Blog Post 11: New Nightmares, New Possibilities, New Questions

Hi everyone,

Welcome to our last blog post of this section of the course on privacy and surveillance. First, a quick note on the Tufecki reading – the course packet doesn’t correctly reproduce the images that go with Tufecki’s writing (those large blank spaces), so as you’re reading, take a look at the original article online. They’re a pretty striking accompaniment to the things she’s discussing.

Tufecki’s article itself takes us further into our consideration of the social and political possibilities and dangers of digital media through surveillance. Many of the issues we’ve discussed recently come up here again—corporate and governmental surveillance in various forms, how that surveillance shapes our lives as consumers and citizens, and the differences between old and new media in relation to those processes, to name just a few—but Tufecki has something new to add to this conversation. She wants us to consider how digital media allows for both new modes of social activism and  new modes of political control, both of which are powerful and both of which we need to consider carefully as informed members of a digital culture.

So for this blog post, I’d like you to play out a specific connection between Tufecki and one of the other texts we’ve studied for this section (Greenwald, Watson, or the creators of Do Not Track). You should quote and integrate substantial passages from both authors into a paragraph of your own writing, and in doing so you should show how their arguments in those passages relate to one another and how you would respond to that conversation. In your response, you should introduce, quote, cite, and analyze at least one substantial passage each from Tufecki’s article and from your other chosen author – not just a single small term or concept, but a fuller claim of the kind that you might quote in a paper. We’ll work on developing and improving this approach over the process of writing the fourth paper.

Keep in mind that all of these authors are advancing complex perspectives about the politics of digital information and connection, so you need to make an argument of your own that’s aware of their ideas and the relation between them — instead of just siding with one author, for example, try to offer a closer, more specific response to their argument through conversation with the other.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. It should be at least 250 words, and is due by 11:59pm on Sunday, November 25. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

9 thoughts on “Blog Post 11: New Nightmares, New Possibilities, New Questions

  1. Is the Internet good or bad? If you have nothing to hide why mind the surveillance? These are questions that the authors Greenwald and Tufecki wish did not have to exist. The simplistic and binary view of good or bad in both questions could potentially put us on a track to allow surveillance to create a mental prison without notice. The major issue is that a form of submission is being instituted, and the internet is being used to do it. The scary part is the subtleness of it all, and how the control and manipulation of ideas will easily bind us to a certain way of behavior and since it is all subtly happening the resistance is so minimal. Tufecki talks about her experience in Gezi Park and how important resistance and unity is to the progression of our freedoms and livelihood. The internet helped bring the injustices of Gezi Park to the homes of people across the country, yet it also can manipulate our thinking and cause unity under a false impressionistic ideology. Tufecki states “This is why the state-of-the-art method for shaping ideas is not to coerce overtly but to seduce covertly, from a foundation of knowledge. These methods don’t produce a crude ad—they create an environment that nudges you imperceptibly. Last year, an article in Adweek noted that women feel less attractive on Mondays, and that this might be the best time to advertise make-up to them. ‘Women also listed feeling lonely, fat and depressed as sources of beauty vulnerability,’ the article added. So why stop with Mondays? Big data analytics can identify exactly which women feel lonely or fat or depressed. Why not focus on them? And why stop at using known ‘beauty vulnerabilities’? It’s only a short jump from identifying vulnerabilities to figuring out how to create them. The actual selling of the make-up may be the tip of the iceberg.” While surveillance has an image that seems helpful to the consumer online, the danger goes beyond. Big Data allows for us to become simple facts and allows the government and big corporations to use these simple facts to manipulate us into submission of their needs. The worst part of it all is that this all happens under the false conception we allow for this with “allowing clicks”. The surveillance that is happening gives higher authorities too much control over our individual everyday lives and could eventually allow for a complete change in how we perform in the world. Greenwald is on the same cautionary lane as Tufecki. While Greenwald helped the whistleblower Edward Snowden, he also became a big advocate for genuine privacy of the regular person. He has been debunking surveillance thinking such as the idea that good people have nothing to hide. Greenwald even uses history to his advantage to show the real intentions of all the monitoring. He states in his TedTalk “The 20th-century French philosopher Michel Foucault realized that that model could be used not just for prisons but for every institution that seeks to control human behavior: schools, hospitals, factories, workplaces. And what he said was that this mindset, this framework discovered by Bentham, was the key means of societal control for modern, Western societies, which no longer need the overt weapons of tyranny —punishing or imprisoning or killing dissidents, or legally compelling loyalty to a particular party — because mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle though much more effective means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, much more effective than brute force could ever be.” Here, he is showing that the development of ideas and progress has been under attack by higher authorities for a very long time. The internet allows for this on an extreme scale due to the way technology has been so integrated into our lives. The subtleness of it all shows that the prison is built gradually until we are living in a contained space of our own negligence. Greenwald is trying to encourage resistance to the entrapment of ourselves with higher authorities in complete control. Greenwald and Tufecki are on a cautionary path, together encouraging resistance and prioritizing one’s desires over the need of the government/ corporations. They hope for a realization of the subtle control and hope not for the internet to go away, but for the internet to be a progressive forum of ideas and community. After much contemplation, it seems as if my only addition to the conversation is, is there any chance to reverse what has happened so far or is the only chance for freedom to change from where we are at? I feel as if it is almost too late to go back to a simpler time because now 1-year-old’s are learning how to use iPad and are already making their own electric footprint. If we cannot go back, then is major change even a possibility with the masses so unbothered with what is happening? Most people do not care because the surveillance is so distant and undetectable, so as long as this is the case why would they even want to change if it doesn’t feel like it is affecting them? I am scared… but are you?


  2. After reading Tufecki blog, I was very intrigued. The article provided a different narrative to the use of social media and the benefits it has in today’s society to allow voices for groups that are often overshadowed in today’s media. An example of this can be seen in the Gezi Park protest that was discussed in the article. In this protest, the media within the country refused to provide coverage of the protest and turmoil that was taking place due to the ties the media had to the government. So the protestors became the reporters and Twitter became the news broadcaster for the protest. Without these brave protestors taking to social media with their personal experiences the international broadcasters may have never picked up the political situation of Turkey. Even more important is these internet warriors gave a face to a massive protest going on within the country so that citizens didn’t feel so alone in their fight for justice. Tufecki comments on this when he said “ In fact, the Internet’s ability to break down “pluralistic ignorance”—the erroneous notion that your beliefs place you in a minority, when in fact most people feel similarly—is perhaps its greatest contribution to social movements. Facebook “likes” are often ridiculed as meaningless, but they can make a person realize that their social network feels the same as they do—and that’s a socially and politically powerful thing.”. This quote illustrates the importance of the people in the technological era, and how in many ways though we are always being watched by the government and many other corporate powers, we are also being watched by our very peers, and that is why it is so important that we use the media platforms, and the widespread surveillance to publicize the things that often go unpublished. In other words, the people through social media become the governing force of the governing forces. This is extremely important because, without the use of social media, the government would have been able to silence the protesters with no resistance. This is dangerous because if there are no witnesses in this scenario many illegal and horrible things can take place without anyone being held accountable. This also gives the government unlimited power in terms of how they portray the protest in the media, which could make the protest seem like something it wasn’t. Overall because the social media allowed individuals to broadcast what was happening the protest was able to expand and bring attention to the political problems within Turkey. Also now that the Turkish government is being watched not only by its political conscience citizens but also on an international scale, the government may be more willing to reason with the protesters to make the protest go away more quietly. In other words, because attention is being brought to the political problems within Turkey the government will be more compliant to the needs of the citizens to keep control over the masses and to prevent the formation of any negative perceptions of the country on an international level. Glen Greenwald spoke of this in his TED Talk titled, Why Privacy Matters when he said “There are dozens of psychological studies that prove that when somebody knows that they might be watched, the behavior they engage in is vastly more conformist and compliant. Human shame is a very powerful motivator, as is the desire to avoid it, and that’s the reason why people, when they’re in a state of being watched, make decisions not that are the byproduct of their own agency but that are about the expectations that others have of them or the mandates of societal orthodoxy.”. Overall this quote illustrates why when the government feels it is being watched, it will be more likely to stay within legal lines and respect social norms and expectations. In cases when the government was free to act without surveillance, in cases such as those seen in the civil rights movement, there were many cases were illegal things were done simply because there is no fear of indictment due to the absence of witnesses. Overall the power the people have in this era due to platforms provided to the masses by social media has given us more power to protect ourselves politically because now people can communicate freely about the government, protest, and many other things with lightning-quick frequency and accuracy on a large scale. This provides citizens the ability to speak out on injustices regardless of if they are broadcasted publicly through a news channel, and reach millions at the click of a button. This helps prevent governing powers from overstepping their boundaries in their treatment of citizens, protest, and any other act that can put the rights or safety of the people in jeopardy.


  3. In Zeynep Tufekci’s piece titled, “Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes.”, Tufekci discusses the issues and dangers of how surveillance has the power to control the way we (citizens) interact online without us being aware of it. This article also relates to Greenwald’s TedTalk discussion titled “Why Privacy Matters” of the idea of the allusion of privacy. Tufekci states that the “more we connect to each other online, the more our actions become visible to governments and corporations. It feels like a loss of independence” (Tufekci 2). This becomes concerning due to the fact that our society is based and impacted by technology so greatly that whatever the actions we take upon online, we are not aware of because it is so normalized. In Greenwald’s TedTalk discussion, he brings up the ideas that “there is an invisible, all authority that always knows what you are doing at all times” (Greenwald) and later concluding that a “society (that can monitor people at all times), breeds obedience and conformity and submission over its citizens” (Greenwald). The concept of an invisible authority figure that upholds all of the information we search and do online limits us to have the ability to have a form of privacy. Tufekci further examines how Facebook can monitor our every move of when one starts typing on their status update and then if they decide to not post it, Facebook is aware of why they chose not to post what they originally wanted to post. Although we are aware of the fact that the added network that we create for our profile online is sold within corporations and companies, we still do not specifically know what they do with all of our personal information and data. This also breeds the idea that companies will effortlessly will continue to dig and dig deeper into our profiles in order to receive more data.


  4. Through a personal narrative of his experiences with various middle-eastern protests, social media expert Zeynep Tufekci exposes the dynamic nature of the dangers of surveillance. Tufecki argues that mass online surveillance hurts American democracy in mentioning that “richer data for the campaigns could mean poorer democracy for the rest of us” (5). While politicians have manipulated voters since the origin of politics itself, Tufecki discusses the potential for the use of big data by political campaigns to craft psychological profiles of voters and ultimately, “achieve a level of manipulation that exceeds that possible via blunt television adverts” (7). He later makes an even bigger claim saying that “given the small marigins by which elections get decided- a fact well understood by the political operatives who filled the room- I argued that it was possible that minor adjustments to Facebook or Google’s algorithms could tilt an election” (7). What at the time, in 2014, appeared to be an abstract prediction, soon became the harsh reality in the election of 2016 where Facebook was used to sway a tight presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. This shows the powerful influence of big data on the effectiveness of our political system. While Tufecki focuses on the effects of online surveillance on society as a whole, Sarah M. Watson, in her article, “Data Doppelgängers and the Uncanny Valley of Personalization,” discusses the effects of online surveillance on individuals. Due to the fact that personalized ads based in big data are intended to mirror individuals, Watson argues that they can “interfere with a person’s sense of self” (3). In specifying this statement, Watson reasons that when personalized ads misrepresent us, “it’s hard to tell whether the algorithm doesn’t know us at all, or if it actually knows us better than we know ourselves” (3). This claim exposes how personalized ads can negatively affect an individual’s identity. Although both Tufecki and Watson raise valid concerns regarding the potential harm of mass surveillance, Tufecki’s claims reveal dangers on a much larger scale, the manipulation of an entire political system. While personalized ads have the potential to impact some highly sensitive individuals, for the majority of people, something as trivial as an ad will not cause them to jump to the conclusion that a computer software knows them better than they know themselves. Thus, the implications of Watson’s concerns with big data are on a case to case basis. This is far from the case for Tufecki’s concerns, which when in full effect, like that of the 2016 election, could directly impact each and every member of society. Although the use of personalized ads will likely not be change due to concerns of people’s sense of self, it will be interesting to see how (and if) regulations will be implemented to prevent a repeat of the role of Facebook in the 2016 election.


  5. As Tufecki explains the modern surveillance state, his main focus is what implications this has for the future. He focuses on the effects surveillance and big data will have on voting and other aspects of life. I found this article to be related easily to Greenwald’s “Why Privacy Matters.” In both works, the authors discuss the concept of the Panopticon, a surveillance system for prisons that efficiently keeps inmates in check. The difference however, is that Tufecki does not see this as an accurate representation of the state of our country. Greenwald states that “what he said was that this mindset, this framework
    discovered by Bentham, was the key means of societal control for modern, Western societies.” He argued that the government, by surveilling us, was using a similar system to keep us in check. Using fear tactics, we are expected to refrain from stepping out of line. Tufecki, on the other hand, says that “We need to update our nightmares.” He believes that we can’t just look at the control the government has because of their surveillance, and that we must “consider how the power of surveillance is being imagined and used, right now, by governments and corporations.” He is looking at the bigger picture. Encouraging deeper thought about what governments and corporations can do with this data in terms of elections, marketing, and having their nose in our everyday lives. As I have argued before, as humans that have become used to the idea of surveillance, it no longer causes fear. So looking at the future effects surveillance will have, and how it will change important things in terms of how our country is run, and how we are treated is the important thing to do. Just acknowledging that we are in a panopticon is not good enough, we must look at what the guards are doing with their information on us.


  6. Although the internet has its downfalls in terms of surveillance, people oversimplify the complexity of its problems.
    According to a group of videos titled, Do Not Track, online activity is being monitored and distributed through cookies. These cookies are then sold to outside parties though which advertisements can be tailored to each person. This, although harmless, can quickly get out of hand. These other parties can sell to anyone, meaning anyone has access to each person’s digital identity. Digital identity does not encompass the entirety of each person, it encompasses part of each person. Having this information is an invasion of privacy, for it is personal information. Thoughts and ideas can be found in a person’s digital identity. These thoughts and ideas should be considered private property. Many people describe this invasion of privacy as being like George Orwell’s 1984. The people in this novel are controlled through government surveillance. This mass surveillance, the idea that anyone could be watching, causes people to limit the activity that they believe to be “bad”. People’s ideas on what is “bad” are not the same. To the public it could be crude images or information on how to make a bomb. To the government it could be people protesting and/or defying their authority.
    Parts of these ideas on surveillance are true, for knowledge of surveillance does affect online activity, but they do not encompass the whole truth. According to the article, Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes., governments and other companies are looking to shape people’s ideas. When the author Zeynep Tufekci says, “Bombarding people with ads only works to a degree. No one likes being told what to think. We grow resistant” she illustrates the idea that although the government tries to meddle, and people are potentially being watched, it is not simply these actions that make the internet “bad”. Because of the internet people are able to band together and to speak out. Tufekci says that the internet is the mode through which people make this connection, but it is also the mode through which the government learns more and more how to shape ideas. This double-edged sword gives feelings surrounding the internet depth. There is no one cure and there is no one right answer. People need to first realize the true depth of our situation and stop making comparisons that only half describe the truth. Only after this realization can we begin to make real changes.


  7. Tufecki explains both the bad and good side of the internet in this article showing how it is utilized in modern day in terms of disasters, privacy and surveillance. Something that he talks about frequently is the protests in Gezi Park and how the internet had brought everyone there to protest together. At the same time, he talks about how people were recording people being tear gassed so they could post it on social media platforms. This directly displays how the internet is both good and bad at the same time. Additionally, he talks about the NSA and how they collect mass amounts of data from citizens based around the internet and social media platforms. This relates to the web series Do Not Track directed by Brett Gaylor which talks about how people are being taken advantage of through the internet without their knowledge. Nonetheless, Tufecki explains that people are attracted to the internet and social media because of the possibility for human connection that it gives them. “digital channels are one of the easiest ways we have to talk to one another, and sometimes the only way.” (Tufecki 3). Do Not Track takes a slightly more negative approach to the topic of the internet and surveillance. In the first episode of Do Not Track it shows you that it can figure out exactly what city you are in showing that this personal information of yours may not be as personal as you think. My personal opinion is that more people need to become more informed on the topic of tracking and how the internet can be utilized healthily to create positive experiences. This is the first step if we want the internet to change from how it is right now. People will continue to use the internet mindlessly unless they are informed about possible dangers and risk.


  8. With technology and surveillance, we are no longer capable of controlling our own actions. Nowadays, the media is not only controlling our ideas and shaping our beliefs, but it is controlling our actions too. Through advertisements and other means of connection, we are being monitored and targeted to receive specific political substance. What is dangerous about this process is that we are being affected by it so subtly that we do not recognize it most of the time. As well as it is being used and incorporated in our daily lives so often that we do not realize that is it happening. As Greenwald describes, “privacy is no longer a social norm.” This means that it is normal for us that everything we present online will always be out there, and through that we are being surveilled and tracked. Similarly, Tufecki talks about the dangers of surveillance, socially and politically, and questions whether the internet is good or bad in his article. As he mentions, “Yet the more we connect to each other online, the more our actions become visible to governments and corporations. It feels like a loss of independence.” It is true that there is a loss of control over our own actions because everything we do is out there and available for the government, as well as they are sending us messages through social media that push us to act in a certain way. That is why it is not just about what they are doing with the big data, but how there is a higher power that is controlling us and will continue to direct our actions and thoughts in a certain way. In the same way, Greenwald describes how entities and governments would prefer to treat their citizens as if they could be watched at any time because that results in “conformity, obedience and submission.” Moreover, he says “mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind.” This is illustrated when people are being watched, their actions change into a more formal productive manner, and it is like the real self is being locked in one’s mind.
    As Tufecki introduces the question, “Why do we give them our data?” We are the ones giving all this data and we won’t be able to control our actions and thoughts until we are aware of what is happening around us, politically and socially. As the author says, “Gramsci understood that the most powerful means of control available to a modern capitalist state is not coercion or imprisonment, but the ability to shape the world of ideas… “This is why the state-of-the-art method for shaping ideas is not to coerce overtly but to seduce covertly, from a foundation of knowledge. These methods don’t produce a crude ad—they create an environment that nudges you imperceptibly.” It is important to be aware of this environment and this control before it is too late – when we actually can’t do anything about it as a society. To what point is surveillance, and shaping ideas around the world, productive and healthy? When does it cross ethical boundaries?


  9. As most societies around the world become more mediated and controlled by various mediums of digital technology, we find ourselves profoundly immersed, and often dependent on technology. When it comes to digital surveillance, many are quick to approach the discussion from a strictly binary approach. The fundamental themes become a matter measured by good or bad outcomes excluding any underlying nuances and tones in-between. It is important to note that questions of surveillance and the right to privacy and/or freedom are extremely complex and broad in focus. In other words, when approaching these conversations, it is imperative that we analyze the dynamics between all stakeholders involved and discern the different motivations behind many of the stances and courses of actions taken when it comes to digital surveillance. In the Ted talk “Why Privacy Matters”, Glenn Greenwald presents and discusses some reasons why many of us should be more involved and worried about who has the power to monitor our activity and content in the digital world. One of his main points is that there is a behavioral problem connected to the hyper-vigilance of government agencies (mostly) over the common citizen. Greenwald claims: “Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craved universally and instinctively. It isn’t just a reflexive movement like breathing air or drinking water. The reason is that when we’re in a state where we can be monitored, where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically. The range of behavioral options that we consider when we think we’re being watched severely reduces “. Despite negative or positive tones, it is a social principle that human behavior changes under the supervision or monitoring from an external agency. This comes especially with the knowledge of external monitoring, otherwise you would not be aware, and so would not change your behavior dramatically. Some of the dangerous attached to this kind of stimulant is that it develops qualities of compliance and conformism which can prove to be very dangerous. The Arab uprising that took place in Egypt following the Arab Spring, was extremely subdued by the government through intense efforts of internet surveillance and control. It soon developed sentiments of compliance accompanied by fear, that hampered the people’s ability to revendicate for their causes and take control of their own futures. In Zeynep Tufekci’s piece, “Is The Internet Good or Bad? Yes., some of the detriments of continuous surveillance are discussed extensively. Particularly, there is a section under” Tear Gas Is A Good Teacher” where the author states: There are few things more powerful and rewarding than communicating with another person. It’s not a coincidence that the harshest legal punishment short of the death penalty in modern states is solitary confinement. Humans are social animals; social interaction is at our core. Yet the more we connect to each other online, the more our actions become visible to governments and corporations. It feels like a loss of independence. Humans beings are prone no constantly seek for social interaction. We are bound to engage and share information with our peers. Likewise, under the consideration, that one is under a superlative form of monitoring, or in this case, that governments have access to your information and activity online, there is a significant loss of independence and control. Such agrees with the point made earlier by Greenwald as our ability to maneuver and engage within certain social spaces becomes hampered as our behavior is proven to change under monitoring from an external agency. It raises concerns over the extent to which national security can be used as a pretext to justify surveillance, as it also proves the ability to hamper the progress and social development of certain, if not all global communities.


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