The Journal of the Southern Association for Information Systems

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Potential negative consequences of digital surveillance represent an area of increasing concern due to the rising impact of digital and mobile technologies on daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic increased these concerns as governments worldwide turned to both digital and non-digital surveillance to help in the battle to control the spread of the disease. Due to this, surveillance creep (the use of supposedly limited-scope surveillance for increasingly pervasive purposes) is a growing concern. Concerns over digital surveillance have led to some individuals turning to protective measures, including obfuscation and the chilling effect. Obfuscation involves intentionally providing ambiguous or misleading information to interfere with surveillance activities. The chilling effect is the decision to not engage in some behavior due to concerns about the consequences of that behavior. Often, obfuscation is a general protective measure that guards against surveillance across applications and reflects general concerns about privacy and surveillance. In contrast, the chilling effect is application and concern specific. In this paper, we use a research model that draws on the health beliefs model and protection motivation along with data from a survey of American social media users to investigate antecedents of obfuscation and the chilling effect in the context of social media surveillance related to COVID-19. Results indicate that age, sex, social media experience, social media habit, and the perceived surveillance severity impact obfuscation. These same antecedents affect the chilling effect, as does perceived surveillance vulnerability. Although our research is exploratory, the results of our study hold implications for both research and practice.