People who violate social norms should indeed be cut off from the bounty of civilisation that government provides us with, shouldn’t they? We have, for example, a determined effort to insist that those who manage their tax bill within the law should be denied the opportunity to bid for public contracts. No doubt there are some who would insist that those running a personal services company – as long as they weren’t anything useful like a progressive campaigner on matters tax – should wear a Scarlet T.
But why be so limited in our ambition? Why not go out and nationalise Facebook so that we can truly gain the information to do this properly?
It sounds like the plot line from an episode of Black Mirror set in a dystopian future, but China’s “social credit” system has already seen over 12 million people slapped with domestic travel bans as punishment for bad behaviour.
Nine million Chinese have been banned from buying domestic flights, and three million more from buying business class tickets in early trials of the scheme, under which citizens are rated on their compliance with social norms and rules.
Behaviour that triggered the bans varied from obstructing footpaths with electric bikes to failing to pay fines.
Zhang Yong, deputy director of the China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said the trials were taking place across China’s provinces over the next two years.
The social credit system is based on the government’s phrase “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, and is set to be tested further on the country’s train system from May 1, it was announced last week.
No, really, why not? Those even suspected of BadThink could be cut off from that teat of beneficience from the State. And serve them jolly well right too:
Heavy state regulation of Facebook would be to repeat the mistakes of the 20th century, when governments really did try to control the social milieu. As Anne Applebaum points out in Iron Curtain, the first thing every Soviet imposed government in Eastern Europe did was to make sure that all corners of society were state controlled. The local equivalents of the Womens’ Institute, the chess and jazz clubs, swimming teams and simply every expression of civil society were brought under the control of the state and Party bureaucracy. People were actually sent to jail for continuing to run Scout troops.
Mason, along with far too much of the British Left, is pretty relaxed about repeating Soviet mistakes, but there’s no reason why the rest of us have to go along with it.
Fascism was, of course, only one flavour of 20th century totalitarianism. But in more colloquial terms we would call this sort of attempted control of the populace that fascism. In the modern world it’s not necessary to have block captains and a network of informers. Instead just nationalise Facebook and gain access to all that most private information.
Which is, of course, the argument against that very nationalisation some propose. Sure, maybe we’re not all that happy with a capitalist company having access but at least they’ll only use it to make money. Let the State get its mitts on it and it’ll try to use it to make us all better. A vastly more worrisome, fearsome, thought. The correct argument against the nationalisation of Facebook and our data is that we simply don’t want the State to have that sort of power over us.