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The Struggle to Put Libyan Video on YouTube


If you've ever doubted the disruptive power of online video, consider this: Libyan border guards have started to frisk people leaving the country for recording equipment, "systematically destroying cell phone SIM and memory cards" that might contain videos and photos of violent clashes in the country, according to CNN's (TWX) Nick Robertson, reporting the crisis from Libya's border with Tunisia.

Libya began blocking access to YouTube (GOOG) as soon as the protests started last week. Access has since been spotty at best. Google's Transparency Tool clearly shows traffic dropping after Feb.16, the day the uprising commenced in the eastern part of the country.

Many videos documenting the violence in Libya nonetheless find their way to YouTube. A Google spokesperson said on Tuesday that more than 9500 videos tagged "Libya" have been uploaded to the video site in the week since the beginning of the revolt, including this compilation video.

YouTube has been experimenting with the news curation startup Storyful to make sense of these videos and to highlight some of the submissions as part of its Citizentube project. Storyful Editorial Director David Clinch tells me that much of the video has been uploaded with the help of Libyan expatriates. "Most are mirrored," he says. Libyans occasionally have access to such services as Facebook and Twitvid; volunteers immediately take clips from those services and upload them to YouTube.

Video: the People's New Weapon

Libyans seem to be aware that online video is playing a big role in telling their side of the story and they're going to great lengths to circumvent the government's media blackout. "They are all pushing the videos out so the world can see them," Clinch told me, adding that some clips are even "physically crossing borders." Footage makes it out of the country in the luggage of refugees, despite security checks such as those reported by Robertson.

Time Magazine even reported about organized sneaker-nets this week. It quoted one opposition member saying: "We sent my brother and his friend to Marsa Matruh [in Egypt] to use the Internet. I went to Egypt every day to give him a flash disk full of media from Tobruk, al-Baida, Benghazi. They were videos from mobiles. Not just mine. We made copies, went to the Egyptian border at Salloum and gave it to someone there…."

Storyful is using contacts within Libya, as well as expats, to vet and put into context footage coming out of the country. The process can be complicated by the fact that some of the footage appears online without any metadata whatsoever. Still, Clinch says he has "a very high degree of confidence" in the videos curated by his company. CNN, Al Jazeera, and others have been using the very footage that first showed up on YouTube to report on Libya, and Clinch says that in a few years, YouTube may be a prime source to learn how Libya's uprising began.

Related content on NewTeeVee: 12 Ways to Watch Al-Jazeera English

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Roettgers is a writer for the GigaOm Network.

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