii_Insider, who was putting out actual analysis in real-time and for whom I felt immensely thankful.

There was also sign of life at a site I had never previously relied on for news, California Beat, but this wasn’t entirely reassuring when a masthead mistakenly read “Tsunami evacuations issued for Bay Area.”

Tsunami evacuations on California Beat -- later retracted

Tsunami evacuations on California Beat -- later retracted

retraction

retraction

At 4:49am San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee tweeted with a welcome voice of official authority, at last saying that although San Francisco had activated the Emergency Operations center, there was no evacuation ordered.

But still the giant wave was coming. BART indicated they might close down entirely between peak Friday morning commute hours of 7-9am (or they might not), while waiting to see the extent of the hit on Hawaii (which was thankfully minimal) and then later Crescent City — which was not spared.

At the exact moment of tsunami impact in Crescent City, local newspaper the Daily Triplicate was apparently automatically chirping birth announcements (several weeks late), while thetriplicate.com Web site was down.

Crescent City Daily Triplicate, around 7:30am on March 11, 2011

Crescent City Daily Triplicate, around 7:30am on March 11, 2011

In this age of information overload, I realized I knew where to go for tons information and in real time, but not where to go for the right, local information. It was a bizarre world online throughout the night, but bizarre was trivial compared to the real tragedies unfolding across the Pacific in Japan.

The current big problem of information during disasters is that these places we rely on for local, up-to-date news, like all-too-often the cities themselves, are suffering economic woes. I don’t know much about Crescent City’s Daily Triplicate, but it’s likely to be in as much financial peril at the moment as its devastated harbor city itself.

Aside from wishing the very best and holding out hope for Japan and the global community, I only hope existing news channels can materialize the real opportunities that exist here and survive and evolve, not necessarily in that order. Until then, we have each other, in the middle of the night, on Twitter…


And while Lenin read a book on Marx
The quartet practiced in the park
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died

Don McLean – American Pie