Government eavesdropping and corporate data harvesting are worrisome, but what most of us really fear, even if we don’t think much about it, is the public eye.
Social networks are not attractive simply because of the services they offer, but because they are increasingly the only game in town. Perhaps we look to them in order to fill the void left by shrinking networks of friends, ever-more spiritless neighborhoods, plummeting levels of social and political trust, and declining associational life. Peer-to-peer surveillance thrives because online dogpiling, call outs, and screaming into the virtual void satisfy an unmet need.
Online pathologies would not be so powerful if our offline lives nurtured us such that we forget to record a public freakout for the crowd’s pleasure or ire, such that we don’t care that someone is wrong on the Internet. Breaking up the crowdsourced panopticon may be less a matter of governing technological change than of fostering societies where not so many people want to play online prison guard.
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