Our Inevitable Descent into Censorship: A story that begins with surveillance

“The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship.”

Elizabeth Stoycheff, assistant professor at Wayne State University and the lead researcher of a recent study that “shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online” was “disturbed by the findings.”  The study–published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly and reported by the Washington Post–scruitinized “the effects of subtle reminders of mass surveillance on its subjects” where “the majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be in the minority.”  Stoycheff said that “participants who shared the “nothing to hide” belief, those who tended to support mass surveillance as necessary for national security, were the most likely to silence their minority opinions.”  Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study (Karen Turner, Washington Post)

She further remarked that “the fact that the ‘nothing to hide’ individuals experience a significant chilling effect speaks to how online privacy is much bigger than the mere lawfulness of one’s actions. It’s about a fundamental human right to have control over one’s self-presentation and image, in private, and now, in search histories and metadata.”

With an almost lethargic sense of irony, I was pretty dispassionate about this tiresome conclusion.  Fear of being judged is hardly a novel revelation.  Think back to high school, someone was always watching or being meticulously judged for dressing funny, acting strange, or generally being out right weird.  Guilty.

I was never very good at censoring myself and still (clearly) have a penchant for being borderline criminally outspoken.  So, censorship.  What does it look like as it evolves in a modern digital age?  How does surveillance play a role in the devolution of the unhindered flow of ideas?  Wait, why was I not in a rage about this?   My critical thinking brain triggered and thus began my barfly research and blogging tendency. Read More

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