The Virtual Watchers

Joana Moll

17 April 2016


The Virtual Watchers is an on-going research project existing at the intersection of art, research and technology. It questions the dynamics of crowdsourcing, national security and border control, through social media. It focuses on the exchanges that occurred within a Facebook group that gathered American volunteers ready to monitor US-Mexico border through an online platform that displayed live screenings of CCTV cameras, in real-time.
The declared aim of this operation was to get American citizens to participate in reducing border crime and block the entrance of illegal immigration to the US by means of crowdsourcing.
This initiative, a public-private partnership, was originally launched in 2008 and consisted of an online platform and a network of 200 cameras and sensors located in strategic areas along the US Mexico border. The online platform gave free access to the camera broadcasts 24/7 and allowed users to report anonymously if they noticed any suspicious activity on the border. This project offers an interactive window in to a world where these virtual watchers, the public, their conversations, jokes, and questionings among the Facebook group whom actively used the platform*. By doing so, it highlights to what extent the emotional investment and exchanges of these people work as an essential mechanism in the construction and legitimization of a post-panoptic system, where citizens police other citizens on the states behalf.
* All the profile pictures and real names of the Facebook group members have been faked in order to protect their real identities.