Those living in the United States aren’t strangers to mass surveillance. Most cities now have extensive monitoring systems that can capture individuals hundreds of times on camera each day. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the ability of the National Security Agency to collect personal data sparked a vigorous public debate back in 2013. In the age of social media, it’s easier now for employers to track their employees across various digital channels, even outside working hours.
The data that users collect and share on social media is often deeply personal. While social media sites do have benefits, it’s important to consider how mass surveillance impacts our privacy and what effect this can have on mental health.
How Mass Surveillance Has Changed Our Lives
Social media has become a staple of daily life with many users checking their apps several times a day. Around 7 out of 10 Americans use social media to share information, connect with others, find news content and entertain themselves. Many social networking sites, such as Instagram or Facebook, collect huge amounts of data to develop new ways of engaging their users, meaning the content you consume is constantly being tracked.
However, mass surveillance isn’t exclusive to the digital world. In many major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems are being used to capture people’s faces and activities in the wake of rising fears of terrorism. The introduction of facial recognition technology and advances in audio recording have made these devices even more invasive.
Although privacy concerns have been raised, modern technology also has some benefits. For example, social media can be used for staying in touch with family or friends and quickly spreading awareness about important information. However, the psychological effects of surveillance and how this new technology can be taken advantage of should not be ignored.
How Have Privacy Changes Affected Our Mental Health?
A loss of privacy and mental health issues can often be connected. Research suggests that privacy is a fundamental psychological need because of its ability to give an individual space to recover from harm and develop their own unique identity. With so much of our lives online, it’s too easy to constantly compare our lives and behavior to others. Mass surveillance has also made it increasingly difficult to protect your personal data and control who has access to it.
Loss of privacy can also lead to distrust in others, whether it be friends, family, the government or even yourself. When you aren’t able to trust those around you, forming connections and healthy relationships becomes more difficult and can affect other areas of your life.
Decreased Trust in Government
Many people deem it acceptable for the government to track phone calls or the activity of suspected terrorists, but the idea of monitoring the daily communications of citizens doesn’t sit well. Data show that Americans disapprove of the government spying on its own citizens, making decreased trust in the government a consequence of mass surveillance.
Email, text messaging and social media play a major role in maintaining close relationships with friends and family. However, when people feel as if they’re under constant surveillance, having genuine interactions with others becomes more difficult.
Certain situations, such as sharing an inside joke with someone, can be taken out of context and misinterpreted as a threat. This loss of privacy can cause relationships to feel more staged or calculated if people can’t foster genuine intimacy and understanding with each other.
Loss of Control
Feeling as if you lack control over your life can lead to increased stress levels. Individuals under surveillance have to constantly filter what they say or do, especially if their actions going public can result in dire consequences. Not knowing who’s watching or willing to report you can also increase stress.
Mass surveillance creates a level of uncertainty that may force people into conformity out of fear. If you aren’t sure whether you’ll be branded as a potential criminal, self-censorship becomes a survival mechanism. People are less likely to express controversial opinions and may alter their behavior to reduce the risk of being labeled as offensive, which restricts freedom of self-expression.
Anxiety From Constant Surveillance
While there is a clear line between anxiety as a normal human emotion and anxiety as a mental disorder, mass surveillance makes this distinction tricky to gauge. Actions you may have previously been unconcerned with, such as dark humor, unpopular political beliefs or private web searches, are now at the forefront of your mind under constant surveillance.
The more invasive technology becomes, the more worried you may be about your behavior or personality. You may start to think twice about your every move, even if there’s no clear evidence you’re being watched. This uncertainty can trigger anxiety, leaving you unsure whether your worries are real or fabricated.
How to Improve Your Mental Health
As technology continues to advance, the use of social media, drones and CCTV rises in popularity. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid all types of surveillance. However, if this constant surveillance is starting to affect your mental health or contribute to anxious feelings, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Spend limited time on social media
- Adjust the privacy settings on your social media accounts
- Learn who has the ability to monitor your personal data
- Limit what information you post on social networking sites
- Form stronger connections outside of the digital world
- Disable or reduce smart technology in your home
- Ask a trusted friend to accompany you to public places
- Track your emotions for anxiety, heightened paranoia, fear or uneasiness
Restoring privacy and limiting who has access to your personal information can help you feel more in control of your life. While this can give you greater peace of mind, it may not be enough to eliminate anxiety completely. In that case, professional help may be needed.
Restore Your Mental Health
Restore Mental Health offers a variety of treatments designed to help you obtain a higher quality of life. Contact us at Restore to speak with a trained counselor and discover how our programs can alleviate your anxiety.