It’s my morning routine: I sit, smartphone in hand, twitter app open and dig into the chatter. Quickly scrolling through breaking news, taking in headlines and laughing at Michael Moore’s latest quip, I pause on a presidential candidate’s tweet; a candidate I support. As I read the tweet and agree with its message, nodding my head in a “you said it, brother!” manner, I’m also debating whether to heart or even possibly retweet. I can see that it’s been hearted and retweeted thousands of times already and a part of me truly wonders what is lost to my 45 followers (most of whom are trying to sell me something) if I don’t share?
Will they miss out on some vital information?
Will they be annoyed?
Will they disagree?
And then, I have the aha moment.
The truthiest truth is this: I should “heart,” “like,” “share” and “retweet” content I believe in. Not for my followers, since they’ll most likely receive the same information from various other sources, but because we now have the power and the platform to really say what we think, feel, believe. And that is real power. And who am I to turn away such a gift?
All this power is made even more potent because everyone is listening!
For example, marketers and companies want to test the waters with a brand or product, continually finding new ways to slice and dice the data to arrive at the best metrics for planning and executing marketing and sales adventures.
Or political parties taking the temperature of the society on the importance of an issue or testing the potential of a particular smear campaign (I’ve seen it, it’s ugly).
Or news media outlets continually gathering sentiment, feedback and sometimes actionable intel (in the case of citizen journalism) on stories, topics, issues and events.
These golden nuggets of information or social insights reveal so much about who we are and what we care about that no marketer, politician or gatekeeper can resist.
After my early morning aha moment, my eyes are opened to the dangers inherent in such a powerful tool and what could happen if the tables were turned on us lovers of online democracy. Citing various examples of self-censorship, an article on The Intercept addresses a recent study on the chilling effect created by widespread surveillance. And that, of course, includes social media channels where users know they are being read, monitored.
According to author Glenn Greenwald, “The fear that causes self-censorship is well beyond the realm of theory. Ample evidence demonstrates that it’s real— and rational. A study from PEN America writers found that 1 in 6 writers had curbed their content out of fear of surveillance and showed that writers are “not only overwhelmingly worried about government surveillance, but are engaging in self-censorship as a result.”
And this is no stand-alone, one-off study. Data abounds (and compounds) indicating that we, the watched, are watching what we say.
This makes me fret— a sweaty-palmed, hand-wringing sort of fret.
If we begin to see ourselves as oppressed by the experience of sharing on social media, we’ve collectively gone through the looking glass. We’ve embraced an alternate reality where we are not free to contribute to the construction of a society or the promotion of an idea (or even product). We’ve turned away from the greatest contribution and benefit Twitter and other social media platforms provide…the opportunity to engage in the global marketplace of ideas, to hear and be heard, to make a difference.
So, setting fear aside, I embrace the power of my opinions and retweet that tweet. To do my part, to provoke, to question, and in this instance, to add my one voice to the many.
Even if it means being the 3,478th person to retweet a tweet, it matters.
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New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear and Self-Censorship, Glenn Greenwald, April 26, 2016 https://theintercept.com/2016/04/28/new-study-shows-mass-surveillance-breeds-meekness-fear-and-self-censorship/