Digital Security measures can combat Citizen Witness challenges

By M. Antoinette Jerom, November 20, 2021

“Citizen witnesses here means not just someone who has a legal status or identity. It simply means anyone, anywhere witnessing injustice and atrocities.” Arul Prakkash, Senior Programme Manager, Asia & the Pacific, WITNESS.org, commenced the third workshop of the SIGNIS Asia Journalism Desk’s webinar with this opening statement.

In this digital era, cameras incorporated into mobile phones are accessible and affordable. “Camera is a powerful tool to bring about change, giving voice to the voiceless,” he said. Sharing the example of a story about Myanmar’s displaced Kachin girls learning Karate to defend themselves against sexual assault, which was captured through the lens of a mobile phone camera, Arul stated that citizen videos help bring to light the struggles of the oppressed. He also stressed that Metadata of videos/photographs is essential evidence especially for litigation purposes.

Misinformation and content manipulation via Deep Fakes are burning concerns regarding content shared on social media platforms. It is important “to preserve the integrity and trustworthiness of video content as a critical tool for providing context/information, achieving an informed public, and protecting human rights,” emphasized Arul.

Specialized mobile apps are readily available to equip citizen journalists to ensure the credibility of the stories they share, and to protect themselves and the data they collect for reporting. Arul shared two mobile apps that are handy for anyone engaging in the fight for injustice.

ProofMode helps verify the credibility of videos and photographs; Tella helps activists, journalists and human rights defenders protect themselves and content collected and stored on their mobile devices. The Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA), OpenSource Investigation Tools (OSINT) and Digital Forensics are other means Arul shared to verify the authenticity of content.

Maintaining secure backups of the evidence on electronic devices, encrypting the devices, and not storing devices in workplaces or residences, were more examples of the valuable advice Arul gave to the participants. Stories that would endanger the lives of witnesses should be told by maintaining their anonymity, blurring their faces, and without revealing their actual locations or uniquely identifiable physical attributes.

It is also crucial to have a trusted network in the community, at cross-border and regional levels, and with organizations broadcasting these stories. In conclusion, Arul mentioned when capturing content for a story, prominence should be given to understanding the change which is intended, and the relevance of the story to the community it concerns. “Strategy and the change you want to see is more important than the tools and the platform you use,” he stressed.


SIGNIS Asia Journalism Desk and LICAS News Asia are the organisers of the SIGNIS Asia Journalism Fellowship Programme on the theme “Journalism in a Fragmented World,” a seven-week programme for lay Catholic and like-minded journalists working in the secular media. Offered virtually, the seven-week webinar brings together 25 selected participants from 14 countries to build capacity and promote exchange among media professionals and journalists who want to use their platform for social change. Programme details: https://www.signisasia.net/journalism-in-a-fragmented-world-webinar-2021/