The Ministry of Truth – Miniature, in Newspeak – was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Excerpt from George Orwell’s “1984 (fact is stranger than fiction they say, my own remark).
A look at Social media and Surveillance from a Political view
The overall surveillance
Surveillance is a systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of data, and these activities can be seen roughly as either political, commercial, or scientifically justified. Whether your standpoint is that this means something negative or positive, different players harvest information about our behavior and the digital traces we leave behind using social media.
While social networks can be used as means to express political views and to achieve different political agendas, SNS’s are also described as being: “invading privacy by constant surveillance monitoring the users for commercial purposes” .
According to Fuchs (2011), state institutions and companies are the dominant actors in Internet and web 2.0 surveillance, and Fuchs also remind us about the fact that social media platforms such as Facebook are storing, processing and selling large amount of personal data .
When thinking about surveillance, NSA comes into mind. We have read about how the NSA uses the American mass surveillance program Prism to collect information in a way that sets aside privacy and written laws.
Other countries and their corresponding authorities such as Sweden’s FRA and Britain’s GCHQ are also tapping into vast amount of personal information from Internet and social media without our knowledge or insight in what or how that information is processed, analyzed and used at present nor will be in the future.
This aspect of surveillance is much more subtle. The idea is to gather information that is implicitly provided by the users of social media. Facebook can stand as a good example. With its me-centric aspect, Facebook offers a social and cultural experience. People share information that is very rich in information due to the relations and personalization that the users build over time. Together with automated updates and recommendations, this opens up for new forms of surveillance and control . It is also possible to use this form of surveillance in a way that is not articulated to the targeted group. One example that is given is the political Facebook applications used by the (at the time) presidential candidate Barack Obama. The campaign Facebook application was used for spreading his political message, but at the same time it also collected information such as the users’ friends, likes, demographic profile etc. .
Surveillance can be a hidden mass collection instrument where users of social media, constantly and collectively are tapped for information using programs as PRISM. In addition, the surveillance can be targeted towards different groups, for instance when implicit information about for example relations and behavior is retrieved without users knowing. The surveillance can be hidden in ways so that we in reality don’t know when, and in witch context the information is collected, and also what type of information that is collected, as in the case with the political Facebook application. It’s frightening to conclude that we cannot be certain about who’s collecting, who will use it, or for what purpose.
When George Orwell wrote the novel “1984” it was a protest against Stalin’s version of Big Brother, and some say that he simply reversed the year 1948 in order to get the book title. We have passed that date long ago but I can’t help wondering where we will be in 2031…
1. Langlois, G., Elmer, G., Mckelvey, F., Devereaux, Z., (2009). Networked Publics : The Double Articulation of Code and Politics on Facebook 34, 415–434.
2. Fuchs, C., (2011). New Media, Web 2.0 and Surveillance 2, 134–147.