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Facebook: Surveillance and Changing Notions of Privacy in the Social Networking Era

By Vanessa Keen

From the Author: Like many college students rarely is there a time I log on to the internet without at least a quick check of my Facebook. I’ve always been fully aware that this isn’t the best of habits in terms of procrastination and time-wasting techniques, but I never quite understood the deeper concerns some critics seemed to have with the site. In my COM 262 class, Research Methods in Communication Studies, I used the semester-long assignment of investigating a surveillance related topic as a chance to uncover the darker side of the popular social networking site. In this paper I closely examine privacy and surveillance related issues with Facebook, including how the site and user’s personal profile information is used by institutions, advertisers, and the government. I hope that readers will be able to apply some of the information within this paper to their own Facebook activity.

From the Faculty Nominator: Interpersonal forms of communication have become increasingly mediated as information technologies expand in an intimate integration with humans—a trajectory from the telegraph, telephone and then radio, television, to today’s digital media (such as Facebook). Bodies that once were involved directly (corporeally) in communication disappear, only to reappear as pixelated identities. Geographic mobility coupled with information technologies stretch social relationships in such a manner that face-to-face interaction is in general decline. As our physical presence is replaced by “data doubles” in the social network era, we expose ourselves to the unscrupulous or disingenuous panoptic gaze of corporations, advertisers, or governmental agencies. Vanessa Keen’s study of Facebook surveillance exposes the anxious and aggressive gleaning of information-rich profiles from social networking sites like Facebook. Her research reveals the risks of exposure inherent in blogging, networking, and Facebooking that may be vacuumed by prospective employers, marketers, police, and, in the age of a perpetual war on terror, intelligence agencies.

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