They’re not just for war or Amazon deliveries. As civilian drones become ever more affordable, people around the world are using them to highlight problems in their communities – problems that are sometimes best understood when filmed from above.
Attendance at protests is always hard to verify: oftentimes, organisers say one number, and the police say a much lower number. But you can get a pretty good idea of a protest’s magnitude from a bird’s eye view. Both professional journalists and regular citizens have used drones to film the latest mass anti-government protests in Bangkok:
One Turkish citizen journalist named Cenk Kose recorded some of the most striking images from Turkey’s protests last June thanks to a camera mounted on a small drone. In this video, he captures the police clearing Taksim square:
Some citizens have used drones to film the scale of destruction caused by disasters, such as this fire at a school in the United Kingdom in September, captured by Lancashire resident Lawrence Cliff:
Or this wildfire in Lithgow, Australia, in October:
A word of caution: this is not always appreciated by the authorities. Australia’s Rural Fire Service warned that unapproved drones could hamper its helicopters’ firefighting efforts.
It’s best to wait until the danger has passed before using a done to film the damage, like prolific citizen journalist Tim Pool in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in New York (the wind somewhat hampered his efforts to get his drone high enough):
Drones are also useful for filming disaster zones where it’s dangerous to tread. A man named Luca Radici used his drone to film a landslide near the Italian village of Boschetto last April:
3. Alleged animal cruelty
Animal rights activists are increasingly using drones to get into places they normally wouldn’t be welcome – for example, a pigeon shooting club. Activists from the group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) have repeatedly flown drones over one of these clubs in Pennsylvania. While shooting pigeons is legal there, they were able to get the club in trouble by filming them burning dead pigeons in tyres, which release toxic fumes and goes against the state’s laws.
Filming people who shoot guns for fun, however, is not without risks. SHARK activists say their drones have been shot at four times.
While environmental protection agencies are increasingly using drones to spot pollution, citizen drone enthusiasts are catching polluters, too. One man in Texas recently used his drone to take photographs of a blood-red river near Dallas. Concerned, he passed them on to the local authorities, who investigated and found that a local meat packing factory was dumping pig blood into the river.
Next up: filming war?
The United Nations announced earlier this week that it will be using drones to monitor the volatile situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violent militias run rampant. “Such high-technology systems allow a better knowledge of what is happening on the ground, which allows [our peacekeeping] force to better do its job”, said Hervé Ladsous, the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations. Granted, civilians living in war-torn areas usually do not have the means to buy drones, but as the technology becomes cheaper and more widely available, it may be only a matter of time before regular people use them to denounce the ravages of war.
If you have other examples or ideas on how civilian drones could be used for citizen journalism, share them in the comments section below!