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Radio Berkman 237: The Chilling Effect

The effects of surveillance on human behavior have long been discussed and documented in the real world. That nervous feeling you get when you notice a police officer or a security camera? The one that forces you to straighten up and be on your best behavior, even if you're doing nothing wrong? It's quite common.

The sense of being monitored can cause you to quit engaging in activities that are perfectly legal, even desirable, too. It's a kind of "chilling effect." And it turns out it even happens online.

Researcher Jon Penney wanted to know how the feeling of being watched or judged online might affect Internet users' behavior. Does knowledge of the NSA's surveillance programs affect whether people feel comfortable looking at articles on terrorism? Do threats of copyright law retaliation make people less likely to publish blog posts?

Penney's research showed that, yes, the chilling effect has hit the web. On today's podcast we talk about how he did his research, and why chilling effects are problematic for free speech and civil society.

Reference Section

Watch Jon Penney's recent talk and read a recap

Follow Penney on Twitter

Creative Commons photo via Flickr user fotograzio

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