Mobil-Eyes Us app and project workflow
By Adriano Belisário and Eric French
Mobil-Eyes Us is a project of the WITNESS and the WITNESS Media Lab to explore potential new approaches to livestream storytelling for action. We look at technologies, tactics and storytelling strategies to use live video to connect viewers to frontline experiences of human rights issues they care about, so they become ‘distant witnesses’ who will take meaningful actions to support frontline activists.  We have developed a series of storytelling experiments, in collaboration with favela-based human rights activists in Rio de Janeiro, which has lead to an app.
This app, Mobil-Eyes Us (which is in its alpha stages), enables an activist group to curate a series of eyewitness Facebook livestreams and push these to the relevant people in their network to watch and take individual or collective action. They would be able to rapidly share a stream so more people are present and witness an incident,  help translate, provide guidance or give context.These blog posts are part of our exploration of effective new approaches to livestreaming storytelling, the technologies that can support this and how both can be linked to effective ‘distant witness’ action around livestreamings as part of the Mobil-Eyes Us project at WITNESS.

Mobil-Eyes Us (MEU) is a project exploring co-presence in live video streamings to enable enhanced cooperation between frontline human right activists broadcasting relevant content and distant witnesses that could support their work.

Since we started our pilots in 2016 working with frontline activists in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we’ve been developing an app and strategies to involve human right defenders and organizations. As part of this process we created a schematic workflow to guide the work. In this post, we’re going to share our approaches to a couple of key challenges and documentation about the workflow we developed.

The idea of the MEU app is to provide a dedicated environment to engage distant witnesses in transmissions made by activists. To make it easier for frontline activists to reach distant supporters when they need them, we developed three ways to ingest live streamings from Facebook into the MEU app.

Front page of the beta version of the MEU app
Challenges – how to get the right live-streams on an issue into the app?

First, we created a list of pages/partners to follow and then started to track their content looking for specifics hashtags. So once they started a streaming using that given hashtag, the system automatically ingests it in the app and sends a push notification to supporters who have the app installed on their phones.

But since the urgency of certain situations means that sometimes people to remember to use a hashtag, the MEU staff also can ingest transmissions manually, using a WordPress system connected to the app.

The final way to trigger a stream through MEU is using a specific page. For the purposes of the pilots, we used a page called it the Witness Live Router, which is also connected to the app. In all cases, once a stream goes through the app, distant witnesses registered will receive a push notification that a live stream is underway.

Use of action-tags on suggested actions

We also created action-tags to use when the stream is in progress and to call out ways for distant witnesses or the audience in general (if in an platform like Facebook) to participate. We choose to use “^” instead of “#” to indicate this tags. These action-tags are already pre-set in the contextualizing and messaging functionalities of the MEU app to streamline the workflow for frontline witness and remote supporters.

When using the MEU app/platform, a frontline witness can send alerts and connect directly with the distant witnesses and indicate what actions should be prioritized at a given moment. The action-tags can can serve as a guide that explains what the co-presence process involves.

Joining opportunities to better understand local context and human rights struggles
Joining opportunities for solidarity or celebration with frontline communities. This is part of the arc of moments of building attention or celebrating victory
Sharing a livestream rapidly to build attention around it. This is the option to use to ask and encourage people to directly share the livestream to build rapid visibility. On Periscope and Facebook this would be done via a ‘Share’
Joining a watching audience that is being made visible (for example, via an onsite visual counter) to exert pressure. This is designed to be the option to use for example with the a public projection or a physical representation of viewers on site (we experimented with a WitnessWithUs approach representing numbers of people watching visibly on a tablet)
Joining a livestream as an individual to help explain to other viewers the context of what is happening. This is designed to route to people who can provide important context on situation/history and what is happening within the comments of a livestream
Joining a livestream as an individual to translate from Portuguese to English. This is designed to route to people who can do translation (summary) within the comments of a livestream. In the context of the pilot we will also test this function via direct scheduling of possible translators
Joining a livestream as an individual to provide legal guidance . This is designed to route to people who can provide legal advice into a private one-to-one conversation with a streamer or delegated person
Action-tags used during a broadcast in Periscope

During almost three years cultivating live streaming practices, mainly in Brazil and United States, our team experimented with methodologies to engage remote audiences to actively participate in these broadcasts. Of course, each transmission in unique and requires a different approach, but here’s our general workflow to prepare ourselves (and yourselves!) before starting a broadcast and also some tips to keep in mind during transmission.


The work start before the streaming itself. So in order to prepare yourself to the transmissions, take these points in consideration:

Choose the platform you’re going to use and create a Facebook Event, if it fits in your needs.

Agree on advance action tags and communication channels with the frontline activist and those who are helping with the transmission. Discuss how to verbally explain action tags or requests while streaming and contact specialists requested to participate. Confirm a delegated commenter who will join the stream and add action tags while broadcast is happening.

Set up a safe place set up beforehand (hard drive or cloud) where people can regularly offload content saved on their devices. (See more archiving approaches)

Agree on additional publicity plans, like sharing the post about the live streaming via social media, creating events via Facebook Events to engage people beforehand or sending press releases to mainstream media.

Check your equipment, including charge/battery and mobile phones.

Prepare a good title under 140 characters.

Plan out how you will explain the project and why you are filming so are able to easily say it during the stream.


Depending on the situation and needs on the ground, if possible communicate directly with the frontline witness if you need to adjust plans. If not, use your judgement to indicate required actions at the moment according to the discussed goals of the stream. Either way, highlight tasks that are a priority if there is an information/knowledge gap (not enough understanding of a local perspective, for example) or if a particular task needs to be repeated so there is more volume and thus a wider range and richer set of responses.

Early and often explain what is happening since people will take a while to join the stream and will join mid-stream. Say where is the filming taking place, and what is the immediate and bigger context.

Ask viewers to take action and to directly participate in supporting frontline communities by experiencing their realities and then helping take action alongside them to make situations more visible, provide protection or take other actions that directly support them – ‘e.g. We’re trying to make this stream as visible as possible – you may see an action tag in the comments. We’re asking people to ‘Make this stream more visible’ by sharing as a link on relevant social media.

Respond verbally or have a delegated commenter or distant allies respond to questions that are on topic. Note that on Periscope two people can be logged on to same account. So someone can comment under same name as streamer.

If you need to start a new streaming, context commenter can make a summary of what happened in the previous broadcast (in the app itself, this can be done by copying/linking to specific submitted context from previous streams).


The work start before the streaming itself. So in order to prepare yourself to the transmissions, take these points in consideration:

Archive your video (check our guide).

Debrief on what worked from streaming point-of-view and action. Answer questions such as:

    • Were some of the distant witnesses confused when carrying out tasks?
    • Were there any significant reactions or insights from people’s participation? Why do you think that was the case?
    • How can we replicate the things that went well and improve upon the ones that were challenging?
    • What did frontline witnesses feel about the experience? How do they think it can be better? Why? Did it meet their goals and expectations?
    • What would be next potential step in an arc of storytelling via livestreams and recorded video that would sustain and build distant witnesses’ interest?

Share some of the frontline witness feedback to distant witnesses so they understand how their actions helped.

List out streams and # of viewers, level of engagement to create a short report to send out to both frontline and distant witness so to show the impact of what they are doing and continue motivate their involvement in the project.

Identify tech (if relevant) and workflow issues and track them using a project management system like Github or Trello to tackle these challenges in order to improve your process.

Engage distant witnesses with other opportunities to participate even once the stream is done:

    • Is there more need for translation or context? Send them a notification to help out fill in the gaps.
    • Are some of the distant witnesses journalists or storytellers? Get some of them to help you weave the streams into a more cohesive narrative arc that frontline witnesses can use for their own advocacy purposes and messaging.

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