Critical Surveillance Literacy in Social Media: Interrogating Black Death and Dying Online

Noble, Safiya Umoja

The circulation of surveillance videos and images of African Americans murdered or detained by police and private security has been enhanced by the spectacle of new media. Media spectacles are created by surveillance records to foster news ratings and advertising revenues at the expense of national conversations and public policy addressing racial injustices. Increasing resources have been allocated in service of new forms of record keeping by the state, as new federal and municipal commitments to surveillance in the form of police body cameras has escalated, fueled by the requests from the families of victims of police violence and murder. In this article, I take a critical view on information records like surveillance videos as a fundamental part of emerging narratives of public safety and as a profitable endeavor that demands greater critical surveillance literacy. Instead of tacit acceptance of the gaze of surveillance videos generated from African American death and dying, I think we must cultivate a critical surveillance literacy for making sense of extra-judicial and state sanctioned violence. Thus, I use critical discourse analysis to make sense of the profits that accrue from surveillance videos and analyze the online, internet-based media discourses that obscure surveillance practices. I investigate how these types of records and digital artifacts work in service of persistent domination of African Americans in the United States.