YouTube allows users to blur faces with new tool

Visual anonymity in video allows people to share personal footage more widely and to speak out

Popular social media website YouTube has unveiled a new face-blurring tool for users to obscure faces of people and protect identity of individuals, it said on its blog.

“As citizens continue to play a critical role in supplying news and human rights footage from around the world, YouTube is committed to creating even better tools to help them,” wrote YouTube policy associate Amanda Conway on the youtube-global blog hosted on

“According to the international human rights organization WITNESS’

Cameras Everywhere report, ‘No video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blur faces or protect identity,’” the blog went on to say.

“YouTube is excited to be among the first,” she wrote, adding that “Today [July 18], we’re launching face blurring – a new tool that allows you to obscure faces within videos with the click of a button.”

Once known just for it frivolous or filthy short-films uploaded by users, YouTube has become a potent force in serious news content and citizen journalism.

According to recent research conducted by Pew Research Centre, which analysed top five weekly videos in the ‘news and politics’ channel of YouTube for a 15-month period, a “symbiotic relationship has developed between citizens and news organisations on YouTube, a relationship that comes close to the continuous journalistic ‘dialogue’ many observers predicted would become the new journalism online.”

The Pew report added that “citizens are creating their own videos about news and posting them. They are also actively sharing news videos produced by journalism professionals. And news organisations are taking advantage of citizen content and incorporating it into their journalism. Consumers, in turn, seem to be embracing the interplay in what they watch and share, creating a new kind of television news.”

Its popularity and impact is exactly why YouTube says it needed a tool to help users protect their and others’ identities online. “Whether you want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved, or share the winning point in your 8-year-old’s basketball game without broadcasting the children’s faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube,” it said.

The blog post provided an image of demonstrations in Egypt as an example.

“Blurring faces on YouTube is simple. Once you’ve chosen the video that you’d like to edit within our Video Enhancements tool, go to Additional Features and click the “Apply” button below Blur All Faces,” it explained.

“Before you publish, you will see a preview of what your video will look like with faces blurred. When you save the changes to your video, a new copy is created with the blurred faces. You will then be given the option to delete the original video.”

YouTube claims that this is “emerging technology”, meaning that it still may have bugs or shortcomings that wouldn’t allow it to auto-detect faces in some cases, “depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality”. In case certain faces or frames fail to get blurred, YouTube suggests keeping the video private.

“Visual anonymity in video allows people to share personal footage more widely and to speak out when they otherwise may not,” Conway wrote.

“Because human rights footage, in particular, opens up new risks to the people posting videos and to those filmed, it’s important to keep in mind other ways to protect yourself and the people in your videos,”
she said.

“YouTube is proud to be a destination where people worldwide come to share their stories, including activists. Along with efforts like the Human Rights Channel and Citizentube that curate these voices, we hope that the new technologies we’re rolling out will facilitate the sharing of even more stories on our platform.”

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