Is Social Networking Leading to Auto-Surveillance?

Anders Albrechtslund in First Monday:

Looking at discourses in the context of online social networking and related Web 2.0 services and applications, a traditional and rather negative conception of surveillance appear. Surveillance is associated with snooping, spying and privacy invasion, and it is a prevalent view that everything related to it should be avoided if possible. This is in line with familiar frameworks such as Big Brother and Panopticon, but the problem is that they do not seem to adequately describe the actual practice of online social networking.

In the following I suggest using the concept of participatory surveillance [5] to develop the social and playful aspects surveillance. First, online social networking is related to the traditional hierarchical surveillance concept. Second, the aspect of mutuality will be studied. Third, I will elaborate on the idea of participatory surveillance with regards to user empowerment, subjectivity building and information sharing.

A conventional understanding of surveillance is that it is a hierarchical system of power. This common understanding is represented in familiar metaphors such as “Big Brother” and “Panopticon,” both of which illustrate a vertical, hierarchical power relation between the gaze of the watcher that controls the watched. The hierarchical conception of this relation puts the power into the hands of the watcher while the watched is a more or less passive subject of control. In the case of hierarchies in the Orwellian sense, surveillance is also part of the destruction of subjectivity under surveillance and an effort to render lifeworld meaningless.

The moral panics, conspiracy theories, and the difficulties in understanding why people actually would want to engage in online social networking all reflect this dystopian view on surveillance.