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Immersive Witnessing: From Empathy and Outrage to Action

Video and Co-Presence


We are in the moment of an explosion of opportunity and hype around the possibilities of the ‘wildfire’ of immersive media – the ‘empathy machines’ of virtual reality and the breathless urgency of personal live-streaming video via Facebook and Periscope.

There has been a wave of recent virtual reality experiences that take human rights issues and immerse audiences in experiences of being there. These include projects like Clouds over Sidra and other UN-affiliated media on human rights and humanitarian crises, as well as mainstream human rights journalism like the New York Times’ The Displaced and advocacy journalism like the Guardian’s exploration of solitary confinement in the 6×9 project. They also include immersive animation capturing refugee journeys like We Wait from BBC and Aardman Animations and Nonny De La Pena’s work with computer graphic generated simulations based on real footage and audio that includes Project Syria and a range of other topics.

Until recently less discussed – perhaps because of their ephemeral, more marginalized and more unpolished nature –  is a growing wave of live media-making that places us with protagonists at the heart of crisis, from the #NoBillNoBreak  broadcasting of US Congressional Representatives, to eyewitnesses to an attempted coup in Turkey, to Paul Ronzheimer’s broadcasts of refugees traveling to Europe to, of course, Diamond Reynolds’ heartbreaking live documentation of the aftermath of the shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile. It’s innovation sparked by the growth and availability of Facebook Live, Periscope and other platforms and feeding into contemporary social justice struggles at an individual or group level.

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