More left-wing journalists are waking up to the fact that unaccountable Silicon Valley corporations are ranking Americans with a system that bears a growing resemblance to China’s totalitarian “social credit” system — almost a year after Breitbart Tech pointed out the same thing.
China’s “social credit” system assigns citizens with a “score” based on good or bad behavior, which is in part determined by one’s compliance with Beijing’s totalitarian communist value system. Those who fall below a certain score are excluded from basic services. There’s no escape, either; to track everyone’s behavior, China subjects its citizens to mass surveillance, powered by a network of facial recognition cameras all across the country. Chinese citizens literally can’t escape their social credit score — low scores blocked 23 million Chinese citizens from traveling via train or airplane in less than one year, as reported by the Guardian.
In an article for Engadget, left-wing writer Violet Blue notes that big tech companies have developed a system that is remarkably similar to China’s, ranking the behavior of users — and arbitrarily kicking them off their services — according to Silicon Valley’s own set of subjective values, including what it considers to be “conscientious” and “open” behavior. She takes particular aim at Airbnb:
The Evening Standard reported on Airbnb’s patent for AI that crawls and scrapes everything it can find on you, “including social media for traits such as ‘conscientiousness and openness’ against the usual credit and identity checks and what it describes as ‘secure third-party databases’.”
Blue makes the connection to China, where similarly invasive surveillance is used to build a profile and a social credit score on every citizen:
The most famous social credit system in operation is that used by China’s government. It “monitors millions of individuals’ behavior (including social media and online shopping), determines how moral or immoral it is, and raises or lowers their “citizen score” accordingly,” reported Atlantic in 2018.
Trooly — nee Airbnb — is combining social credit scores with predictive policing. Tools like PredPol use AI that combines data points and historical events, factors like race and location, digital footprints and crime statistics, to predict likelihood of when and where crimes will occur (as well as victims and perpetrators). It’s no secret that predictive policing replicates and perpetuates discrimination.
Last August, Fast Company made the same observation, pointing out that Silicon Valley’s combination of invasive surveillance with arbitrary user policies meant that “a parallel system” to China’s is being created in the United States.
Breitbart News had, of course, made the connections months before they had. It’s almost as if conservatives were the first to feel the effects of big tech censorship!
Blue is upset because the same methods that have been used to monitor and blacklist conservatives and right-wingers (many of whom have been kicked off Airbnb for political reasons) are now being used to ban prostitutes, a profession championed by the intersectional left.
Combine this with companies like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and yes, Airbnb deciding what legal behaviors are acceptable for service, and now we’re looking at groups of historically marginalized people being denied involvement in mainstream economic, political, cultural and social activities — at scale.
This week AP reported that Facebook and Instagram are doing exactly that. “Activists, sex therapists, abuse survivors, artists and sex educators,” are being unfairly censored by both services. “And it’s no small matter for them. Artists can be suddenly left without their audience, businesses without access to their customers and vulnerable people without a support network … it means that a company in Silicon Valley, whose online platforms have become not only our town squares but diaries, magazines, art galleries and protest platforms, gets final say on matters of free speech and self-expression.”
Silicon Valley companies getting the final say on matters of free speech? Woah! Sound the alarms! Social media companies as the new town squares? That might be a groundbreaking argument, if PragerU hadn’t already made it three years ago. Unaccountable corporations, using their power to circumvent the democratic system and ban otherwise legal behavior? It’s only something Breitbart Tech has been talking about for one, two, three, let’s say four years at a conservative estimate.
Given that Violet Blue takes issue with tech companies “deciding what legal behaviors are acceptable for service,” this means she will surely get behind political efforts to force social media companies to be strictly value-neutral in their approach to content. You know, like Rep. Louie Gohmert’s and Rep. Paul Gosar’s and Sen. Josh Hawley’s.
It’s only a matter of time, right?
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.