Thursday, 22 May 2014

Under constant surveillance: A video about the collected volume “Media, Surveillance and Identity”

By María Belén Conti, student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster.

I have directed a movie about the collected volume “Media, Surveillance and Identity” that has been edited by Andr
é Jansson and Miyase Christensen.Watch the video interview here!

As early as 1995, John Thompson was talking of a world of “mediated visibility” in which technology was a double-edged sword, since it allowed the few people in power positions to control the many, but also empowered the many to control those few. Since then, many things have changed, with the Internet growing in importance as well as with the appearance of a new actor: social media.

In these social and networked spaces, private and public communications merge and the invisible turns visible. It is no longer easy to maintain the private sphere private and unintended audiences may reach any message we send. But these unintended audiences that have access to our communications are not only other users but also government agencies and companies, as Edward Snowden’s revelations known as the “NSA affair” and the many forms of targeted advertising can testify.

In other words, we are always potentially under surveillance or monitoring by others, either peers, companies or states. Even though that does not mean that we are all the time under one-on-one monitoring, the potential is there. And most of the times, there is a big power asymmetry, since people sometimes do not even know that they are being watched or, if they do, they feel powerless or out of options.

Even though it can be argued that people can use social and networked media for free in exchange of giving up some personal information, as Miyase Christensen explains in the video, people are in fact paying a very big price for that supposedly free use. Mark Andrejevic argues in this context in the collected volume that data has become “the new oil” or commodity exchanged and commercialized for the “free use” of services.

In other words, even though people may think they are the clients of these social and networked media, they are in fact the product being sold to advertisers in order to make profits. What is more, they are “unpaid workers”, as Allmer, Fuchs, Kreilinger and Sevignani argued in the collected volume, since they are producing all the data being sold to the advertisers, who will then target those same users with specific forms of ads, according to their taste and interests.

But is an alternative to that commercial model possible? In fact, there are some alternative social media such as Diaspora* which intend to protect the data of the users. However, people want to be where most of their peers are, so it is hard to make them migrate to this alternative social media. And in the lack of better solutions, or at least until a better idea comes, education and better legislation to protect users are needed, as both Miyase Christensen and André Jansson, editors of the book Media, Surveillance and Indentity. Social perspectives, point out in my video.


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