Chilean government's decision to monitor social networks sparks debate about Internet privacy, threats of cyber attacks

The announcement that the Chilean government will begin to monitor comments on social networks has prompted controversy among Facebook and Twitter users and sparked a debate about Internet privacy.

President Sebastián Piñera's plan was announced a few weeks ago, but the controversy on social networks started Sunday, June 19, with the naming of BrandMetric as the company that will be in charge of monitoring comments, reported El Mostrador.

The company will be responsible for alerting authorities when there are "significant changes" in people's views on a topic, according to the government bid, reported the news agency DPA. BrandMetric will be allowed not only to monitor conversations and comments on social networks, but also to geographically locate the social network users.

According to the Chilean government, the aim is to "measure" public perception about the administration, reported Los Tiempos. The goal is for the government to be aware of issues that are important to society and to know how to respond to the needs of the people, according to the minister for the Secretary General of the Government, Ena von Baer, as cited by Publimetro.

But some social network users say that it is a plan for "online surveillance." UPI said that the group of Internet activists known as Anonymous announced it will begin hacking Chilean and Peruvian websites because of the attempts to monitor public opinion on social networks. Similarly, the digital newspaper El Mostrador in an opinion piece titled "Someone is Watching You" said that Twitter users have adopted the hashtag #gobiernosapo as a way to accuse the government of spying.

The controversy also has caused Chile's Journalist Association to intervene, asking the Transparency Council, the body that oversees public information, to demand the government reveal what it is investigating online and what it will do with the information, reported Todo Noticias.

Still, there are some who support the initiative. Enzo Abbagliati wrote in a column for the newspaper La Tercera that the government's decision to monitor social network conversations is sensible and that the controversy over the move is "artificial" because the very nature of social network platforms means that conversations are not private.

About seven million users have Facebook accounts in Chile, and about 300,000 use Twitter, according to DPA.

For more information about social media and freedom of expression, see this Knight Center Twitter feed.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.