Combatting Online Surveillance by Simplifying the Message

By Phoebe Yu
A year after Edward Snowden revealed the scale of the NSA and GCHQ mass surveillance, the debate over citizens’ online privacy continues on.
I attended the Don’t Spy on Us Day of Action in London, a daylong symposium discussing the different facets in the debate between upholding digital rights and protecting national security.
For people of my generation who grew up with the Internet, the technology doesn’t intimidate or scare us the way it does for our parents.  Back when we shared files using Napster or MySpace, we developed a crude understanding of freedom and democratization through the use of the World Wide Web.
But the problem with growing up in an online environment is that some (not all) of us take it for granted.  As part of the Internet generation and a journalism student, I’m constantly online and consuming information.  And so when the Snowden story broke, I was inundated with a barrage of news, details and stories.
Rationally, I understood the gravity of the situation.  But with too much information coming from all sides of the political spectrum and a lack of understanding about how networks work, it can be overwhelming to know where or how to even start tackling the problem on a personal basis and learning how to protect yourself online.  We are constantly being bombarded with information that we end up picking bits and pieces from everywhere, and end up with only a shallow understanding.
So what struck me most about the event is UK Chairman of M&C Saatchi, Tim Duffy’s suggestion of simplifying the message, as per his company’s motto: Brutal simplicity of thought.  Simplicity does not have to equal ‘dumbing down’ though.  Simplicity is merely being able to communicate the message or idea in the most straightforward way possible.  Duffy proposed posing tangible questions to the audience in an advertisement.
For example: Which of the people below is it acceptable to be listening in on your call?
(a) Your daughter
(b) Your wife
(c) A member of the security services
While interest groups and institutions like the media continue to rally for change in state policies and practices, the public still needs to be better engaged.  For the Internet generation, ignorance is not the problem, but apathy.  So perhaps for campaigners, the way to combat public apathy might be through the messaging.
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Phoebe Yu is currently completing her M.A. in International Journalism at City University London. She did her B.A. in Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where she liked to be involved in writing for independent media. She hopes to travel the world as a journalist, telling stories of our current time and place in history.

Combatting Online Surveillance by Simplifying the Message
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