Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side Of Internet Freedom, interviewed by RFE/RL:
RFE/RL: One of your chapters is called “Why The KGB Wants You To Join Facebook.” Why does the KGB want us to join Facebook?
Evgeny Morozov: Part of the argument I’m making in the book is that authoritarian governments have immensely benefited from the web, and I point to three features. One of them is propaganda; one of them is new ways of censorship; and one of them is increased surveillance, more sophisticated surveillance.
The reason why the KGB wants you to join Facebook is because it allows them to, first of all, learn more about you from afar. I mean, they don’t have to come and interrogate you, and obviously you disclose quite a bit. It allows them to identify certain social graphs and social connections between activists. Many of these relationships are now self-disclosed by activists, by joining various groups. You can actually go and see which causes are more popular than others.
But also, it is possible to start identifying trends on the macro level. You can actually go and, using data posted to social-media sites (not just Facebook — I’m talking here more broadly about blogs and about tweets), you can actually start identifying which way social sentiment in a country is going. And that way you may get ahead of real developments.
If the Tunisian government had a sophisticated system of data-mining and analyzing everything that is happening in the country on social media, I bet they would have been much better prepared for what followed. Much of that outrage has been growing on Facebook early on and it was possible to go and check how angry people really were.
And I think many of these tools have already been developed by Western companies mostly, to do brand analysis. So there are a lot of interesting tools already to track consumer sentiment toward goods, and they can very easily be redeployed to study political sentiment. So this is one of the things which I think drives interest from governments in social media.
And not just authoritarian countries, but in the West as well. We have something called In-Q-Tel, which is the venture fund of the CIA, which has been investing in such social-media tracking and monitoring tools for several years now. It is definitely something that is attractive to all governments — not just authoritarian ones.