Uploaded videos on a popular Web site turned viral for two female students.
YouTube, the video sharing Web site that allows users to upload and share personal videos with the 14 million registered users worldwide has been under recent media scrutiny for its copyright violations, but the Web site constantly battles with the subject of safety and user privacy.
With the click of a mouse, a user can upload their every move onto the Web for the entire world to see in 14 different languages and in over 23 different countries. Once uploaded, the video becomes open real estate to anyone with Internet access, and privacy ends there.
“YouTube is an entertainment outlet – whether it’s through sharing your own personal videos or through viewing other people’s – there is fun to be had,” Madison Phillips, TJC freshman said. “If people value privacy, why post videos of themselves for half the world to see? Besides, no harm comes from innocent videos intended for amusement.”
However, Madison found that those amusing videos could lead to criminal charges when she and her best friend posted a seven-minute video of a classmate’s graduation party in May 2009. The video showed a room full of partygoers consuming alcoholic beverages and smoking, and the clip also involved a girl in the background undressing all while Phillips narrated.
“The video was a joke, a reminder at the most of how much fun me and my fellow classmates had after high school graduation,” Phillips said. “Just your typical high school party video.”
Unfortunately, this typical video involved illegal alcohol consumption by minors and was reported to the online review board.
“Our video got hundreds of hits within weeks of posting it. We told everyone we knew to check it out, then they told people and the cycle continued,” Phillips said. “As far as we knew, everyone loved it.”
The video eventually got the attention of parents of some of the students participating in the video, one of which red-flagged the video to the review board. The online review board has state offices that work with local police departments and their cyber units. This unit’s sole purpose is to combat cyber crimes like child pornography, online harassment and online identity theft. The local cyber unit found that eight of the 12 students shown in the video, including Phillips, ranged from the ages 15 to 18 and were all involved in underage drinking. The students shown in the video were identified and given tickets for $170 dollars each and community service assignments. Phillips had another charge to answer for: the girl in the background seen undressing in public was 15.
Once Phillips uploaded the video online, it became available for all to see and she was being questioned about soliciting child pornography.
“How could I be accused of posting child pornography when I was a child myself? I posted the video in all its contents without regarding the girl in the background, it was more about my friends in the foreground,” Phillips said.
The charges were later dropped but the ‘what if’ still haunts Phillips.
“I never would have imagined that a video I posted could cause such a stir and have such a negative effect on my life. If I did, I wouldn’t have ever posted it,” Phillips said.
However, not everyone who uploads a video is the accused of a crime. Some are victims themselves.
Kristina Espinoza became a victim of online harassment when she posted an innocent video on YouTube of her receiving an acceptance letter into college. Kristina produced biweekly videos on her channel showing her everyday experiences and managed to pick up quite a following.
“I made a video of everyday tasks and put a background track to them as just something to do,” Espinoza said. “I liked reading the comments people left me about each video and just the idea that someone was watching them.”
Regrettably, someone was watching Espinoza’s every move. Espinoza’s video showing her receive her acceptance letter was posted and it showed her holding up the envelope to the camera with her address visible.
“I was just so excited, I just wished to share it with the world,” Espinoza said. “I didn’t realize I shared my current address with them in the process.”
Espinoza had been receiving comments from one particular fan that seemed to enjoy her videos far too much and when her address was made public, that fan showed up at her doorstep.
“I was freaked out. Here was this older man at my doorstep talking about how he loves and watches my videos daily and how he drove all the way here to meet me,” Espinoza said. “I posted videos for strangers and here was this stranger at my door wanting to interact with me. I was scared for my life.”
Espinoza’s visitor was arrested and told to stay 50 feet from Espinoza at all times. Espinoza’s and Phillips’ videos were both taken down, and Phillips’ YouTube account was suspended for a year.
“My account was taken down and I was relieved, my life was my life again,” Espinoza said.
However, sometimes just suspending the accounts or taking down the video doesn’t fix the problem.
“Cyber crimes are a daily problem that young adults constantly face, whether it’s online harassment, online bullying, soliciting pornographic images, and Internet theft, students tend to be the most involved,” Max Lerner, Longview Police Department cyber unit officer said. “Once videos and images are placed on the Web, they’re public domain and the problems that come with them never truly go away…so consider that next time you post.”