Illustration: Monica Burns

Many of us will remember practically growing up with the reality TV show Big Brother and, whether we watched it or not, we know that the show involved watching participants live together in a house. Big Brother essentially allowed you to spy on nearly all aspects of their lives; you held power in that it was your decision as to who stayed and who was evicted from the house. But the term ‘Big Brother’ was actually coined far earlier than the first airing of the TV show. In fact, nearly half a century earlier, it was George Orwell, in his seminal work 1984, who created the idea of an omniscient, godlike persona, who controlled his country, Oceania, through constant surveillance of its citizens, be it by means of TV screens, microphones or undercover agents. More than fifty years on from the publication of 1984, we seem to be living in a world free from the constraints of censorship and surveillance, thanks to ideas such as the freedom of speech. But it is exactly at this moment that we need to consider that a new ‘Big Brother’ could be emerging in all our lives and in our very homes. Just as all aspects of the lives of the citizens of Oceania were watched by Party members in Orwell’s novel, so too are our lives- thanks to Facebook. With the colossal success of social networking sites such as Facebook, we could be looking at a possible ‘Big Brother’ resurgence, one which we are instrumental in creating: not only do we voluntarily allow intrusions to our private life by joining and using these sites, information about us is also disseminated without our consent by the people closest to us, our ‘Facebook’ friends.

In the novel 1984, the citizens of Oceania are stripped of their privacy primarily through the use of technology. So-called tele-screens in every room of a house meant that the citizens could be watched at all times. In addition to this, microphones were used to listen in on citizens’ conversations. In this way, any insurgency could be detected and subdued. Now-a-days with Facebook and the many options available to us on the site, we are looking at much the same idea. However in this ‘Big Brother’, it is not what you do, but what your friends do, which is fundamental to its success. With modern technology it is incredibly easy to take photos (most of us probably have smart-phones), and Facebook has made it even easier to upload these quickly onto the Internet. You can therefore take photos of anyone and upload them before the subject of the photo even knows you’ve taken one. In addition to that, the ‘wall’ or ‘timeline’ on Facebook is open for all your friends to post on- you don’t have the ability to ‘censor’ what they write before it’s published. This ultimately means that people can post what they want about you and- thanks to the ‘open’ nature of Facebook which leads people to have hundreds of friends- hundreds of strangers or distant acquaintances can find out a whole lot more about you. In our modern age, we don’t need the government spying and influencing us- your own ‘friends’ are already doing that by freely distributing information about you. Facebook essentially allows your ‘friends’ to spy on you and, in doing so, learn a lot about your character and life- perhaps even more than you would like them to know. We’re all part of a new ‘Big Brother’.

As with any form of ‘Big Brother’, it is ultimately our privacy which suffers. Through camera phone photos, seemingly innocent Facebook wall posts and the continuous tagging of places, people on Facebook can learn where you’ve been, what you’re doing and who with in one quick sweep of your page. Not only does Facebook allow for this, it also allows for gossip on a much broader scale than your year group. Status updates and comments made by one person can be read by hundreds, regardless of the subject or intention. This can lead to misunderstandings or gossip, which in some cases could go so far as slander. Not only does this destroy the victim’s sense of self, it can hurt their job chances, friendships and sense of privacy. Gossip on a wider scale simply leads to more extensive damage.

As with the dictatorship in 1984, in 2012 it’s us, the masses, who keep ‘Big Brother’ alive. No idea- and no event- can take hold with such intensity and success without the support of the masses. Facebook has given us the ability to share and to stalk with shocking simplicity, but it hasn’t made itself big. It’s the Facebook users that have triggered its boom, and its Facebook users who could take it to a whole new level. As we affectionately term it on Facebook: you can stalk people.

The Facebook phenomenon is not nearly as advanced as the ‘Big Brother’ in 1984 and most of us probably use it with the most innocent and harmless of intentions. However the reality still remains that Facebook holds many parallels with the ‘Big Brother’ of 1984. It has always been imperative to think about what you write or say and, although Facebook seems to have blurred users’ cautionary instincts, it still remains important. So often humans are like lemmings: we don’t realize we’re going over the edge until we’re already falling.

3 COMMENTS

  1. For an editorial, i would recommend a stronger writing style.

    Dont say probably, practically, so called, at much the, essentially. It just tones down the effect of the whole article, as it seems like the author isnt 100% behind their ideas, which I trust you are.

    “As with…you can stalk people.”

    If the whole article was written like that paragraph, it would be much more compelling.

    Nice comparison though, good read.

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