The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Social Media as Proof Surveillance Affects Behaviour

“In his book Discipline and Punish, philosopher Michel Foucault describes how surveillance operates as a mechanism of control. When inmates believe they are being watched, they conform to what they believe to be the norms of the prison and the expectations of their jailors. Surveillance is a mechanism by which powerful entities assert their power over less powerful individuals.”

This quote well summarizes the effects of surveillance we have studied and discussed in class. People act differently when they are surveilled and it is for that reason people need privacy and privacy is a human right. This idea is illustrated in the podcast about Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon is circular jail building with a watchman in the center who cannot watch all prisoners at once so the inmates are not able to tell when they are being watched. Therefore, the prisoners behave as though they are being watched. I think this effect of surveillance affects teens’ use of social media today. When using social media sites, such as Facebook, teens accept that they can be surveilled and thus they act accordingly. For example, our parents advise us not to post pictures on social media that we would not want our potential employers to see.

The result of a difference in behavior when being surveilled means online activity does not always reflect our genuine selves to the degree human interaction can. Knowing that they are being surveilled, many teens tend to post the best parts of their lives. When looking at a teen’s Instagram profile, it tends to look like a carefully curated highlight reel. This is more evidence that we act differently with surveillance. It is ironic that social media is a means to connect people but at the same time, it distances people because we do not portray our most genuine selves as we do with human interaction.


Teens, like adults, Make Their Own Choices Reguarding Privacy


In Public but Unpublic

1 Comment

  1. overtocm

    The part of your post where you discuss that privacy is a human right because it affects how we act really stood out to me, especially in the context of the last paragraph of your post. Thinking about a world where we all feel watched – even in real life – to the extent that we feel we are being watched online, it is not difficult to imagine people sharing nothing but their highlight reels with anyone else even in private. This is a scary future, and one that incremental invasions of privacy will eventually turn into a reality (a 1984-style world).

    The way that social media has brought this tendency for people to carefully choose what they share is eerily similar to the ways that rebels need to think in highly-monitored societies about what they can safely say to their allies to avoid raising suspicion. In the modern day, teens trying to avoid being questioned by their parents sometimes will use code words or talk about events in a vague manner so that their friends will understand their messages but their parent’s won’t bat an eye. Generally, this similarity I noticed while reading your post struck me as an interesting and useful comparison, and I think you did a good job of discussing the forces at play when it comes to privacy and self-censoring.

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