Global Voices Online reports that the Chinese police recently cracked down hard on a large protest in Rui’an, spurred by the mysterious death of a young school teacher ruled a suicide by authorities. Nothing new there: Chinese citizens protest, they get a beat-down.
The twist is that now cameraphones are common accessories among Chinese citizens, and free video-hosting services abound. So official cover-up of these incidents is now harder and harder to implement. While the Danwei blog reports that Chinese video hosting services are pulling protest / police brutality videos, others are springing up on YouTube and Photobucket.
These videos demonstrate the potential for civic action using new media even in the most repressive environments. In the old days, getting footage like this would have entailed someone taping the event with a bulky film or video camera, smuggling the tape out of the country, and getting it to a human rights group or media outlet to hopefully get it viewed widely. That would take weeks of dangerous effort. This has been the risky business of the human rights group WITNESS since 1992.
Now all it takes is someone with a cheap cameraphone and access to the internet. And the videos can be made available within minutes in near-real-time. So groups like WITNESS are seeking to re-invent themselves to stay apace with these changes, by aggregating and perhaps even hosting these videos to get more public and government attention to these human rights disasters around the world.
Which brings me to "Serenity."
In the 2005 movie "Serenity," director Josh Whedon paints a strange and compelling sci fi universe in which a despotic regime called the "Alliance" holds sway over hundreds of planets. Meanwhile, a small band of smugglers comes across video footage of the mind control techniques being developed by the Alliance to increase their power to the psychological level.
The band commit themselves to getting this footage broadcast to all the known worlds, using whatever means necessary. To do this, they attempt to deliver it to "Mr. Universe," a hacker extraordinaire who can infiltrate various communications grids from his secret underground lair using his m@d skilz. There’s space battles, kung fu, witty banter — really everything you could want in a sci fi adventure.
Which me leads to one conclusion: YouTube is Mr. Universe.
As he says in the film, "You can’t stop the signal."