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Is the government watching us?

by Courtney Deeren - Copy Editor
Tue, May 7th 2019 10:00 pm

Anyone can go on various social media sites nowadays and see people theorizing that we are being continuously monitored by the government. Memes litter the internet talking about the “FBI guy,” the member assigned to surveilling you. This theory stretches far and wide and has brought on some of the craziest beliefs about who is watching us and how. 

The first and most obvious theory surrounding this is that the FBI and other government officials are watching us through our webcams and/or listening to us through our voice controlled devices, such as the popular Amazon Echo products as well as Google Home, Siri and various other devices. Mashable, a media and entertainment company, discusses this popular idea in light of the aforementioned “FBI guy.” While many of the memes, such as the “FBI guy,” make it out as if the agent and the person they are surveilling are friends of sorts, Mashable would argue this is not and would not be the case. 

“Not to get all Black Mirror on you,” the article’s author, Chloe Bryan wrote. “But being online is an extremely lonely experience. No matter for whom we are posting, we’re doing the posting alone. And if the FBI is watching you? It’s not because they want to swap book recommendations. There exist genuine concerns about who the FBI chooses to surveil and why.” 

Bryan even goes on to compare this to a trope often seen in movies and TV. 

“And that, perhaps, is the great romantic tragedy of the FBI agent meme,” Bryan writes. “It derives joy from a relationship based in fiction. It's nice, but it isn't real. Friends, this might seem like a whole lot of feelings to project on a meme. And it is. But the truth of it remains — in life, we are all so alone, and we are all so online.” 

While the overly romanticized idea of having someone in your computer watching your every move and providing help and comfort in times of need is only one of the various theories out there regarding surveillance, another slightly more unsettling one has also formed. According to Audubon magazine, a conspiracy theory formed in the mind of 20-year-old college student Peter McIndoe and has woven together several different conspiracy theories to make one big movement: the Birds Aren’t Real movement. 

“The CIA assassinated John F. Kennedy after he refused to kill and replace billions of birds with drones,” Audubon wrote in an article explaining the Birds Aren't Real theory. “The U.S. government is sequestering a team of Boeing engineers in Area 51 for a secret military mission. Our tax dollars have been funneled into building the ‘Turkey X500,’ a robot used to hunt large birds.” 

These are the ideas that went into proving McIndoe’s theory. An English and philosophy major at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, he first went live with his theory in January of 2017, and it has been gaining traction ever since. 

Video footage of McIndoe at his city’s Women’s March showed him holding a sign and yelling at passers-by saying “Birds are a myth; they’re an illusion; they’re a lie. Wake up America! Wake up!”

Mike Metzler, a social media influencer and viral-content creator on Instagram, says this movement is taking advantage of “the memeification of previous conspiracy theories.” Metzler believes this has garnered such a following because of people’s desire to believe. 

“People really want to believe in conspiracies — but more than that, people want to make fun of people who believe in conspiracies even more,” Metzler said. “Starting a conspiracy theory and selling Birds Aren’t Real merchandise allows them to sell to both sides.” 

Even in the simplest form, the idea of surveillance has people thinking about “1984,” a popular dystopian novel written by George Orwell, which deals with the issues regarding government surveillance. 

Nonetheless, one must also consider the current political climate and how the hostility in the country and tension between government agencies along with the people have amplified these fears.

It’s hard to know what to believe anymore, but the fact is that many people see ads popping up on their phones after doing an internet search or even just mentioning it out loud, leading those to think this whole surveillance thing isn’t just a farce. Likewise, for those with voice controlled devices, the incidents of these devices hearing their “wake up phrase” and listening when no such phrase was actually spoken is strangely common. 

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Taken by Mathieu Starke, staff photographer

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