21 June 2012

The Public Domain: Surveillance in Everyday Life

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People create profiles on social network sites and Twitter accounts against the background of an audience.

This paper by Alice Marwick argues that closely examining content created by others and looking at one’s own content through other people’s eyes, a common part of social media use, should be framed as social surveillance.

While social surveillance is distinguished from traditional surveillance along three axes (power, hierarchy, and reciprocity), its effects and behavior modification is common to traditional surveillance.

Drawing on ethnographic studies of United States populations, Marwick looks at social surveillance, how it is practiced, and its impact on people who engage in it. She use Foucault’s concept of capillaries of power to demonstrate that social surveillance assumes the power differentials evident in everyday interactions rather than the hierarchical power relationships assumed in much of the surveillance literature.

Social media involves a collapse of social contexts and social roles, complicating boundary work but facilitating social surveillance. Individuals strategically reveal, disclose and conceal personal information to create connections with others and tend social boundaries. These processes are normal parts of day-to-day life in communities that are highly connected through social media.

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