Growing up and dying under the watch of social media (Surveillance and Social Media)

With the advent of social media as a normalised (and increasingly necessary) method of online existence, increasingly new parents are documenting their children’s lives online through their own profiles … and sometimes through profiles created for their children. This isn’t a new thing either: this was happening five years ago.

Perhaps it is time to ask what right children have to not have an online social media presence until they decide to – or has the time come when it is impossible to embrace anonymity even in the cradle?

Consider for a moment how Facebook commodifies the individual – that is that users have value to be bought and sold in targeting advertising sales. Lovink (2011 p.13) argues in ‘Networks without a cause’ that social media attempts to “extract value from every situation.”

Facebook as an organisation is incredibly adept at such analysis. That’s where the money is after all. Sometimes it is a little too adept for my own personal liking. How does Facebook know that I’m sad or happy? Good lord – how did Facebook know that I was hungry?!?! There is a much more invasive question that some female users have been asking themselves:

Some might say that this is a clever use of data analysis incorporating keywords, geolocation and behavioural patterns consistent with millions of users before them. Human behaviour after all, is repetitive. Sad as it is to say, we are not unique. Our lives converge in patterns … human behaviour has been said to be 93% predictable (, 2010) – you just have to look at things from the right perspective:

A section of the Mandelbrot set following a logarithmic spiral – infinite repetition (is human behaviour all that vastly different, really?)

Others might say that it is all a bit too invasive of privacy and overstepping boundaries. What we can say is this – it is not a paranoid delusion nightmare born out of reading too much Orwell and eating too much camembert as a late night snack. Data driven analysis is the reality of how Facebook’s economy works … we hand over this data to be surveilled daily.

Since Facebook was made public in 2006 there is now a generation on the verge of their teenage years who have never known world without Facebook. Do humans have a right to not be documented from the moment they are born? I don’t pretend to suggest that I have the answer to this question – the pervasiveness of Facebook in modern society has become so ingrained that it now serves for many online services as a digital passport required to engage in the discourse of the day:

Within in a couple of generations there will be individuals who have been born and died on Facebook. It is a probable outcome that AI with access to the Facebook database along with interconnected platforms will be able to track a person’s life from cradle to grave in incredible detail.

Private online conversations stored in the cloud (supposedly in a secure manner) long after we have passed will still contain this is sensitive and intimate information. This information is valuable: our loves, losses and our secret shames will all be open to access by whoever is the best hacker of the day. Bollmer (2013 p.147) poses these possibilities of what is beyond one’s control in the digital afterlife:

“Parts of the self one wishes to hide become exposed, acting counter to the will of the individual. These fears coincide with a discourse that equates these digital traces with the essence of human identity”

In the future one man’s hacker might be another’s man’s archaeologist and there is much information lurking underground to be had. Facebook is always watching.

After all, all this has happened before:

And all this can happen again:




Eye Contact ! by Craig Sunter (CC by ND 2.0)

Mandel zoom 04 seehorse tail by Dr. Wolfgang Beyer (CC BY SA 3.0)


Bollmer, G 2013, Millions Now Living Will Never Die: Cultural Anxieties About the Afterlife of Information, The Information Society, no. 3, p. 142. Available from: 10.1080/01972243.2013.777297. [01 August 2017].

Lovink, G 2011, Networks without a cause, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Physorg 2010, Human behavior is 93 percent predictable, research shows, retrieved 01 August, 2017,


One thought on “Growing up and dying under the watch of social media (Surveillance and Social Media)

  1. Hi Antuua, great post overall! I like how you touch on the topic of privacy in relation to our online identity. It is true that the social media is eating away our personal privacy, and it would only become worse for the future generations, I agree that hackers are one of the main cause that is jeopardising the safety of our online identity. But we can’t deny the need for surveillance in the digital age, also the fact that it does help solve different society issues.
    By the way in the eighth paragraph, I think the “in” can be taken away, changing it into “Within a couple of generations”.


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