Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an activist, or even just a person who speaks out against injustice on social media in China?
You might end up stripped of your ability to do every basic thing you need to do to survive.
One man is restricted from owning property, unable to board flights and many trains, and worse because he got on the wrong side of an Orwellian “social credit” system in China.
The system is already a real life example of an age old conspiracy theory that a digital or one world currency would be used as a means to control people, and remove them from the right to use money if they get on the bad side of the state (like having your “chip turned off,” as the theory goes).
Liu Hu was an activist in China for 20 years, pushing a hard line against the rigid censorship they are subjected to. He was like the independent journalists we know, using his own blog to point out the corruption and immorality of high-level officials and publish info about tyranny.
In 2013, he was imprisoned and accused of “fabricating and spreading rumors.” A not so speedy trial, in late 2016 he was found guilty of defamation.
The court ordered him to apologize on his own social media account with 740,000 followers. He was unwilling to do that, so the court said he could pay $115 to publish his fake apology on an “authorized website.” He paid the money, but the judge raised the fee to $2,900: because f**k rules, the state can just do whatever it wants?
Now at the beginning of last year, he was rebuilding his life and he discovered he had been stripped of many of his most basic rights. Without any notice, China’s new social credit system (which even mainstream media describes as a “pervasive new tool for social control”) struck him hard.
According to the Globe and Mail:
“Without any notice, he had been caught up in the early reaches of a social-credit system that China is developing as a pervasive new tool for social control – one expected to one day tighten the state’s grip on its citizens. Critics have called it an Orwellian creation – a new kind of “thought police.””
When Mr. Liu tried to buy a plane ticket, the booking system simply refused it, saying he was “not qualified.” He was banned from buying property, traveling on the country’s main trains, and taking out a loan from a bank.
The activist said:
“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to. What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”
This is a brother of the truth in a land much different from the West.
The system of “social credit” was first officially envisioned in the mid-1990’s. It assigns a ranking to each person in the country of 1.4 billion people: it is an “all encompassing” system of judgement basically based on how obedient a person is to the government, plus their basic responsibilities, like a US credit score.
Far from a Western credit score however, it’s a full blown judgement based on every single piece of data the government can collect about a person. A 2014 Chinese government document about its plans says: “trust-keeping is insufficiently rewarded, the costs of breaking trust tend to be low.”
China is a real life example of the technocracy that many suspect the US and countries all over the world are becoming. Looking into China, we’re peering into our own future if we don’t stand up for what we believe in.
The article from Globe and Mail continues:
“It is the most ambitious attempt by any government in modern history to fuse technology with behavioural control, placing China at the forefront of a new kind of authoritarianism, one that can mine a person’s digital existence – shopping habits, friends, criminal records, political views – and judge them according to the state’s standard of reliability.
It was only months later that Mr. Liu discovered what had happened. A friend pointed him to a website run by China’s Supreme People’s Court called the List of Dishonest Persons Subject to Enforcement, a formalized catalogue of exclusion. In Mr. Liu’s case, the reason states: “This person refuses to fulfill the duties listed in the verdict even though he is able to do so.””
This Chinese blacklist currently contains over 7.49 million people, and uses any kind of surveillance data that can possibly be harvested to judge a person’s social, moral, political and commercial life.
It’s an introvert’s worst nightmare: constant, all encompassing judgement made possible by surveillance.
One girl was put on the blacklist as a toddler. Another man was blacklisted for stealing a couple packs of cigarettes, but the worst crime in the eyes of a state that seeks to use and manipulate its unarmed citizens is dissent.
A Beijing lawyer spoke on Liu’s case:
“I can’t say that Liu Hu’s outspokenness led directly to his troubles. But we have to admit that Liu’s is not a rare case. Many people who are, like him, similarly controversial are very likely to endure the same ordeal,” Zhu Xiaoding said.
“And the lack of an appeal mechanism has made these people unable to seek the help they really need. That leaves them in despair, because their social relations, as well as their material lives, have been ruined,” he continued.
Certain Chinese cities even change the sound you hear on the phone when a blacklisted person calls you, blasting them as some kind of criminal from the start.
Last year, we reported on one of the world’s first “smart cities” in China. The city of Hangzhou became a “smart city,” in which cameras and microphones on nearly every block closely monitor everything, sending the police to the scene of anyone breaking a law as petty as they want to enforce.
What really makes it technocracy however, is the fact that artificial intelligence is linked up to Hangzhou’s surveillance grid.
Reading from the article:
“Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Limited is aiding the Chinese police state in catching people who break the law, tracking criminals in real time in their new “smart city” of Hangzhou, home to 9 million people.
They are using video feeds and artificial intelligence, tracking things as petty as illegal parking in real time, putting the city under total surveillance.
Using hundreds of thousands of cameras located across the city and artificial intelligence, they were able to do a lot: for the people who control the city, not the residents.”
Imagine being for instance, a free thinking, cannabis smoking regular person in China. You’d be put in prison for a long time for using cannabis and you’d actually get caught with the surveillance grid they have.
To further explore exactly what “technocracy” is and how a government might aim to achieve it, this documentary is very insightful. It is a second part to this documentary.