Magazine Feature: Inaction in the Face of Awareness

You remember. It was early in the summer of 2013. A seemingly harmless spectacled man by the name of Edward Snowden reveals classified government information. This information, however, was either a shock to some, or, the harsh reality fulfilling the Big Brother prophecy set forth by George Orwell in 1949.

Edward Snowden, having recently become an NSA agent at the time, released information regarding many overbearing global surveillance programs run by the NSA. Essentially, the NSA was monitoring nearly everything we were doing on the internet- emails, texts, phone calls, online shopping, web searches, etc.

Why though? Why all of us? Well, it’s a simple answer, one that may seem to make sense, but really is just a scapegoat answer when you realize what is at stake.

The simple answer, provided by our government, of course was: for better national security purposes. To collect data on potential criminals and prevent terrorism. All at the cost of our privacy as American citizens.

The two sides of the argument are simple, either you believe that the government is doing it for the better good of the people, or, it’s a complete violation of our right to privacy. And the right to privacy is quite a big one. I’d even say it’s quite an American one, a right that we take pride in within a ‘free’ society. After all, it is the fourth amendment- “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….”

Yikes, it looks like the NSA completely missed the ball on that one.

Now, the main side-effect to Snowden’s whistle blow has been the ignition of discussion regarding both individual privacy and national security. It has now been about six years since Snowden’s leak, and guess what? Not much has changed.

Today, not only is the NSA practicing their own operations, but many of the most powerful companies are providing our personal information to the government. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, to name a few. Companies whose services and products have become apart of the average person’s everyday life. Leaving little to no room for a concealment of privacy behind our day to day lives in the eyes of the government.

So what has been done in reaction to this- hardly anything.

If there is no resistance, or at least no resistance to an effective degree, then there must be a reason. The gains must be worth the risk and cost of our fourth amendment rights.

Social media has become a global phenomenon. Nearly all individuals who have access to social media, have it. Sadly, this is a huge source of the government’s data collecting. Now, we all enjoy it. We all love to keep in touch with each other and see what we’re all doing, but what is really gained as a result? Especially, when these social media companies are collecting our info and providing it to the government.

Simply put, most of our gains remain within the domain of instant gratification and self indulgence. Posting a picture, sending out a tweet, posting a story, all the likes, all the retweets, all the comments- they give us a high. These virtual worlds of self indulgence give us a strong sense of external approval from our peers. What could be a better remedy to a lack of self confidence. Just post a picture of yourself and digest the love.  

Recently, neuroscientists have been conducting research on what exactly occurs within the brain when we receive this sense of instant gratification. Recent studies show that when we receive positive interactions on social media (such as a like, retweet or comment) it ignites a similar reaction in our brain that we would receive from drug use and gambling. In fact, according to Trevor Haynes, a researcher at Harvard University, whenever you receive a notification from a social media platform, your brain secretes dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical within our brain that makes us feel good. Dopamine is also released when ingesting food, falling in love, doing exercise, sexual intercourse and even doing drugs.  

The most recent inductee to that list now is social media. When we receive attention on social media, packaged and delivered in the form of a notification, we obtain an actual high. In other words, as Haynes put it, “When rewards are delivered randomly (as with a slot machine or a positive interaction on social media), and checking for the reward is easy, the dopamine-triggering behavior becomes a habit.”

It seems that the lack of resistance lays within the grasps of addiction. Perhaps, dare I say,  an addiction so powerful that we accept the violation of our rights. Perhaps our internal views of ourselves are so bad that the feeling of approval is too satisfying to risk. Or, maybe we don’t accept it, this violation of our rights, but we just accept the fact that we can not trust our government.

But, trust seems to also be another social repercussion of Mr. Snowden’s actions. For years there has been the continued decline in trust of government. This isn’t new, of course. We’ve seen this in the past. Shocking events that bring about revelations which furthermore leads to overall disappointment and distrust. The Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, President Nixon and watergate, Monica Lewinsky- just to name a few.  

This also is not the first time we have seen a sense of over surveillance plague our citizens. It’s  also not the first time that this has been the result of fear. Go back to the 1950’s during the McCarthy era. The era of the Red Scare. An era where communism was a great threat to the political powers of America and therefore ignited great fear.

The McCarthy era atmosphere of fear ignited a great abuse of power by the political pawns on American citizens. In a dissertation written by Eve Collyer Merritt, Merritt makes the claim that the government manipulated the people with their political interests into tricking the population that our country was in a state of emergency in order to protect our national security.

Does ‘national security’ ring a bell? Politicians were telling the American people that communism was on the rise, and it was taking manifestation within our own communities. They claimed that these ‘communists’ could be teaching our kids, be influential artists, journalists or individuals taking our jobs. This paranoia was the Red Scare. The government, similar to the NSA surveillance, started to violate the rights of many citizens- wrongfully infiltrating their personal lives upon suspicion of communism.

If over surveillance is an expected violation of a government who has the people’s best interest at heart, especially in terms of safety, then how many times has this measure of precaution been effective? It must be quite effective if we aren’t doing much resisting…

Wrong. Look at many of the recent mass shootings. Far too many times it has been stated after the fact that there was suspicion surrounding the suspect prior to the atrocity. A perfect example is the Parkland shooter. A New York Times article published in February of 2018 indicates that the FBI had been aware of Nikolas Cruz way before the shooting. Yet, it still occurred.

They say that awareness is the first step towards action; towards resistance. But, perhaps it can also act as the exact opposite. Snowden’s leak occurred a fair number of years ago, and for years the government has been losing the public’s trust and even partaking in over surveillance.

So, maybe the lack of resistance to this violation of our privacy lays within multiple different factors. Factors such as the addiction to our phones, social media and self-indulgent approval, governmental manipulative propaganda in which we accept this violation as a concern for our safety, or just the overall acceptance of governmental distrust. Perhaps distrust has evolved into becoming the norm of public sentiment toward government; especially with the technological advancements of our time. Chances are that our inaction is a result of all these factors occurring

simultaneously at the same time.

If this is the case, are we aware of this? If not, maybe it’s time we wake up from our slumber of ignorance and inaction. Take a stand.