Attn: World Phenomenon Explained in Under A Minute: A Video Critique

Besides simply sharing video clips from television, or other news programming, there is a growing trend of videos produced specifically for Facebook, for sharing, for catching your attention before you scroll to that ever-present cat supercut video right beneath it. Many of these videos attempt to explain a complex political newsworthy topic, in under 2 minutes.

Perhaps the most widespread of these, with over 2 million followers on Facebook is ATTN, an “issue-driven media company” with a “mission to deliver engaging content to a mobile-first audience,” which is equally used for large political events, debates/explaining the crisis in Puerto Rico, as  events and scientific innovations or a new hashtag raising awareness about body hair .

In this video, they use Donald Trump’s recently leaked comments about groping women to illustrate a larger issue with sexual harrassment in the country.

In a lot of ways, these videos work simply: they harness videos and photos already uploaded to the internet,  adding bouncing music and text over the top. The video begins with news footage of Donald Trump saying, “This is nothing more than a distraction,” before cutting to a variety of footage of women being harassed, and fighting back against their harassers in public.  As we see a woman walking away from a man down a street, from an older viral video, the simple white text informs us of statistics of harassment, before jumping to illustrative videos, several on subways. The text is clear, blunt, and always takes a black-and-white moral position.

Even though the qualities of footage pulled varies greatly–the quick cuts manages to work it relatively effectively.In fact, even the low-quality film works to ATTN’s advantage in this video. For example, much of the footage was obviously shot on cell phone, obvious both by the low video quality, and the vertical positioning–filled in on the sides with a blurred still to fill the frame. Some of the footage winds up pointing at the ground, away from the action, recording only the sound. However, these cell phone videos act as witness, as reality, as a way to show the intimate and unscripted–to illustrate the extent to which sexual harassment is an issue. These found videos do the job much more compellingly than a high definition recreation or scripted video would.

So, while production value isn’t phenomenal–the video gets the point across, both viscerally from the footage, and blatantly with the scrolling message on screen, calling you to action–and in 40 seconds, nonetheless. Each video, this one included, ends with “Share this video if you think ____”–an apparently effective call if you consider the video has been viewed 6,779, 703 times as of the moment I write this.

However, we have to think about effectiveness on another level: Was it successful in the long run–will this actually bring about action, or just noble Facebook attention raising? Do we run a risk of simple sharing activism, hashtag activism, rather than pushing for actual change? We’ve been critiquing traditional news media for fragmenting complex news narratives into sound bites–does this not do the same thing in trying to reduce a complex social issue into a share-able 40 second clip? The same issue occurs with the message from the text–while it makes a strong call about a problem, do we lose the complexity & history & context of an issue in the call to moral indignation?

I can’t speak answers to all these questions, but my media studies background insists that as these videos proliferate as a media form and as a way of consuming and understanding current events, we must ask them.




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