Cellphone Cameras: The government’s eye

It is critical to analyze the importance of media and technology considering the increasing amount of civil unrests, threats and occurrences of the erosion democracy in many parts of the world. In October 2014, I attended the One Young World Youth Summit in Dublin, Ireland, where I met hundreds of youth leaders from 190 different countries adamant for change. During the plenary session on Peace and Conflict, we were exposed to the not so riveting life of a young female delegate who shared what it was like growing up in North Korea and her eventual escape. As cliché as it may sound ‘there was not a dry eye in the audience.’ North Korea- as termed by scholars- is indisputably the most media repressed country in the world. Even more powerful for me than the actual occurrence of such oppressive actions is one provocative question. Why do governments fear media and technology?

Cellphone cameras and social media allowed the world to find out about the uprisings in Africa and the Middle East. The advent of the cell phone camera has drastically affected what we once defined as democracy. The ordinary citizen through a cellphone camera now holds the power to reveal unjust practices by a government or otherwise -ultimately, this power is problematic. The idea that anyone who owns a cellphone with a camera can document and share virtually anything scares and threatens any government. No longer is the media the ideal and sole storyteller. Ideally, with most cellphones its users are able to shoot pictures and videos discretely and indiscriminately with very few illicit actions- and herein lies the problem. This seemingly harmless device creates a cause for concern to any government because of its indiscriminate nature and the numerous ways that files can be shared and uploaded. The cellphone camera represents a freedom that was once reserved for those who possessed the means to acquire such a device. In many cases, the masses have the freedom to shoot, upload and share any action they deem worth sharing without fear of repercussion. In Manama, Bahrain, cellphone technology was used to capture the use of excessive force by security forces on protesters in Pearl Square. What has changed virtually is not perhaps the message but rather the deliverer. Before cameras were built into cellular phones information about unjust practices around the world were limited.

Democratization of the media means more than access to view the media. Traditional media consumers are now able to produce content and move away from the customary receptacle nature of viewing and listening. Recognizing how powerful the media is, particularly the internet, governments such as China have tried to restrict the use of it. Democratizing the media means more than being able to log on to Facebook and view pictures. It means that wherever injustice exists the world is privy to it.

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