Doing the Homeland’s Business: Social Media, Surveillance, and Redefining Citizenship

Presented to the Law and Society Association 2020 Conference (online)



From the disintegration of European feudalism as anonymous serfs sought work in cities, to the shared pen-name “Publius” used by the Revolutionary authors of the Federalist Papers, the development of modern citizenship is intimately connected to anonymity. Historically and politically, anonymity has served as an expedient for social, political, and economic change, and to safeguard a non-personal, formal equality before the law. With the advent of modern digital surveillance, and a commercial internet financed by the sale of personal information and automated behavior profiles, discussions of anonymity and privacy have acquired renewed importance. Whether due to commercial interests or its interrelated state interests, the loss of privacy and anonymity (or, roughly, the freedom from being observed as distinguished from the freedom from being identified) associated with modern electronic surveillance is changing the nature of citizenship itself. Although many individuals ascribe to a rhetoric about the democratizing power of the internet, there may be a fundamental disconnect between the needs of industrial-scale commerce and the “Twitter Revolution” rhetoric used to promote the “democratizing power of the internet” during political disturbances like the Arab Spring and #Occupy.