The rise of social media in the digital sphere has created intense interconnectedness throughout societies- both nationally and internationally. Social media is greatly adding to globalization, which is having both positive and negative effects worldwide. In an era of digital surveillance, the potential for individuals or institutions to gather personal information from members of the public through social media is a very real one.
As Daniel Trottier discusses, sites such as Facebook are a platform for the convergence of institutions, corporations, individuals and the authorities- such as law enforcement (Trottier, 2012, p.1). This convergence of information may be beneficial on some levels e.g. for assisting police in solving crime, though it also has the potential for a multitude of complications and privacy breaches.
Many people willingly supply personal information onto social media sites- such as phone numbers, workplaces, residential areas and personal photographs. Although re-laying this data may be perfectly harmless for thousands, it still opens the possibility for stalking, identity theft and gives corporations and governments access to personal information which they may use for their benefit and which may infringe on privacy.
Trottier considers the concept that Facebook is not only a digital space, but a “digital dwelling” (Trottier, 2012, p.2). This notion considers the idea that online social convergence is a world in itself and the information people share in this digital world can make certain parts of our lives visible to other parts of our lives- i.e. there may be a crossover between professional and personal life which may affect one’s privacy. An individual’s employer has the potential to look at or ‘spy’ on an employee’s personal interactions/behaviour through what they post on social media.
Advertising corporations are able to build a consumer profile on individuals based on their google searches. Facebook allows these corporations to advertise their ‘personalised’ products to its users- some may view this as an invasion of privacy and a level of surveillance that is purely for corporate gain and capitalism.
On a personal level, social media sites such as Facebook, give people access to information and a general peek into someone’s personal life that they would not otherwise have access to.This can create huge problems for personal relationships, particularly if a relationship has ended and one can ‘stalk’ or ‘spy’ on an ex (unless of course the ‘Blocking’ function is used). E.J Westlake raises the point that social media sites may encourage internet predators to to gain information on potential victims, thus posing a massive privacy risk (Westlake, 2008, p.32).
Westlake also discusses the idea that Facebook may be used as a tool for government surveillance. Governments can create profiles and data bases of information, that ironically, have been willingly provided by users (Westlake, 2008, p.34). In an era where governments (particularly western) are concerned with the threat of terrorism- individuals may need to carefully consider how they conduct themselves and what they say on social media- as governments may take certain information as a terrorism threat (which may or may not be harmless).
Trottier, D, 2012, Social Media as Surveillance; Rethinking Visibility in a Converging World, Routledge pp. 1-2
Westlake, E.J., 2008, Friend Me if You Facebook, Generation Y and Performative Surveillance, TDR: The Drama Review Vol. 52 Issue 4, pp.32-34