Russia is famous for its “kompromat”, or compromising material, says Clare Foges in The Times. Many a powerful Kremlin figure has been brought down by “murky photos or grainy video”. But it’s becoming ubiquitous here, too. Boris Johnson at his lockdown parties; the footballer Kurt Zouma kicking his cat; the police officers swapping misogynistic and racist WhatsApp messages; Matt Hancock in his extramarital clinch. It’s not just public figures, either. Think about Mary Bale, the woman who received death threats after a video showing her putting a cat in a wheelie bin went viral. Or the binman who was sacked when a security camera caught him kicking the head off a child’s snowman.
All these people “made the mistake of thinking they were operating in the private realm”, when today there is almost no such thing. With smartphones, CCTV, dashcams (now fitted in a quarter of British cars) and online messaging, the collection of digital kompromat has never been easier. It’s tempting to rail against this seemingly Orwellian development. But I think it’s a good thing. Many studies have shown that we behave better when we think we’re being watched. We used to get that from the belief in an “all-seeing God” – but religion is no longer the force it once was. Now we’re being monitored by the “all-seeing eye of technology”, we’ll be less likely to think we can misbehave and get away with it.