When the general public becomes increasingly aware of online surveillance attempts, how do they respond? Jon Penney, research fellow at Citizen Lab, has previously investigated this topic and found that many take to self-censoring themselves. This ‘chilling effect’ of surveillance means that users might not visit certain websites, refrain from engaging in particular conversations online or be hesitant to share content.
In a recent article for Slate, Penney reveals the results of a first-of-its-kind investigation that digs deeper into exactly who these people are who self-censor. In looking at over 1,200 internet-users, Penney discovers there are two specific demographics who are most likely to self-censor in these circumstances: women and younger people.
And according to Penney, the chilling effects of surveillance have far-reaching but subtle ramifications for personal freedoms:
“When citizens are able to freely speak and debate, search the internet for information they need to inform themselves, and openly share their creative works, our culture is richer, public deliberation more robust, and democracy stronger. My study suggests chilling effects, due to online surveillance and other legal/regulatory threats, put all of these freedoms at risk in subtle and invidious ways while affecting certain people or groups more than others.”