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CHINA’S PAPER DYSTOPIA

CHINA’S PAPER DYSTOPIA

Few issues generate as much concern about our technologically-driven future as China’s ambitious social credit system.


In case you haven’t heard, China wants to build a giant database to track the behavior of its 1.3 billion-plus citizens. It then plans to reward “sincere” or “trustworthy” conduct, such as paying bills on time, while punishing bad actions, like jaywalking or ignoring a court judgment – all in the name of creating a more harmonious society. Beijing’s vision has sparked all sorts of breathless headlines and comparisons to Black Mirror or the all-seeing Big Brother from George Orwell’s 1984.

Here are three things to keep in mind as you ponder what it all means.

China has a real problem it is trying to solve: how to effectively govern a sprawling country of 1.3 billion increasingly demanding citizens, where tax evasion, fraud, and other social ills are rife. Sure, Beijing is doing so in a top-down, authoritarian fashion. But as much as people might be creeped out by the fact that their government is publicly shaming jaywalkers by posting their photos on billboards, its approach could prove widely popular if it makes the country easier to govern and improves people’s lives.

The system is more human than you think: China’s tech-driven totalitarianism isn’t as tech-savvy as it appears. Chinese authorities may be using sophisticated facial recognition software to corral Uighurs, an ethnic minority group concentrated in the country’s northwest, but jaywalkers whose faces show up on billboards in Xinjiang are still picked out of the crowd by flesh-and-blood people. There is real potential for this system to be used to stifle dissent on an unprecedented scale with as-yet undeveloped technologies that can then be exported to governments around the world. But there’s a huge gap between China’s ambitions to make the system work reliably at the scale of a billion-plus people and where the technology is today.

This is already happening to you, dear reader: Here in the West, it’s corporations (not the government) that control the keys to a massive surveillance machine. We’re accustomed to credit bureaus tracking our every financial move, employers conducting background checks, social networks and search engines scooping up our personal information, and ride-hailing apps asking us to rate the quality of our drivers. China’s plans for a surveillance state may be startling to Western observers, but they’re driven by the same underlying trend: using massive amounts of personal data to shape how people behave. There are big differences around who determines what happens with that data, and how that authority is regulated, of course. But China’s social credit experiment is not totally without competition.

A decade ago, Bank of America established the Global Ambassadors Program with Vital Voices, and the results are phenomenal. We've provided 8,000 hours of training and mentoring, engaging 400 women from 85 countries and helping women around the world build their businesses.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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