By Ron Mwangaguhunga
Welcome to the future of eyewitness media: breaking news is now being livestreamed via digital platforms without intermediaries, commercial interruptions or mediation from the old gatekeeping political and media Establishment. It would appear that we are at the zenith of some sort of convergence between VR and livestreaming technology as we head deep into the thick and twisty reeds of election season 2016. The traditional networks and politicians have been shunted out to the periphery. YouTube, the global video-sharing website, will livestream in 360 degrees the Republican National Convention, which starts on Monday, July 18 in Cleveland, as well as the Democratic National Convention, starting on July 25 in Philadelphia. Further, YouTube content creators like the Young Turks, Ingrid Nilsen and Julie Borowski will be broadcasting live video for the company's new app.
Even as YouTube content creators behave like traditional news anchors, new eyewitness media stars are responding to abuses of power with livestreaming. Facebook Live (as well as Periscope), first announced in 2015, came of age during the confrontations between protesters and the police this summer. Witness: Diamond Reynolds’ astonishing video of Philando Castile's death after a simple traffic stop, which served, in real time, to broadcast an isolated and devastating police interaction to millions of viewers without any intermediaries. Seconds after the video opens, the video opens with her boyfriend Castile’s bloodied body slumped in a seat. Philando Castile is dying as an authoritarian voice barks commands. Reynold's, with remarkable poise in a horrible nightmarish of a situation, puts the BlackLivesMatter protest into the starkest of perspective by responding to the officer with calm and poise. The ten minute video is thus far the sharpest expression of the BlackLivesMatter argument against police brutality.
This is not just an American phenomenon, this zenith of livestreaming, these new battle lines being drawn between old politics and new media. The Brexit Referendum was widely livestreamed. "At stake in Europe is a battle between established smart media and authorities on one hand and new social media on the other about who really controls the news narrative," is how Variety put it. The day after the coup attempt in Turkey in July, Kieran Healy blogged, "Last night, during the most caotic sequence of events, Erdoğan gave an interview via a video chat service on his iPhone, where he asserted the legitimacy of his government’s authority and called on the Turkish people to take to the streets against the coup." Healy concluded: "The picture of him talking via Facetime is already one of the iconic images of the night." The irony is that President Erdogan over the years has made Turkey one of the least press-friendly and least pro-social media countries on the planet, yet during the coup he found himself FaceTiming into interviews as his citizens livestreamed all over the country amid the chaos.
Could this be the final nail in the coffin of the reign of traditional media and their political gatekeepers and enablers around the world? Does the blogger transparency movement in Vietnam over government suppression of wastewater runoff information signal larger trends in the region? Will China be next to experience the disruption of eyewitness media? Here in the United States, Trump is fighting to keep his Trump University deposition videos under wraps. It is hard to imagine the scenario in which Donald Trump wins that fight in this present era of ultra-transparency, leaks, eyewitness media and social libertarianism.
Livestreaming became a mainstream phenomenon in 2014 after Ferguson. The shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer triggered days of protests and was livestreamed unmoderated and unmediated. "Live-streaming is different, however, in that it emotionally thrusts viewers into the moment of an event, providing a heightened sense of awareness as it unfolds," writes Lauren C. Williams in ThinkProgress. Viral video distribution through social media is changing the world and shaping public opinion.
The revolution, in short, will not be televised. It will be livestreamed by eyewitness media. In fact, it already is. Stay tuned.
Ron Mwangaguhunga is a Brooklyn based writer focused on media, culture and politics. His work has appeared in Huffington Post, IFC and Tribeca Film Festival, Kenneth Cole AWEARNESS, NY Magazine, Paper Magazine, CBS News.com, and National Review online to name a few. He is currently the editor of the Corsair.