Surveillance and sousveillance on Facebook: Between empowerment and disempowerment


  • Mateusz Bucholzki



It seems there is no end to the growth of social media. Facebook, in particular, enjoys its hegemonic position as the leading social networking site, with more than one and a half billion global monthly active users throughout 2015. 71 per cent of all adult Internet users in the United States have used Facebook in 2014, which constitutes 58 per cent of the entire U.S. adult population. The website has permeated many aspects of social, cultural, and economic life. It has equipped its users with new ways of online social interaction, governments with new means of communicating policies with the public opinion, and businesses and advertisers with a platform for reaching consumers faster and on a broader-than-ever scale. David Lyon, the leading scholar of international surveillance studies, observes: "Facebook has quickly become a basic means of communicating – of 'connecting', as Facebook itself rightly calls it – and is now a dimension of daily life for millions" (p. 35).The effect of social networking and social media on mass popular culture of the modern world is undoubtedly immense. What is less clear, however, is the normative value and nature of Facebook. From its appearance on the Internet, the website has been an object of criticism pointing to the modern paradigm of individuals' lives being constantly exposed to the public gaze. The increasingly complex and decreasingly intelligible architecture of the globalising "technoscape" have created new means of surveillance. David Lyon (1994) has been at the forefront of this line of thinking, arguing together with Zygmunt Bauman that modernity brought about the rise of a new Panoptic "surveillance society". Lyon sees Facebook as an exemplary modern surveillance system, designed for the purpose of collecting data about its users and turning it into commercial profits. The revelations about the global surveillance of Facebook users by the U.S. National Security Agency, exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013, seem to be a case in point. The international uproar that followed inspired many to reflect critically on the nature of social networking sites and to question their safety.