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Digital Surveillance and Understanding Its Chilling Effect on Journalists: Finding Strategies and Solutions to Safely Seek and Share Information Online

As democracies are getting increasingly digitalized, digital surveillance can impact the freedom of the press and of speech and expression. Surveillance may also shape the creation and flow of information and the formation of public opinion. This project examines how surveillance affects a major information agent: journalists.
Mozilla Foundation, 2020-2021

Research Questions

This project is located within the emerging field of research on democracy and digitalization. It focuses on Mozilla’s Research Question on the protection of vulnerable citizens in a culture of civic surveillance, in this case, professional journalists who report on socio-economically and politically marginalized and vulnerable populations. The research questions are whether and how the perception of surveillance affects journalists’ online activities when it comes to searching for and sharing information online. The case study is of India, the world’s largest democracy and second largest internet market.

Contribution to International Research

As democracies are getting increasingly digitalized, digital surveillance can impact the freedom of the press and of speech and expression. Surveillance may also shape the creation and flow of information and the formation of public opinion. This project will examine how surveillance affects a major information agent: journalists. It will seek to identify specific problem areas of privacy, trust, and usability of online platforms that constrain journalists from conducting research and expressing themselves. In terms of theoretical contribution, this research will add to theory-building on surveillance and political communication in the digital age and create a dataset for comparative research on the topic for journalists and other populations facing the risk of surveillance. It will seek to come out with actionable inputs for policy- and technology-based solutions to make the access to and the use of the internet safer for citizens.

Research Design and Methods

The research uses the “chilling effect” theory (Schauer, 1978), to examine the research questions. Using an inter-disciplinary framework that combines political ethnographic and communication studies and a mixed-method approach of data collection and analysis, it will deal with three inter-connected research concerns in a digitalized democracy:
1. Online data privacy and security.
2. Freedom of the internet and the right to information.
3. Democratic rights of free speech and expression.
These concerns are related to the research questions on whether and how the perception of negative identification by surveillance agencies can lead journalists to self-censorship or mis-reporting/under-reporting facts. Apart from examining this, this project will work at research findings that can help in formulating better internet policies and technology-based features for democracies that may help in ensuring online data privacy, the right to information, and the freedom of expression.

Publications

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