The Post-Snowden Chilling Effect (and Manning/CCC)

Besides Snowden, Chelsea Manning is also now an honorary CCC member. (English writeup.),-manning,-pieper.html

Some social scientists have jiggered together Google Trends to convince themselves that searchers for “government trouble”-related things are using Google less, in the wake of the Snowden revelations. They claim there’s about a 2.2% drop in searches for things like “anthrax.”

Assume for the minute that their results are correct, and I have mixed thoughts on this. Yes, it’s a bad thing for people to feel “less free” and more in need of self-censorship.

But, since there’s a legitimate reason — ‘they’ really ARE watching — this heightened level of awareness does two things:

a) It means e.g dissidents-to-be are less likely to get ‘flagged’ even before being told to keep their dissent off the Interwebs, since now people are cautious by default

b) It means people are “aware of their chains,” as it were.

If you carefully study the history of the West and the East in the Cold War, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that both systems were about equally effective at suppressing internal dissent. Where they differed is the means of doing it: the East attempted to prevent any dissent at all, whereas the West did the judo thing and directed “protest energy” into channels that did not threaten the system.

Key to this form of social-control judo is people not realizing, “hey, there’s actually a threat here — you have to be careful.” After all, if nobody perceives a threat, then they’re a much softer target. (As the saying goes, “the greatest trick the Devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”)

Worth adding is that it doesn’t actually matter where the threat comes from. Regardless of whether it’s the NSA running “let’s find dissidents like Target finds pregnant women” algorithms or private-sector blacklisting efforts, what matters is people being careful…

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