Speaking without Listening: Limitations of the Online Distribution and Accessibility of Amateur Video
While mobile and amateur videos capture details and moments often unseen in
commercial media, very few of these videos reach large numbers of viewers.
Production is plentiful, yet distribution and consumption pose challenges to any political
potential they may have. Such potential is too often assumed to be a part of the
technology, itself, perceived under shortsighted prospects that a technology such as a
mobile camera-phone inherently enables an effective, meaningful form of
communication. Much of the discourse of mobile and amateur video is surrounded by
its assumed democratizing qualities, yet this conception of democratic media neglects
the roles of distribution and access in yielding greater political potential. YouTube and
other video sharing sites offer potential in enabling a multivocal collection of content, but
whether or not those voices are actually heard is a much more complicated matter.
Producing and uploading a video online does not mean it will necessarily be received by
another viewer. Much of the disconnect between producer and viewer occurs because
the organization of such content online does not necessarily offer easy access to the
uploaded videos. The accessibility of mobile and amateur video online points to some
of the broader constraints and limitations in the realization of their political potential.
This paper asserts that accessibility is a key function in the online distribution and
political potential of these videos. Limitations of accessibility will be explored in an
examination of online video distribution networks, a study of the organization of
searches and content at popular video sharing sites, and a case study of an amateur
videographer uploading footage from the Libyan Revolution.
Daniel Mauro is a doctoral student in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the
University of Texas at Austin. His current research focuses on histories of the
dissemination of amateur motion picture technologies. When not researching, he
makes his own films and videos with these technologies.