Social Mediaur Sveillance

Social Media


Social media sites are online services that allow users to submit information on their platforms for any number of reasons. Such sites include Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Tumblr blog. The site was launched for use by university students. However, its users have become culturally and geographically vast and the number of users has greatly grown. Facebook, for instance, has accumulated close to 1 billion users who share their lives and information with others. Over thirty billion content is shared on Facebook every month. Diverse groups including employers, business, and politicians among others currently maintain a presence on social media sites. These official presences enable promotional efforts and public relations. Moreover, official presences facilitate watching over a specific demographic, market or population (Trottier 1). This paper discusses the surveillance over social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Surveillance is defined as focused and systematic collection of an individuals personal information for purposes of management, direction, influence or protection. Hence, surveillance entails activities that enable individuals, capitalist formations such as corporations or the nation state to manage a population (Marwick 379). Numerous kinds of watchers are often involved in surveillance on social media. These include friends, employers, and families. Those who control sites such as Facebook and law enforcement agencies are also among watchers on social media (Trottier 1). Where such structural entities perform surveillance on individuals for the purpose of management, the balance of power is tremendously tipped in favor of the entity performing surveillance (Marwick 379).

Social surveillance is the use of social media sites to see what users are up to. Essentially, Facebook is designed to allow users to connect and share with friends, family members and peers by viewing user profiles, as well as News Feed. However, in communities where the use of social technology has advanced, a single person may own a Facebook profile, a Foursquare account, a Twitter account, a Tumblr blog and an Instagram photo-stream. With each of the sites transmitting personal information, it is expected that such a persons life would largely be available online. People broadcast their information so that friends, acquaintances and family members may have access to the same. In actuality, social media make enormous portions of social life visible and investigative agencies take advantage of this visibility (Marwick 378).

Activities that amount to surveillance on social media range from casual, consensual sociality to covet scrutiny. Although one can distinguish between instances that have devastating effects from those that are harmless, they use the same information and operate on the same interface. Leak is the foremost means through which information migrates from one context to another context. Normally, leaks result from incompetence or malice. Although surveillance activities result in privacy violations, social sorting and compromised social relations, the sites are progressively harnessed by investigative and law enforcement agencies. The tendency of social media surveillance is also penetrating other sectors such as investigation of insurance claims and matters pertaining divorce (Trottier 1).

Although the surveillance has existed in the society throughout history, social media such as Facebook differs substantially from pre-digital interpersonal and mediated communication. Apart from being visible, digital information is searchable, persistent, replicable, and scalable. Such information is easily accessed, copied, and disseminated. These make social media sites optimal for investigations. Moreover, social media is more than just news watching for law enforcement agencies. Rather, the sites make criminals visible by speedily broadcasting information concerning them to a wide range of audience. For instance, sites such as Twitter and Facebook are used to circulate time-sensitive information such as AMBER Alerts (Trottier 1).

Helen Nissenbaum describes three main privacy issues surrounding Facebook and other social network sites. First, individuals employ social network to propagate information concerning them, including posting pictures or writing intimate blog entries. Sharing such information may have potentially negative effects on the user, such as limiting future housing or employment among others. Second, users post information about friends and family members whether inadvertently or deliberately. Information about others can be posted through actions such as @ replying on Twitter, tagging faces in a photograph. Third, social media services gather and disseminate information that users avail to the site. Social surveillance essentially encompasses the first two issues (Marwick 380). Some employers often scrutinize social networking sites for employees in order to establish more information about them. In addition, managers are increasingly reviewing social networking sites for job applicants to learn more about them. This scrutiny enables them establish the availability of inappropriate activities or relationships that may not auger well with the institution (Albarran 159).

Social media technologies can be employed by law enforcement agencies, companies, and marketers to gather information about individual users. For instance, Flickr, a photo-sharing site, sums up user information with data gathered by its parent site Yahoo! In addition, Networked banner advertisements monitor users in various websites and create detailed pictures of their actions, as well as demographics (Marwick 380). Apart from using social surveillance technologies to track users, there are numerous applications in social media that reveal details of users. Therefore, they make surveillance possible. For instance, Open Graph automatically shares notices concerning websites that have been visited by users and the contents they accessed (Albarran 158).

Location-based services such as Google Latitude, Facebook Places, Foursquare, Shopkick, and Gowalla also threaten social media privacy. The services track where the mobile device that the user is using in accessing the social site is physically located. These location-based services rely on Wi-Fi and GPS among other locations tracking techniques. Location privacy complaints among social site users include individuals being tagged as being at a particular location even when they did not authorize the action. In fact, some applications such as Facebook Places have no easy-opt out feature, this leaves users vulnerable to trackers. Consumers are beginning to demand location privacy so as to make sure that their locations are not monitored systematically and secretly recorded for later use without their authorization (Albarran 158).

Government surveillance programs have of late focused much of their attention to social networking sites. The agencies are increasingly using sophisticated means to monitor users of social networking sites. For instance, the IRS uses various social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, MySpace and Second Life to investigate taxpayers. The agency provides their agents with special training on social networking. The training offers detailed tips to the agents on how best they can conduct searches and locate valuable taxpayer information (Rosen 1). The right of government agencies to access users information on social networking sites is a matter that has given rise to much debate. Privacy advocates have questioned the legal authority of the governments investigative programs. Nonetheless, the Department of Homeland Security has indicated that it will regularly screen public postings on Social sites such as Twitter and Facebook (Albarran 158).

The police can use conventional, as well as unconventional means to obtain information on social media. Investigators may obtain information from users by creating fictitious accounts and scan for users posts for key terms. When the information required is protected by privacy settings, investigators may choose to use a personal profile to launch a connection with the suspected individual. The investigators may pretend to be the suspects family member, trusted friend or even a total stranger to the suspect. Notably, social media monitoring goes beyond merely gathering information concerning suspects. Several events are usually made visible on social media and these may range from house parties to political protests (Trottier 1).

Although social surveillance is not the first to employ people who are close to suspects for investigation, social media such as Facebook and Twitter offer novel kinds of insight. Law enforcement agencies can secretly monitor dealings between a particular suspect and his or her peers. Depending on the privacy settings of the suspect, such investigation can be performed with or without subpoenas. In addition, visible social ties can also be informative and prove helpful to investigative agencies. For instance, in the stolen hockey jersey case, it was the friends to the suspect that gave him away. One of the suspects friends was a member of the Facebook fan community for the store (Trottier 1).

A lot of information on Facebook and other social media can be acquired simply by logging onto the social media sites. When initiating an investigation, it is progressively common for law enforcement agencies to run to social media such as Facebook. In addition to being a low-risk and low-cost option, investigation over social media can easily be done without the knowledge of those under scrutiny. Moreover, professional watchers are normally personal users of the various social media sites. Therefore, experience and access provided by the services are important assets to them (Trottier 1). Although investigative agencies would not actively interact with users on social media, they closely monitor activities on social sites for information that can provide situational awareness. Data obtained from social media sites can be stored by the investigative agency for many years or shared with other federal agencies (Albarran 158).

Social media services have created official channels for police to enable the enforcement agencies to obtain private information the social media serves. The social media services acknowledge their data as a source of evidence for investigative agencies. Consequently, social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, among others have produced compliance documents regarding information provision. The compliance documents spell out the information that can be obtained from court orders, warrants among other legal procedures (Trottier 1). For instance, Twitter had to surrender personal information to the Justice Department following an order by federal district judge in Virginia. It was required to avail information including session times, IP addresses, and relationships of individuals who might have supported WikiLeaks. It was argued partly that transmitting such information to a third party did not necessarily violate privacy of the involved individuals (Albarran 159).


Surveillance on over social media has greatly increased with increased use of social media. Users are increasingly sharing information with their friends, family members and acquaintances in bid to increasing interaction with them. Most of the users feel secure while they share such information since they trust their friends and believe that everything they share remains secure. However, as they increasingly expose their personal information, they make it easy for entities, including their friends, employers and even law enforcement agencies to access the information. The balance between surveillance and privacy has become delicate in the current society. Surveillance by law enforcement agencies has largely been termed as an act of violation of users privacy. On the contrary, the law enforcement agencies feel that such information is important for the safety of the public. Nonetheless, a huge difference should not exist as security should be everybodys responsibility. Social site users should willingly share information with law enforcement agencies. On the other hand, the latter should handle all the information within their possession with the deserved confidentiality.