Algorithmic Control III: Privacy, Surveillance, and the Price of Content

Okay. Last blog post for BCM112. It’s been a long road, but here we are.

This week we looked at privacy and surveillance. Before I get into it, you have to understand that we do live in a control society. It’s hard to wrap your head around. You think ‘this isn’t China’ or ‘this isn’t what Orwell wrote about’…until you figure out that the emergence of the internet means that regardless of what country you’re in, we are all subject to online surveillance and control. It’s the ‘free will’ argument again. Yes, we do have choice, but our choices are limited, and our decisions are survellianced and prompted by the control society.

Emily Skorin (2014) explains this well, “Those who control the flow of information hold the ultimate power in the society. This turns the flow of information, and the technology that surrounds the flow of information, into not only a power, but also a tool of fear and pure control.”

Throwing it back to the first lecture, Marshall McLuhan characterises mediums as “any extension of ourselves”. From the second you sign up to anything online, the second you turned on your first internet phone, the second you set up your cringey email address in your awkward youth, you were being watched. Every move you make online is collected in data and fed back into a predictive algorithm. That’s why Instagram keeps showing me ads for that one Van Gogh jumper. If you get ads for that jumper, too, we probably have a lot in common.

By using any internet platform, we share an extension of ourselves, and it is fed back to us by the algorithm, and it’s all fun and games until an awfully specific TikTok shows up on your FYP, and you think…how could they possibly know that?

What is the price of content? Of giving over parts of ourselves to the data maze?

TikTok was called out last year for removing LGBTQ content, showing that even though you can post these “extensions of ourselves”, the algorithms can and do decide who and what serves their agenda, with little regard for users.

“They’re not only erasing your existence, they cut out the possibilities to connect with your community.” (Long, 2020)

In the same way, that we are shown content that the algorithm thinks will apply to us, we are also unknowingly denied information and content. What content has TikTok shadowbanned? What information is hidden away in the abyss of closed source code? Why? And how is it preventing us from making informed and free decisions?

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Image: Week 12 Meme


McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q., 1967. The medium is the massage. New York, London, Toronto: Bantam Books.
Skorin, E., 2014. George Orwell’s 1984 and the Flow of Information. [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 26 May 2021].
Long, C., 2020. TikTok caught out suppressing LGBTI+ and political hashtags. [online] triple j. Available at: [Accessed 26 May 2021].