I have been dormant from social media for about roughly two and a half years. However, I have not yet get the habit of ‘kepo’ (Urban Dictionary definition: Knowing Every Particular Object) of others altogether. By this, I mean occasionally googling someone and to know what they are up to (most of the times, professionally).

Also, despite my absence from major social media accounts such as Instagram and Twitter, I do not feel utterly invisible from the public. I remember, when talking with friends in a cafe, we joked, “Hope nobody here tweets our words and put hashtag #overheard.”

I just read David Lyon’s book on The Culture of Surveillance. What he tries to argue in his book resonate with me, and that of my guilty pleasure of ‘kepo’ as well as the anxiety of the hashtag #overheard.

When we think of surveillance, he asserts, Orwell’s Ninety Eighty-Four is in our mind. While this is not necessarily wrong, he encourages us to think further. In the Introduction part of the book, he says, when explaining about surveillance culture:

“Surveillance is no longer merely something external that impinges on ‘our lives.’ It is also something that everyday citizens comply with – willingly and wittingly or not – negotiate, resist, engage with and, in novel ways, even initiate and desire.”

I interpret his explication like this: (i) Yes, surveillance is about some above-institutions watching over us. For example, the Indonesian tax office plan to surveil citizens social media and using analytics to calculate supposed income tax paid by the concerned citizens. (ii) But, surveillance is also about someone ordinary like me, who actively participate in surveilling others, i.e., googling other professionals, and who feel being watched, not by an above-institutions but fellow citizens, i.e., #overheard.

“If you have nothing to hide, why bother?” Some might response this way. On this, Lyon asserts: “Having nothing to hide simply does not help to protect you from any negative effects that surveillance might have.” Remember in 2012 how Target figured out a teen is pregnant before her family?

One might argue that surveillance can have positive sides. Back in March 2018, Indonesian polices caught a motorcycle thief because the thief put an update on his Facebook account. Or, in January 2018, when monitoring Facebook activities made Indonesian polices caught who make the illegal trade of protected and rare wildlife.

But, I suggest we give another thought about surveillance on social media, or at least open to such thought. With the upcoming general election in 2019, our experience of being surveilled in social media can make us, as a nation, more polarized and fragmented. Some might say, this is an inescapable situation, deal with it. On this, I agree with David Lyon when he ends the book by saying: “The doctrine of technological inevitability is false because doing technology is a human endeavor and is socially shaped.”

Maybe the title of this piece is not quite right; it is not about escaping the surveillance culture but understand it. To what end? In echoing David Lyon’s words, “‘common good’ and ‘human flourishing’ alternatives…”


Source of image: Wikimedia Commons