STUDY: How the NSA’s Prism Initiative Affected Americans’ Social Media Use

How have U.S. Internet users changed the way they view and manage privacy on their social media accounts since the National Security Agency’s Prism initiative came to light nearly two years ago?

PewAmericansPrivacyChartHow have U.S. Internet users changed the way they view and manage privacy on their social media accounts since the National Security Agency’s Prism initiative came to light nearly two years ago?

The latest study from Pew Research Center examines the changes in Americans’ perceptions and behavior since the news of Prism broke.

Pew said in introducing the study:

It has been nearly two years since the first disclosures of government surveillance programs by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and Americans are still coming to terms with how they feel about the programs and how to live in light of them. The documents leaked by Snowden revealed an array of activities in dozens of intelligence programs that collected data from large American technology companies, as well as the bulk collection of phone “metadata” from telecommunications companies that officials say are important to protecting national security. The metadata includes information about who phone users call, when they call and for how long. The documents further detail the collection of Web traffic around the globe and efforts to break the security of mobile phones and Web infrastructure.

And Pew’s findings related to social media included:

  • 34 percent of respondents who were aware of the government’s surveillance programs, or 30 percent of all adults, have taken at least one step to hide or shield information from the government: 17 percent changed privacy settings on social media, 15 percent used social media less often, 15 percent avoided certain applications and 13 percent uninstalled apps.
  • 23 percent of those aware of the surveillance programs, or 22 percent of adults, said they changed their own usage patterns on technological platforms “a great deal” or “somewhat,” with 15 percent applying that to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.
  • 31 percent of respondents were concerned about government monitoring of their social media activities, while 29 percent were concerned about government monitoring of their activity on mobile apps.
  • 13 percent of adults who were aware of the surveillance programs have unfriended or unfollowed people on social media, and 8 percent have deleted social media accounts.

Pew Research Center director of Internet, science and technology research Lee Rainie said in a release introducing the study:

As we have studied privacy issues since the Snowden leaks, we’ve been asking Americans how they feel about the monitoring programs and what tradeoffs they feel are acceptable as policy makers try to strike a balance between privacy and security. This is the first time we have asked whether people have changed their own behavior to avoid the possibility of government surveillance. And we find that a portion of the population is adjusting some activity at least in some simple ways, like changing their privacy settings and being a bit more discreet in the things they say and search for.

Senior researcher Mary Madden added:

Our survey showed that one-half of Americans think it would be difficult for them to find tools and strategies to help them be more private as they use technology. The vast majority have not yet adopted some of the more advanced tools that would encrypt their communications or make them less visible when they are using the Internet.

Readers: How has your usage of social networks changed since the leaks by Snowden?

Privacy image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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