The government doesn’t need to implement a surveillance state if social media and private companies provide one already.

A surveillance state, something we assume to be unique to authoritarian states, has steadily been introduced to most Western countries.

Have you ever Googled something, say a pair of shoes or some headphones, only to see ads for products like that pop up across your social media platforms, on all your devices? Every time you Google something, the company sells that data to anyone interested, no matter how private you think your information is. Every current and future public figure is subject to every internet query they’ve ever made.

Your Amazon Tap, useful for answering obscure questions at 3 in the morning, is always listening. Your smart TV with a camera, is always watching. There may not be someone physically behind the camera, observing your every move or listening to your every word, but they could if they wanted to. And it’s not just giant companies or the NSA that can access your devices or buy your information; two years ago in Washington, a stranger hacked into a family’s baby monitor and began speaking and watching the toddler.

Your find my iPhone app is great for finding your iPhone, but it’s also keeping a log of where you are at all times (so long as you have your phone on you). Your Snapchat will tell others where you took your most recent snap, providing your location to anyone with the means to look for it. The iPhone X now has face recognition software; how long until most security cameras do?

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A strained-social climate has also given rise to a phenomenon where citizens can effectively report one another for offensive behavior. Social media allows people to organize and spread group-attacks against individuals, if enough people have deemed the individual’s actions offensive enough to warrant it. Context is forgotten, sarcasm is forbidden, and the only thing that matters is how it is interpreted. This state of affairs may have come to fruition without the coinciding of political polarization and social tension, but they have helped exacerbate the problem.

Gone are the days of forgiveness — we are all just trying to rack up points against the other side during every public spectacle. If you make an off-hand remark about a sensitive issue, then you can be fired from your job, socially-ostracized, and banned from ever being taken seriously ever again. Everything is regarded through the lens of offense, meaning that almost anything can be considered offensive. If someone’s original message is distorted well enough, then they can be forced to apologize for something that they never conveyed.

The media makes a killing from reporting on controversy, as do companies like Twitter and Facebook. It is in their interest to fan the flames and increase their coverage, because more people will watch it. Meanwhile, our giant companies keep creating new technologies for us to buy and buy and buy, until they are in every nook and cranny of our private lives. Together, we are cordoning ourselves off to a societal hivemind of safely-scrutinized thinking and closely-watched activities, which we all help pay for.

The surveillance state is here, and we are the ones who built it.🔷

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(This piece was first published on The Blog!)

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