Censorship Through Forensics: Video Evidence in Post-War Crises
Rebecca Wexler, Censorship Through Forensics: Video Evidence in Post-War Crises, in Global Censorship: Shifting Modes, Persisting Paradigms 85 (Pranesh Prakash ed., 2015, Forthcoming)
228 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2014 Last revised: 24 Sep 2016
Date Written: October 19, 2014
Amateur video shot on mobile devices worldwide is helping to hold authorities to account for war crimes, human rights violations, and other abuses of power. What happens when the authenticity of that video is in doubt? The possibility of justice depends on forensic investigators who sometimes shroud their tools and methods in secrecy, inhibiting reproducibility of their results and disabling scrutiny of their authenticity claims.
This chapter examines a forensics dispute over the authenticity of a leaked video depicting alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, and argues that obstacles to reproducibility in forensic investigations of video evidence constitute pre-emptive censorship by suppressing potential critique. In this instance, secret, closed or proprietary tools restrict opportunities to contest video authenticity claims. In other words, they preclude counter-speech. Only with open tools and methods can publics contest the meaning of the video-speech.
More broadly, this case study suggests that the technological mediation of knowledge in the production of authoritative objective truth is a fertile arena for “new school” speech regulation. As digital information products become increasingly uncontainable, effective censorship may nonetheless be possible by disrupting the tools and methods of analysis that produce meaning from widely available information. The culturally-sanctioned halo of objectivity that surrounds science and technology makes that sphere a likely site for the willful manipulation of consensus-based public truths, and hence encourages obstruction of access to knowledge in the most profound manner. Citizen engagement in, and response to, this form of censorship will depend on publics’ ability to scrutinize expert claims. Widespread open access to tools for producing information, like video editing equipment, and decentralized participation in the creation of information products, like videos, may enable resistance.
Keywords: Evidence, Video, Human Rights, Expert Testimony, Censorship, Access to Knowledge
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