Accepted Paper:

Closing the circle: Dave Eggers trumps Orwell in China  


David Kurt Herold (Xi'an Jiaotong - Liverpool University)

Paper short abstract:

In 2014 the Chinese government announced a new policy initiative to create a nation-wide credit-rating system based on an amalgamation of traditional financial data and social media data mining, which will establish a surveillance system scary in its reach but with an absent Big Brother.

Paper long abstract:

An ever-present trope in Chinese Internet studies is the tension between techno-social developments of ICTs and policies and their enactments by Chinese authorities. Since the assumption of power by Xi Jinping, 'Big Brother' has won the fight and activism has decreased markedly. The cap stone of government control is the so-called Social Credit System (SCS) announced in 2014 and intended to go nationwide in 2020. Partial trials are currently being run by Internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent.

Based on published documents about the system and the currently running trials this paper wants to argue that the SCS is made worse by the absence of Big Brother from day-to-day practices of control. The SCS will operationalize individual people's competitiveness and desire for convenience through technology to enforce compliance and surveillance of one's friends and acquaintances without involving the authorities - as in Dave Egger's novel The Circle. Resisting individuals will no longer have to be punished by the authorities. Instead, they will lose day-to-day amenities through the lowering of their credit score and their friends and acquaintances whose credit score they threaten to lower through their behavior. By the time an individual becomes a dissident worthy of government attention, they will have lost the ability to order and pay for food or transport online, be unable to obtain mortgages or even plane tickets, be branded as untrustworthy on online sites and have lost those most of their friends. The new normal China… - way beyond Orwell's worst nightmares.

Panel E07
After data activism: reactions to civil society's engagement with data