Social Media and the US Government

Social media are an extremely important tool of communication and socialization in the 21st century. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and other Internet giant services are increasingly becoming the norm of socialization in today’s society. Statistics indicate that about half of the population in America use social media on a daily basis with the numbers rising with each passing day. Apart from acting as an instrument of socialization and entertainment, social media are rapidly gaining more power in influencing today’s political, economic and social matters.

Unlike traditional media that have for a long time been conservative and reluctant to openly discuss sensitive issues, social media provide an alternative platform, which is uncensored and rather provocative. It is in the light of this kind of freedom that the US government seeks to monitor social media with the aim to regulate the movement of information. The following paper discusses how the National Security Agency (NSA) is using social media corporation to disclose information. In addition, the paper highlights the reaction of social media CEOs and the agreement in relation to information disclosure between the US government and social media websites.

In February 28, 2012, a Facebook user from Dallas found himself in trouble when he posted a negative comment regarding a Presidential Candidate. He was tracked by the authority’s representatives at his work place, who later interrogated him at his house. According to The Washington Times Communities, the Facebook user who posted the comments on a private political thread was thoroughly interrogated by two sheriffs and a local police officer. Officials claimed that they were ensuring that there were no actual threats aimed at hurting the Presidential Candidate following the person in questions remarks that stated “I wish there was a magic wand to make Senator Santorum disappear’’. This is one of the thousands, if not millions, of cases reported on how US authorities retrieve information from the social media and deprive the citizens from their freedom of speech and privacy (Barnes, 2006).

The scrutiny of the social media at all levels by the federal government is a reality in the 21st century. Tweets, Youtube videos, emails and Facebook comments undergo thorough scanning. This is a move that, according to the government, is for the protection of the general public. However, the general public is infuriated by the recent revelations that the NSA is using social media websites to retrieve and disclose private information. According to the Guardian, a British newspaper, evidence showing how Verizon, a major telecommunication company, handed all its database information to NSA shocked Americans. A former NSA member who had fled the country provided the evidence. Further evidence revealed a secret NSA program called PRISM, used for mass surveillances (Graber & Dunaway, 2014).

The NSA has admitted conducting such surveillance; however, its defence of the federal government states that this is done in order to ensure that Americans are safe from deterring crimes and terror activities. The NSA is alleged to have taken further steps by infiltrating video games that attract over 40 million users as a way of collecting social intelligence and recruit informants (Lyon, 2003). The NSA is scanning every text message, every email and every call made by American citizens through the PRISM software. Many citizens view this practice as an absurd that is extremely insensitive to citizens’ privacy rights (Andrejevic, 2009).

Recently, Twitter vowed to sue the federal government based on what it termed as excessive enforcement in disclosure of its data. Yahoo has also been in court to bar the federal government from imposing a penalty after it failed to disclose information regarding foreign Yahoo users to NSA. Many CEOs of social media websites share similar grievances. They feel that the federal government is using its powers to intimidate social media by monitoring activities that are deemed private by Internet users (Sánchez, Levin, & Del Riego, 2012). According to documents provided by the former NSA member, reports show that social media sites are required to provide data to the federal government under a secret court order. CEOs of major social websites have denied the claims, although it is evident that to some extent, they are compelled by the government to reveal customer data.

The main agreements between social websites and the US government is that a certain level of user data should be voluntary accessible to the federal agencies. The release of data should hence be done through a legal process. Revelations of the former NSA whistleblower indicate that the government is secretly threatening social websites to make them provide user data. Moreover, the government uses additional means to retrieve data from the websites without following the legal and duly process that upholds the right to privacy (Gilbert & Karahalios, 2009). Nevertheless, contradicting information shows that the social media industry is under critical scrutiny by the US government, which is a factor that has greatly disturbed many online users.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that the government can gain access to individual information as a means of enforcing security measures for its citizens. However, such procedures need to follow the legal and lawful process. The National Security Agency has widely been criticized for retrieving data from social media websites. Additional controversies surrounding this exercise followed after evidence of excessive data collection was revealed by a former NSA member. Such revelations have led to distrust between citizens and the government. Furthermore, CEOs of social websites are frequently indicating foul play by the government. Therefore, the government needs to find a balance between provision of security and upholding the elements of personal freedom, privacy and expression.