Jonathan van Bilsen's, PhotosNtravel

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Big Brother is Watching – CAPS REPRINT, 2017

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM CAPS NEWSPAPERS – November, 2017
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I have been using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram since their inception and usually only post my photographs, articles and information about travelling and photography. There is little information about myself on the web, and I very seldom share my opinions, other than those posted in my articles.

I have always been careful about what I post, primarily because I have about 10,000 followers on line and 20,000 in print, and feel that I am not qualified to offer opinions, which can be taken many different ways by readers. In a recent article for CAPS, I wrote about the responsibility of journalists when reporting facts instead of fictitious or ‘fake’ news, and offering misguided opinions, which can sway the public.

Recently, however, I learned of a different way Social Media is being used, and I was quite amazed. I just visited the airport to renew my Nexus membership, and after a short interview by the Canadian border guards I stood in front of the US customs people. Slightly intimidated I was very polite and obedient and renewed my fingerprints (apparently they change with age). The guard looked at me and said, “I see you’re a photographer.”

I smiled and asked him how he knew that, and he explained that he was looking at my Internet browsing history. My surprise turned to fear when he explained they keep a record of every website I (and everyone else) has ever visited. I asked where anyone would ever find the time to search such billions of sites and he explained that it was based on key words. I guess if I had searched ‘terrorism’ or something similar, I would have been flagged.

After being renewed, I left, but the process stayed with me. I was again shocked, during a recent visit to some former Soviet Union countries, when, while watching a news report I learned how Facebook is being used.

It seems that the Russian government, as well as the American Feds (no doubt, the Canadians as well), scan Facebook on a continual basis. Anyone found posting negative comments about Russia or the US are flagged by the respective authorities. These flagged posts show up when you try to enter the country.

I assume that Russia is much stricter than the US and making negative comments about President Putin is a definite no-no, unless you have no intentions of ever visiting Russia. It seems that reposting negative videos, photos, remarks, etc. is also taboo.

I should mention that this information came from an in depth editorial on a French television station, broadcasting to international subscribers. They went on to explain that the US is very similar in its scrutinization of what gets posted on Facebook and by whom.

I find this quite alarming, as the number of negative posts about President Trump must have the government’s mouse potatoes in a frenzy of non-stop technophilia. I guess it only matters if you cross the border, but I don’t think I want to risk the possibility of being questioned by large, uniformed border guards with guns.

One side of me is alarmed that we can no longer safely offer our political viewpoints without the risk of possibly being chastised or harassed for it. The other side is glad that the Feds are looking at every possible avenue where terrorists or ill-harmers may lurk.

I keep hearing that our privacy is constantly being compromised, but in all honesty, I do see a lot of information on Social Media which makes me question people’s viewpoints and integrity. The message is simple: be careful what you post, because even when you think no one is watching, Big Brother is always out there.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com

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