The Global Debate Around Social Media Surveillance


Social media platforms have become an indispensable part of the current digital era. The online behavior of the people is somewhat a manifestation of their offline personality. Governments of many countries are using this fact for monitoring the behavior of the citizen. Mass surveillance has become prevalent in many countries and the world is divided whether social media surveillance is good or not. Social media surveillance refers to the process of collecting and then processing the personal data of a person from different communication platforms. This is generally done through automated technology. Once the information is collected, the metadata and the content is analyzed for meeting different objects. 


The information collected through social media surveillance is mostly used by advertisers, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Many governments monitor online speed on social media platforms. With the increased use of social media surveillance, the globe is divided between protection and privacy and a debate on surveillance and digital rights are taking place. 

Social Media Surveillance For Protection?

Social media surveillance is done on account of protection. In many countries, citizens are punished based on the content that they have posted on their social media platforms. For instance, posting Sexy Photos of women are sometimes considered illegal in a few countries and are considered a punishable offence. In Pakistan in 2019, a social media monitoring program was initiated to fight hate speech, extremism and anti-national content. Also, social media monitoring is done to fight the spread of misinformation. Recently, Pegasus, Israeli spyware has come to light for spying on politicians, journalists and activists of multiple countries and it was criticized by many. 

Right To Privacy

On the other side of the coin, the argument for the right to privacy is laid down. Social media surveillance is a threat to digital rights and privacy and for fighting against this threat, it is important to do campaigns against social media surveillance. When debating against this cause, many campaigners ask for limited access to the accumulated data. For instance, no one would prefer that the Love Status that they post are eyed on. However, many other campaigners believe that there is a need to stop total surveillance. 


In recent times, there have been many instances where users are arrested for their speed on political, social and religious views. Such actions are a threat to the free expression of the citizens, which is an important benchmark for a democratic country. Monitoring such behaviour turns a democratic country into an authoritarian country. Digital surveillance also interrupts the proper functioning of journalists and whistleblowers who prefer to self-censor to avoid problems. 

Case Study Of Laos

In May 2021, the Ministry of Public Security in Laos set up a special task force for fighting against fake information related to COVID-19 to ensure that the citizens have access only to the right information. Further, there have been instances when citizens were arrested for apparently uploading hoax videos on TikTok. Such scenarios force one to ask whether the government is trying to control how people express themselves online in addition to controlling information online. The problem with the decision was that there was no hard definition of what fake news comprises. Later, organizations like Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression and Network, Manushya Foundation, PEN Myanmar, ALTSEAN- Burma, the Institute of Policy Research and Advocacy and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights raised their voice against surveillance by calling it a digital dictatorship. 


It was argued that such surveillance in Laos hampers the working of citizen journalism, independent media and freedom and rights of the Lao people. Further, it was cited that the decision of the Lao government was against Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


It is important that when digital surveillance is carried out, the law regarding the same has proper clarity and that it is legal and doesn’t withdraw any rights of the citizens. To ensure that the privacy rights of the citizens are not violated and to gain the trust of the citizens, it is important to ensure that robust surveillance laws are present that clearly states when surveillance of targets are legal to ensure that the privacy rights of the other citizens are not possible. It is high time that the government draws clear boundaries of the kind of digital surveillance that it can do with a proper explanation.