Date of Award


Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Program


Michael J. Socolow

Second Committee Member

Paul Grosswiler

Third Committee Member

Howard P. Segal


Video captured by increasingly ubiquitous civilian cameras and communicated to a mass audience over the Internet is capable of bypassing police jurisdictional influence over traditional mass media and may be affecting police-civilian interactions in American public space as the initial cusp of a paradigm shift. Historically, the ability to visually record activities in public space was reserved to those with the resources and the motivation to devote to the task. Police and traditional mass media wielded power through cameras, power often not available to the public. Today, police often find their cameras outnumbered by those under autonomous citizen control. An inexpensive cell phone can instantly publish user-generated video to Internet servers available to a world audience and beyond local police jurisdiction. Police leverage on local media outlets appears insufficient to suppress imagery. Police-civilian public space interactions are often among the lowest level, highest stakes interactions in the United States. Police powers are restricted by systems which often depend on police cooperation. One organizational behavior pattern is that police will sometimes lie to protect themselves and other police, including perjury, making false reports, and destroying or denying the existence of video evidence of police misconduct. Technological developments underlying these problems are likely to continue along current paths. The stated issues have significant implications for the continued exercise of First Amendment rights in photographing public space, for Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure and arrest without probable cause, and for police accountability. The research question is, What is the outcome of user-generated online video on police-civilian interactions in American public space? This descriptive multiple-case study based on document analysis of publicly available documents examined 14 police-civilian interactions in American public space between 2005-2010 for the influence (if any) of user-generated online video on their outcomes. Based on cross-case analysis of 38 variables of interest, generalizing to theory indicates that user-generated online video can improve accountability in police-civilian interactions. Several robust theories are proposed, and numerous opportunities for future research are delineated.


Interdisciplinary in Mass Communication and History