Surveillance societies are defined in Surveillance Studies Network (2016). ‘An Introduction to the Surveillance Society’ like societies, which function because of “the expensive collection, recording, storage, analysis and application of information on individuals and groups in those societies as they go about their lives” where the collection of about people have “the specific purpose of governing, regulating, managing or influencing what they do in the future.”
However, this collection of data does not concern only governments but also big corporations that will use those data to create a specific content, to control costumers’ activities and to create marketing strategies.
The media industry however, is not exempt from this practice. In fact, the online presence allowed news organisations to monitor reader responses, to know the numbers of readers, and to create stories that better fit the majority of readers. Although the media online presence is largely interpreted as a useful tool of interaction with the public, we can see how as result of this monitoring, media industry has changed. In this sense, news organisations are now creating “stories that work online” to stimulate clicks and therefore providing more costumers for advertising companies. In this context, we can see how while governments justify surveillance for the public safety, the media industry justifies its monitoring with the “participatory culture” reason and promising that more data and less privacy would facilitate our shopping.
Another form of surveillance applied by news outlets, concern celebrities and their privacy. By tracking financial records, the Italian investigative journalist Claudio Gatti, revealed the real identity of the writer Elena Ferrante, who tried for years to keep herself away from the public eye. I believe there was no public interest in revealing her identity, that everyone should feel free to live their private life, and I do not recognise this investigation as ethically correct.
However, if the technological changes have brought media to check on their audience, the same surveillance is apply in fact FOR the public, rather than against it. Journalists can have a key role in the surveillance society.
In fact, although thanks to today’s technologies everyone could find and collect sensible data belonging to governments or corporations (where Wikileaks is the most emblematic case of a mixture of official documents from anonymous people) the journalistic work is fundamental in interpreting and making data accessible to people.
A recent example, as well as the biggest leak, is the Panama Papers case. In fact, only thanks to the one-year long analysis conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) team, we know about businesses, which used shell corporations for illegal purposes, such as tax evasion. Around 107 media organisations on 80 countries worked on the leaked by “John Doe”, the whistle-blower.
In conclusion, I believe surveillance has negative and positive aspects and people can benefit or be damaged by it. However, although I believe more awareness needs to be risen, I am not sure many people would react. The Snowden case is just the first example of a lack of reaction from the majority of people. We now tend to see surveillance as something completely normal and good for us but we should investigate its prerogatives and purposes before to justify everything.