The Authenticity of the Event

On the Testimony of Web Videos

Sascha Simons

During recent years web videos have established a global bottom-up aesthetic of resistance. Be it the Green Revolution in Teheran, the various American and European Occupy Movements, or the Arab Spring and its aftermath: The omnipresent lenses of handheld cameras and smartphones amplify the visibility of political controversies and give the former unheard and unseen a voice and a face.

By challenging established relationships of those seeing and those being seen, these artefacts of “sousveillance” (Steve Mann) provide new shapes for the old believe in social change fostered by media. But the raw aesthetics of the footage also triggers an even older cultural desire for immediacy and implies the promise of an authentic expression and experience that traditional news coverage fails to grasp.
These “poor images” (Hito Steyerl) thereby make visible interfering social and media dynamics that coincide in the form of “critical events” (Pierre Bourdieu) – ready to be promoted by marketing buzzwords like YouTube-, Twitter- and Facebook-revolution.

Often serving as exclusive documents, web videos build up an alternative form of social testimony undermining the conventions of mass media authentication as well as the constitutive distinction between offender, victim and witness. With web videos we become witnesses through the eyes of victims, who also might be offenders. What we need is a witness for the witness.

The study asks how our perception of media testimony and media events change in the digital media environment of the “web video sphere” (Andreas Treske). It therefore reconstructs the shift from (innovative and aesthetic) authenticity to (re-established and institutional) authentication that has taken place since 2009. It thereby tells the story of a technologically altered “distribution of the sensible” (Jacques Rancière) together with its social resonances and political implications in and for digital cultures.