The general arc of digital storytelling is to gather photos and videos, record the narration, edit the visual and audio elements together, and then share the completes digital stories with other people. In thinking about safety and digital storytelling, storytellers are encouraged to:

Thinking about safety before beginning

When it comes to safety, there are two main considerations a storyteller should think about before production begins:

Imagining the impact of the story. The storyteller has to try to foresee how the story will affect whoever sees it. In this way, they can anticipate negative responses to their story, as well as make plans to avoid potential threats from those who are negatively affected by their story. 

The Impact Field Guide has a guide to exploring a story environment for documentary films. In it, themes are categorised into four types: 

FRESH: an unknown issue to your target audience and little or weak opposition.
FAMILIAR: a known issue that still has little or weak opposition.
HIDDEN: an unknown issue (to your target audience) but with strong and organised oppositional forces may require your film to prove the case - to INVESTIGATE.
ENTRENCHED: a known issue (and so possible fatigue from target audience) with strong opposition to your story and campaign - often need to offer no more new facts or assertions but simply to HUMANISE the affected communities.

It is a good idea to have storytellers think about where their stories fall into these five types, and then start thinking about what does that mean in terms of their and their story´s safety.

Some questions for storytellers to ask themselves:

  • What are the positive consequences of my story? What are the negative consequences?
  • Will my story hurt someone or a group of people? In what way?
  • How will I feel about telling my story? Will it affect me and in what way?
  • Do I have someone to speak to if telling my story makes me re-live difficult events?
  • Will my story put the people in it at risk? How so?
  • What can the people who are negatively impacted by story do to express their opinions? Good to think about this from what they can do to the storyteller, the people in the story, and the story itself.


Sharing of the story: Location and people. Next, based on the previous considerations, the storyteller then can think about who they want to share their story to, and how. 

Generally, there are two ways that a digital story is distributed and shared. The most usual way to share digital stories is by uploading them on a commercial platform (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). Another way to distribute digital stories is through external storage devices (DVDs, USB sticks, external hard drives).


Safety considerations in uploading digital stories on commercial platforms

 The two main safety issues in sharing digital stories on commercial platforms are: the lack of control over the content and its ownership; and the lack of control over how the audience will react. 

This is further explored in Section 3: Safety and Online Videos


Safety considerations in sharing via physical devices

One of the biggest issues in sharing stories via physical devices is the potential for the device to be corrupted with either malware or just reach the limit of its capacity to function. It is important therefore to have multiple copies of the content being shared, and a main back-up of the final digital story.


Safety considerations in screening your digital story

Face-to-Face Screening

If the storyteller decides to hold a face-to-face screening of their digital story, the first area of decision-making is about how private or public they want the screening to be. In order to make that decision, storytellers need to think about the following:

  • What is the goal of screening this digital story? Is it to raise awareness of an issue? Is it to share personal experiences?
  • Is the story going to be offensive to the viewers? Does it cover issues that people will reject because it challenges what they know or believe in?
  • Will the story trigger memories in the viewers that might be difficult for them? Do you have support for these viewers from a self-care and psycho-social perspective?
  • If  the story will then challenge its viewers, has the storyteller taken sufficient steps to protect the people in their story to make them less identifiable and therefore, safe from repercussions?
  • What can the storyteller do to prepare for possible negative, adverse reaction from the audience?

If the storyteller feels that their stories are more controversial, will put people at risk, and / or put they themselves at risk, then they can consider doing a private screening among trusted communities instead of a public one, and to be doubly sure, have a pre-registration list vetted by people whom you trust.

The next level to think about in doing face-to-to-face screenings (both private ones and public ones) is who does the storyteller want to share their stories with. In making decisions about this, the storyteller needs to reflect on a few questions:

  • Who is this story for?
  • Who is this story not for?
  • How can I prepare the viewers of my story in managing how they will react to it?
  • What can I do to prepare if sharing my story with someone offends or hurts them? What can I do to manage my own expectations about sharing my story?
  • If the audience negatively reacts to my story, how can I prepare for that?
  • If the audience shows minimal reactions to my story (no one loves it or think it’s a well-told story), how will I react? Will that hurt me?
  • Do I need to be there as the storyteller? What risks does my presence bring me?