About this learning activity & Mechanics (1)


This is a tactical activity for activists intending to use their mobile phones to document violence. Participants will practice doing a safety assessment and making a documentation plan. Participants will then work hands-on with their mobile phones to practice documenting using their apps and tools of choice.

Care note: Facilitators, this is a long activity and may take most of a day. Be sure to take breaks as you go through this. Acknowledge that the act of documenting is stressful and encourage your participants to share exercises that they find helpful when they are documenting for example breathing and motion exercises.

This activity has 2 parts:

Part 1: Assess and Plan

Participants will first plan their work, assessing safety issues and the wellbeing of those involved and will make safety plans and decisions about managing mobile phones and media based on this assessment.

Part 2: Setup and Practice

Following this, participants will practice tactics for documenting violence using mobile phones.

We recommend also using the Deepening discussion about mobiles for documenting violence and tactical Back it up, lock it, delete it.

Learning objectives this activity responds to

  • shared and practiced strategies and tactics for mobile safety to manage the impacts of our mobile communications on ourselves, our colleagues, our movements

Who is this activity for?

Groups who are currently or considering using mobiles to document violence.

Time required

This activity will require about 1 hour 45 min.

Resources needed for this activity

  • Printed or linked case studies


Introduction - 5min

Share some recent examples of movements using mobiles to document violence and ask participants to share examples of how they are using mobiles to document violence or to share documentation. Examples may include: documenting state violence, forwarding videos of violent acts, the implications of having possession of this kind of media.

Part 1: Assess and Plan – 30min

Facilitate participants to make small groups based on common situations in which they are documenting violence.

Care note: Facilitators, encourage participants to assess and plan for their own care needs. Documenting acts of violence can be activating and stressful for the documenters. Encourage participants to share how they are self-resourcing, how they are working with other activists to address the impacts of documenting.

see also Back it up, lock it, delete it

Purpose and Planning: Discuss the purpose of the documentation

  • What are you documenting and why?
  • What is the situation?
  • What is the purpose of your documentation? If it is to be used as evidence, plan for evidentiary requirements. For more information, see WITNESS' Video as Evidence resources: https://vae.witness.org/video-as-evidence-field-guide/

Assessing Risks and Taking care: Discuss known and likely safety issues for the people documenting and being documented

  • What are likely safety issues you will experience during this work? Are you likely to encounter police or antagonists?
  • What about your context might change in ways that will impact your safety and how will you plan for this? Discuss some likely scenarios. Examples might include police and other antagonists becoming more aggressive or violent. Responses might include continuing to document, increasing frequency of safety check-ins among your team, stopping the process of documenting.
  • Who will be participating in the documentation (filming, support, communications, etc) and what support do they have and need?
  • What do you know about safety issues – does anyone in our group feel more or less safe participating based on the content or the context of this documentation? What roles are they comfortable taking?
  • What strategies will you and your allies have in place to keep yourselves safe during the documentation?
  • What role does consent play in this documentation? Will you seek the consent of those you document and how will they consent to being filmed or documented? Will you seek the consent of those you document regarding sharing of that footage and documentation later?
  • What are safety issues related to you possessing this footage? What are safety issues for people who appear in the footage? How will you take care of the footage once it is shot and is stored on your device, on secondary storage? Consider where you will store it, who has access, if storage is encrypted, when you will delete.
  • How might you be impacted by documenting violence? What resources do you need as an individual to be well and grounded while doing this work? What resources could others provide? How will you and your team support each other in your individual resourcing needs and what can you do together to support each other?

Know your rights

  • Where you are, what are your rights around documentation?
  • How do these relate to the context of your documentation? Example questions you might ask - is it legal to film police, is public assembly legal?
  • Are police allowed to search your devices?
  • Do police search your devices or force people to delete media?

Preparing your device

  • Are you using your personal mobile?
  • What files will you delete from your phone? Why?
  • What applications will you install or uninstall? Why?
  • Location services: Is it safer for you to have location and tracking on or off? Do you have colleagues who should be able to follow your location?
  • Do you want to activate remote wipe / deletion in case you lose access to your device?

Discussion: Why or why not, do you use your personal mobile for documenting violence?

Input: Use information from What is a phone? to explain how mobile phones are linked to the people using them, how identification works with real-time surveillance, how metadata about phone usage and media EXIF data can be used to identify you.


  • Make a plan to come together to debrief. How did things go? What unexpected things occurred and how did your group respond? What still needs response? How are people feeling and who will participate in the next steps?
  • Sharing – review your agreements about consent and sharing. Be sure to share these agreements with anyone else you will be working with to share the footage.

Discussion: What else do you want to do after documenting?

Continue to activity's next page (Mechanics (2) & Additional Resources)