Surveillance and Social Media

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

References

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

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Surveillance From Underneath

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In the digital era of smartphones, youtube, social media and blogging- a new type of reporting has emerged- “Citizen Journalism.” The potential for amateur reporters to publish their stories is greater than ever before and citizen journalism is changing the landscape of the media sphere and the journalism industry as we know it.

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Surveillance is more prominent in today’s society then ever before. With the internet, smartphone apps, location services, social media and CCTV cameras– to name a few- “big brother” really is watching. Whether the surveillance power of everyday citizens is utilised in a positive or negative context, the ability to publish a story into the public domain is literally the click of a few buttons away.

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The power of citizen journalism to be used as a watch-dog for the justice system has been demonstrated in recent years with cases of police brutality and corruption within the police force being exposed by surveilling citizens. As Bryce Clayton Newell discusses; “Citizens recording police, a form of action that has been coined ‘sousveillance’ (surveillance from underneath) or the ‘participatory panopticon’ has been become increasingly common in recent years” (Newell, 2014, p.59).

Citizen journalism can have an impact on the public’s perception of law enforcment and its legitimacy and can be used to hold police officers accountable for their misconduct. The subway shooting of Oscar Grant in San Francisco in 2009 is an example of this- bystanders recorded the shooting on their phones and the footage was released to media stations and youtube- which eventually led to the conviction of the police officer who carried out the shooting (Newell, 2014, p.61).

On the flip-side, modern surveillance technology is also allowing those in power- such as law enforcement- to have a greater ability to track and monitor members of the public. As Newell discusses- “In recent years, police officers and law enforcement agencies have been conducting increasingly sophisticated (and intensive) information gathering through visual and spacial surveillance of citizens and public spaces” (Newell, 2014, p.60). Greater use of surveillance may be viewed as a measure of protection for members of society, though as Kingsley Dennis discusses- it could also become an intrusion of privacy (Dennnis, 2008, p.351).

Citizen journalism or ‘smartphone journalism’ may be beneficial for exposing wrong doing within society (particularly with those abusing their power) through citizen vigilantism, though the ramifications for professional journalists could be dire. News corporations may have the option to publish breaking stories from members of the public at little or no cost, which leaves the role of the journalist redundant. Citizen journalists with little knowledge of journalistic ethical conduct have the potential to land themselves in hot water or breach privacy laws.

References

Dennis, K 2008, Keeping a close watch- the rise of self-surveillance and the threat of digital exposure, Sociological Review Vol.56 Issue 3, p.351

Newell, BC 2014, Crossing Lenses: policing’s new visibility and the role of “smartphone journalism” as a form of freedom- preserving reciprocal surveillance, Journal of Law Technology & Policy; Spring2014, Vol.2014 Issue 1, pp. 59-61