Video Activism and the Ambiguities of Counter-Surveillance

Dean Wilson, Tanya Serisier

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    71 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper examines the use of visual technologies by political activists in protest situations to monitor police conduct. Using interview data with Australian video activists, this paper seeks to understand the motivations, techniques and outcomes of video activism, and its relationship to counter-surveillance and police accountability. Our data also indicated that there have been significant transformations in the organization and deployment of counter-surveillance methods since 2000, when there were large-scale protests against the World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne accompanied by a coordinated campaign that sought to document police misconduct. The paper identifies and examines two inter-related aspects of this: the act of filming and the process of dissemination of this footage. It is noted that technological changes over the last decade have led to a proliferation of visual recording technologies, particularly mobile phone cameras, which have stimulated a corresponding proliferation of images. Analogous innovations in internet communications have stimulated a coterminous proliferation of potential outlets for images Video footage provides activists with a valuable tool for safety and publicity. Nevertheless, we argue, video activism can have unintended consequences, including exposure to legal risks and the amplification of official surveillance. Activists are also often unable to control the political effects of their footage or the purposes to which it is used. We conclude by assessing the impact that transformations in both protest organization and media technologies might have for counter-surveillance techniques based on visual surveillance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)166-180
    Number of pages15
    JournalSurveillance and Society
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • protest
    • policing
    • video
    • surveillance
    • counter-surveillance

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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