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'Chilling Effect' of Mass Surveillance Is Silencing Dissent Online, Study Says ( 266

An anonymous reader quotes a Motherboard article: Research suggests that widespread awareness of mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public. A paper published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), found that "the government's online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion." The NSA's "ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of U.S. citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly" and "can contribute to the silencing of minority views that provide the bedrock of democratic discourse," the researcher found.
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'Chilling Effect' of Mass Surveillance Is Silencing Dissent Online, Study Says

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  • They already do. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:05PM (#51718069)

    Mass government and commercial surveillance already have a massive chilling effect on speech online. Employers check your online presence and commentary for controversial issues; I can't believe the security clearance process doesn't do the same thing. Many people I know avoid making many political comments online precisely because of this.

    This becomes more true as you enter fields intelligent people who understand policy may enter, such as law, finance, etc...

    • by neilo_1701D ( 2765337 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:07PM (#51718081)

      I would moderate you as insightful, but that means I'm agreeing with your position and thus inviting the government to monitor me more closely to see what other heretical beliefs I may have...

      • by Corwyn_123 ( 828115 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:17PM (#51718159)

        Moderating insightful it's not necessarily agreement, merely acknowledging the view as well thought out and with intellectual merit. You can see it as insightful and still disagree.

        • Let's face it, the government doesn't REALLY need a sound reason to monitor you anyway.

          • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:32PM (#51718299) Journal

            As the cost to monitor people decreases, more and more people will be put under watch for increasingly trivial reasons.

            • You are confusing the ability to automatically monitor people with the government paying attention to our actions. If they paid attention to everyone they would have caught the 911 attackers, all the pieces were in government databases. For the sake of national defense, the government needs to focus their spying: more tree and less forest.
            • I think it's worse than that, I think they are monitoring EVERYONE, all the time, and storing it away, what they need is a reason to go look into your history specifically. So if you get a wrong number call from a suspected nut job you get flagged and a weighting mechanism increases your "Person of Interest" score. If it gets too high for whatever reason the system notifies a blood sack and they take a more personal interest, or after review you get unflagged and the weighting mechanism goes back to a low
          • Let's face it, the government doesn't REALLY need a sound reason to monitor you anyway.

            No sir. They do not. It just has to be convenient and technologically feasible.

            The gov't is not beholden to traditional budgetary metrics. Others are positing that it is the cost of the data accumulation and storage that affects the amount the gov't is willing to monitor.

            Not so much. It seems the people who print the currency that is the rest of the world's reserve currency basically have a license to print money.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          Yes, but anyone who objects to the current surveillance is a terrorist and so, by definition, cannot be insightful or capable of good thought...

          • I'm pretty sure there's a point system metric at work that allots you electronic demerits:

            -1 commented not obviously against Edward in a Snowden story

            -2 moderated a Snowden comment favorably

            -3 Submitted a favorable Snowden story

            -4 Posted a pro-Snowden story (damn the bad luck)

        • "You can see it as insightful and still disagree"

          No. You can't. Really.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Ah, but you've made previous dissenting opinions known so failing to agree with them, in a public fashion, will mean that you're attempting to now hide your views in light of recent events and, because of this, you've likely made efforts to curtail your speech and to hide it - thus you'll need to be monitored all the more closely because you're acting suspiciously.

        My view? Fuck 'em. I say what I have to say and do what I need to do. If they don't like it, they know where to find me. I don't need a job, I do

    • Re:They already do. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:26PM (#51718237)

      Actually, its not really the government surveillance I'm most concerned with. I know enough to express my opinions in such a way as to not give the government any evidence to do me harm (or at least to 'want to do me harm'). I'm far more concerned over my employer knowing my opinions. If I was independently wealthy (not robustly so just so I could live free of having to be employed) or was self-employed in a business where I could support myself I would have 0 problem removing my anonymity online. Heck I used to robustly debate all kinds of things on-line (long before the 'internet' became what it is today), it was fun, a 'sport' if you would, it was intellectually gratifying. But with employers & especially SJWs running amok that can threaten my livelihood I have taken to express my views only to those people I already consider close family or friends & thus pretty much already know my opinions...they are smart people but its not nearly as gratifying.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm posting anonymously because I don't want people to track this opinion to me. But here goes...

      We have already seen where Brendan Eich was pressured to step down as the CEO of Mozilla. Despite showing respect to everyone who worked for and with him, the loudest ones on the Internet showed their full intolerance of him voting for Prop 8 and made an example out of him. You could also see that in the primaries where people would whisper "Republican" when asked which primary they wanted to vote in.

      • Eich made a large contribution to a campaign to deny the right to marry to a group of people. It had nothing to do with voting (which I assume he did on the secret ballot) or even expressing an opinion.

    • Re:They already do. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sibko ( 1036168 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @06:44PM (#51718731)

      It's one of the reasons 4chan is as popular as it is.

      I can go there, say whatever I want; "burn the gays!", "kill the niggers!", "Hitler did nothing wrong!", or even something as mundane as "Yeah, I actually support Trump" - anything and I won't be persecuted, ostracized, or otherwise attacked in real life for it.

      And you know what that enables?
      Actual political discourse. Because you no longer have to temper anything against the prospect of retributive action from people who oppose your political ideas. If someone thinks your idea is full of shit they can't just censor you, they can't just throw you in jail or even kill you. No matter how asinine (in fact, the more contrarian the post, the more visible it is due to the larger number of replies it will garner) someone will have to argue against your position in order to refute it.

      And it's absolutely fantastic. It and the few *chan copycats are the only places on the internet where actual political discussion can take place. Where, rather than posting in a hugbox of like-minded people who echo your thoughts, you put yourself in a hurt-box where everyone tells you you're a dumbfuck moron who doesn't know what he's talking about, and you're forced to actually defend whatever argument you've made.

      The only two issues the format has are: [1] signal-to-noise ratio; as there is a very large amount of spam that takes place due to the free-speech nature, and [2] moderation stepping in and censoring certain viewpoints/topics. (This doesn't tend to happen much on 4chan's popular boards just for the sheer number of posters that makes censorship almost impossible, but on the smaller sites as well as the smaller boards on 4chan itself, it's definitely an issue).

      If you want to get the pulse of what the political undercurrents and beliefs in present day western society actually are, without the politically correct censorship that takes place, you go to 4chan and get the whole ugly truth of it.

  • by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:14PM (#51718135) Journal

    Go onto any college campus and commit a microagression. That'll shut things down real quick, no mass surveillance required.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Damn. Two days after my mod points expired (since "Yale Shrieking Girl" was my first thought when reading the summary).

      • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

        my first thought

        Well here's another little meme [] to keep your outrage collection fresh. Our most powerful academic institutions are straight up teaching hate.

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          The black guy is talking too fast to understand. Anyway, it's nothing different from what the Nation of Islam taught Malcolm Little 70 years ago.

    • When everyone is watching you, you tend to get militant defence of the status quo.

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      Indeed. I don't want to be mass surveilled any more than you do, but on a personal level the culture war and the hate being created by it is many times more chilling than anything the NSA is doing. So I have some contempt for those who feel one so acutely while studiously ignoring the other.

  • I'm chilled (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:15PM (#51718141)

    I was just having a conversation about this the other night with some friends. I said, "That's why I don't comment about a lot of stuff. It may be that one day all of those tweets and facebook comments will get sifted through, and someone may decide all you guys need to be in concentration camps." I was half-way joking... but only half-way. It certainly is chilling.

    It's not just mass surveillance, however. Social media being what it is, everyone is one bad joke away from becoming the pariah du jour, losing their job, and having their entire life ruined.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      All during the NSA slurp years, millions of idiots said the most hateful things about W, and moaned that they might get thrown in Gitmo.

      Shockingly, none are.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Here's how it's chilling, and has been chilling for a long time: I only post where I can comment either without logging in or where there are accounts on BugMeNot. Both are getting quite rare. Hello Slashdot, though. If Slashdot ever starts requiring logins, I'm out of here. I used to post to Usenet, with my real name even. But then came DejaNews and altered the deal: What was previously a transient form of communication, with at most personal archives, became a public archive of statements, indexed to be f

  • by surfdaddy ( 930829 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:17PM (#51718157)

    Under the guise of protecting the U.S., I'm sure plenty of well-intention ed people are serving their roles in NSA, FBI, Congress, etc. that in the short run are trying to protect, but in the long run are undermining our values. This is very dangerous and troubling for our future.

    • I agree. Did I just get on a list?

      For that matter, I regularly go through what the Constitutional protections are, and why, and how a need for emergency powers has been the downfall of the few historical democracies. Does that get me on a list?

      Finally, unspoken is what happens when, not if, someone hacks the NSA and out comes tumbling everyone's emails and phone "metadata" (and conversations, as some suspect), and browser histories?

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I am trying to come up with a pithy and simple way to say; The boot is stomped with the greatest zeal by those who believe they're doing the right thing.

      I guess, that's as close to concise as I can make it and it shouldn't need much elaboration or expansion - everyone should be able to agree and there are many instances in history of this being demonstrated as true. Do you think the NAZI party members believed they were doing bad things?

      So, there's the above. I'm not usually all that concise, I do not artic

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:22PM (#51718201)
    >> widespread awareness of mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public

    That's part of it, but the bigger part is that many people see how something stupid or controversial someone says now could bite them in the ass twenty years from now. That exact thing is playing out now with a state supreme court justice in Wisconsin (, but I think it will probably be 10x bigger in ten years when even more people's careers or positions in their communities get torpedoed by drunk/ignorant comments they put on Facebook before they grew up.

    That plays out into political speech too - I'd say MOST people are afraid to sign their name to their beliefs today, not because they don't want to be challenged, but because someone could try to nuke them for speaking their mind down the road. (e.g., or

    FWIW, it's also part of the reason for Trump's popularity - I think a lot of his supporters remember a time when you could speak your mind without getting fired/sued/ruined because someone thought you were "microaggressing" or not supporting the right cause at the right time, and they identify with him as a politically incorrect old schooler.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward


    • by ADRA ( 37398 )

      Its hard to ridicule well reasoned opinions. If your opinion is well constructed and rationally based (even though wrong), its a lot harder poke holes into than saying "Gay people don't deserve marriage" or "Gay people are the best employees have", etc..

      Life lesson: Say dumb things and they'll come back at you. Say well reasoned wrong things and you could still get bashed for it, but at least its a more simple conversation than defending 'fags are bad, k!'

      PS: The only time I've ever heard words Microaggress

    • tl;dr

      Got a link to a shorter version of what's happening in Wisconsin?

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      > []

      I'd wondered what the fallout would be. I had no idea. "HOLY SHIT" does not cover my thoughts well enough. I'd been a bit curious as to what was going to happen to the people involved but that never showed up in any of the media that I follow so I mostly forgot about it. I figured that they had to have pissed some people off - especially at the national level and at the level where powerful people sit.

      I have not yet looked into it further to see who sent down the orders

  • "[T]he government's online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion." The NSA's "ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of U.S. citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly" and "can contribute to the silencing of minority views that provide the bedrock of democratic discourse," the researcher found.

    Sure, but I'd wager that hyper-sensitivity towards minority viewpoints is FAR more affected by the social effect of "political correctness" rather than than literal "political correctness" from a government body as an independent entity (unless the government is responding to specific social pressures, which is then a failure of 1st Amendment enforcement).

    If you're plotting to overthrow the government, then yes there's a "chilling effect" if you know the FBI is listening in. That's debatably/arguably a good

    • you forget, majority POLITICAL opinion.

      obviously the kind of opinion that needs the least protections.

    • Hell, Proposition 8 was a majority opinion in 2008 and Brendan Eich still got fired for it.

      Probably because people realized (belatedly) that it was a terrible, bigoted opinion. I think that, quite soon after the Prop 8 vote, opinions in CA changed such that the proposition would have failed.

  • That's Awful. This country (at least in recent years) has been built on giving the the whinny 3-5% everything that they cry about. It has made this country what it is now.
    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      Not really. I think what has made America worse in recent years is the phenomenon of most Americans to vote tactically. By which I mean, they vote against the people/party they dont want, instead of voting for the policies they actually do want, regardless of person or party.
      If you just vote for the thing that is most against the things you definitely don't want, no wonder you're gonna get a mess.

      • So what should I do? In cases where I dislike both candidates, I can either try to avoid the greater of two evils or make a political statement, not both. I've been voting against people probably longer than you've been alive.

        What I want to see is some sort of ranked-choice voting across the country. We have it in Minneapolis now, although the process to get on the ballot needs some fine-tuning. It was great in the last mayoral election: I voted for ones I really liked on my first two choices, then

        • So what should I do? In cases where I dislike both candidates

          Vote for the candidate you like. Who know, there might be a majority of people who would prefer that candidate, but they are all afraid to vote for him/her. If they see enough other people vote for that candidate, they may well decide to do so in subsequent elections.

          Also, you are sending a signal that you prefer a certain political position. Over time, if enough people send the same signal, then the center of politics moves that way. Look at

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          So what should I do? ... ... I've been voting against people probably longer than you've been alive.

          And how's that working out for you?

          You're almost there... A few more pushes and I'll have turned you to the dark side! MUAHAHAH!!!

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      You're mistaking that 3-5% as actual dissent. Nah, their dissent is generally with their fellow citizens. If they were giving small percentages attention and kowtowing to them then the privacy advocates would like to have a word. The intellectually capable would like to have a word. The people with advanced degrees would like to have a word. The well-reasoned and logical would like to have a word. The advocates for liberty would like to have a word. The list goes on...

  • by gachunt ( 4485797 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @05:34PM (#51718315)


    [redacted] needs to understand that [redacted] and [redacted] are threatening our [redacted].

    These are sobering findings.

    Without the use of [redacted] and [redacted] to [redacted] for the [redacted] of [redacted], then [redacted] is certainly [redacted] to [redacted].

  • I appreciate the taste of paranoia as much as anyone.
    Less so when it is salted with too many words like "could" and "may."

    widespread awareness of mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public.
    the government's online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion
    The NSA's ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of U.S. citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly

    It struck me that if minority views are not disclosed they --- for all practical purposes --- do not exist. The majority holds the floor uncontested. It also struck me that the kind of group think that prevails in many online forums makes the NSA quite irrelevant.

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @06:13PM (#51718547)

    I find it very depressing that even here on Slashdot where the readership is apparently meant to be more "deep thinking" than the average, if you post anything that questions current mainstream thinking, no matter how polite, rational, justifiable and sincere your post is, you will inevitably incur the obligatory crop of -1 troll moderations.

    If you are one of those people that moderates rational, polite posts as "-1 Troll" just because it is making a point that is contrary to your own beliefs, you need to realize what you are actually saying about yourself.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A popular trolling tactic is to disagree with someone in as plausible a way as possible. After dealing with that for a while, people get to a point where they can't take anyone who disagrees with them seriously. So they conclude that anyone who disagrees is doing so insincerely. The result is that they merely become part of the problem. It's bad enough that trolls waste people's time with bullshit insincere arguments, but at least when people respond to that bullshit, the response will have some educati

      • by dargaud ( 518470 )
        Too bad I don't have mod points right now, but that's an excellent analysis. I believe /. comment system to be the best on the internet, but it sure can be improved.
  • ...nevermind.

  • by Kennon ( 683628 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @06:28PM (#51718631) Homepage
    There are private companies already keeping tabs on things you say, tying that to your credit score, creating profiles for you and figuring out your real identity, mapping that to your physical address and then calculating your "threat score" then selling that information to law enforcement. This is so much more invasive and complete than your future employer browsing your twitter or facebook posts. Here is a WaPo article detailing one such system actively in use today. [] Everyone crying conspiracy/tin foil beanie is only enabling this tech to proliferate. A couple years ago people who knew about Stingray were called paranoid...a couple years before Snowden people who pointed out the NSA's abuse of power were too. At this point I am pretty sure the denial is a self defense mechanism because the reality is too scary for most people to accept.
    • And those companies started sending me massive amounts of advertising for newborn baby products, when my wife had already had a hysterectomy and my daughter was 12, leaving me wondering, "Do these marketing geniuses know something I don't?" I had to go ask my wife and daughter, "Is there something you're not telling me?" Nope, turns out sometimes these "private companies keeping tabs on things" are completely clueless! Of course, it doesn't help that I keep trying to deluge them with false data at every opp
  • Facebook, Twitter and your friends are a million times more guilty of this than any government agency. Technology and culture destroyed privacy and free speech well before the government was given half a chance.

    • by Hartree ( 191324 )

      This. A thousand time, this.

      I just don't say much on Facebook anymore.

      A friend was talking about how a Wisconsin company was dumping phosphorus into a river. As I work in a chemistry department, I mentioned that it was phosphate, not pure phosphorus and that it also comes from agricultural fertilizer runoff. Boy was that a mistake. It turned out that the company was owned or affiliated with the Koch brothers and he came back at me on a tear, saying that I was an apologist for them and all the other ills of

  • All along I've just been assuming that mass surveillance "contribute(s) to the silencing of minority views" and "undermine(s) democracy", to the point where TFA is about the equivalent of the statement "water is wet". The question I struggle with is "did the authors of these policies and mechanisms foresee this outcome and purposely work towards it, or did they just get lucky"? Not that it much matters though, because the outcome is the same regardless; but it would be nice to know how clever and foresightf

  • Personally, I've gotten pretty tired of listening to the rants of Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupier supporters and even Racists for Trump online, and I wish they'd get a clue that government agencies are hoovering up all the crap they post online, and WILL use it to make a case against them should they ever piss off the wrong people. We need to remind people of their 5th Amendment rights: You have a right to remain silent, anything you say online can and will be used against you!
    • by ADRA ( 37398 )

      Wow, one would assume that satire would be covered under the 1st amendment. Or is your impression that political free speech is going to be criminalized in the near future?

  • If the "minority" views are silenced, how can you be so sure they aren't actually in the majority?

  • On of the left's "chilling effect" canards is actually real?
  • So when Il Duce Trump gets into power, he's going to round up all the people like me who called him a moron online, and put them all in concentration camps? Yeah, that is pretty chilling...
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @07:25PM (#51718945)
    it might make them listen because even though i am hard with my opinion i am truthful,.

    as we all know the government is just middle managers for the real power behind the throne which is the global banking cartel with the military-industrial-complex as the muscle enforcing the desires of the BIG monied elite, thats why i say it does not matter who gets elected president because the monied elite is not going to let a president and an election by a bunch of filthy unwashed peasants change the status-quo
  • Buy a lot of books online with your CC, ip.
    Libertarian philosophies, survivalist literature, self-sufficiency, economic collapse, book of Revelation, the ever expanding role of big government, civil liberties.
    Mention ongoing whistleblower news and list the project names surrounding the NSA's tasking tools, correlation and selectors. MAINWAY, IRONMAN ect.
    Read local news about any events, anti war protests, campaigns with a US foreign policy connection, public meetings. Local government having a public
  • My experience on the internet is that it is not currently an issue.

    There are too many idiots ranting about their personal version of the tinfoil hat. Therefore, there has been no chilling effect on the internet.

  • There are points of view that in 2016 can get you fired, get angry mobs outside your house, and so forth, but I'm not sure that they are the points of view that you think they are.
  • ... I welcome our voyeuristic overlords.

  • by anti-pop-frustration ( 814358 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @03:21AM (#51720665) Journal
    Ask any Arab-american or American Muslim how comfortable they feel about voicing any sort of political opinion online (even via private messaging).

    This is our future.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.