While Archant published clickbait headlines in the EDP and Norwich Evening News that chose to spotlight the pink chalk ‘vandalism’ of a war memorial, Saturday’s Kill the Bill protest in Norwich city centre was in fact a peaceful display of solidarity, and an empowering antidote to the violence that protesters elsewhere in the country have been subjected to. In Bristol, boards reading ‘People Over Property‘ now surround the former plinth of the Edward Colston statue, and act as a visual reminder of both the police and the media establishment’s skewed priorities when it comes to covering protests. Chalk gets washed away with a spell of wet weather. Authoritarian bills don’t.
The revolutionary socialist newspaper and website Al-Mounadil/ah or ‘The Militant’ is facing an existential legal threat from the Moroccan state under it’s continued assault on the Left, progressive voices, and freedom of expression in the country. The onslaught of arrests and passing of restrictive legislation in recent years has targeted independent journalists and publications, and the use of social media and the internet as a platform for political expression. As the statement released by Al-Mounadil/ah’s editorial team reads: “the restrictions will not succeed in gagging voices; the advancement of technology will make a mockery of anyone that tries.”
Al-Mounadil/ah’s director received a court summons late last month regarding the newspaper’s compliance with Morocco’s Press and Publications Law; a piece of legislation which places onerous conditions on reporters and journalists in attempt to suffocate dissent in the media.
By Michael Kyriacou
It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.
The traditional arguments for ‘free education’ focus on reducing the upfront price of university courses to zero. Rather than HE being a commodity to be traded on the open market, it becomes a good paid for by the government. This kind of argument rests on a contradiction: we cannot solve the commodification of HE by continuing to assert the existence of HE as commodity, even a nationalised one. Abolishing tuition fees is undoubtedly a good thing, but to move beyond their legacy we must understand HE as devoid not only of its price but also its status as a commodity. We need to explore the potential for HE grounded not in classification or institution but in the fundamental equality of intelligences – HE without the degree.
by Alex Powell
In the midst of multiple crises faced by students, universities and schools, the outcome of the snap general election will be a major indicator of the future of the UK education sector. Each week until the vote we are featuring perspectives from our regular contributors and guests on what the election could mean for students.
I can’t be the only one growing a little exhausted with all these elections, right? Nonetheless, tired as we are, it has never been more important that we all get out and vote. In the local elections we saw something of a decimation of left leaning parties, to the benefit of the Tories. What’s more, those elections featured some astoundingly low turnout figures, many below 30%. As a result of this, I feel it is incumbent on me to encourage anyone reading this to ensure that they get out and vote in the general election on June 8th.
by Robyn Banks
Is this vague dissent I feel?
Or apathy? Resigned to fates
Predicted, and foodbank meals,
By sociologists and states,
By Zoe Harding
We live in the future. It’s easy to forget that.
Just look at the internet. A set of technologies that jumped from military geek-toy to utter ubiquity in just two decades. While only 3/8ths of the world’s population have regular access to the internet -the vast majority of them in North America, Europe and the CIS (the former Soviet Union countries) – other nations are rapidly expanding into the chaos of the digital frontier.
Interestingly, the largest nation on the internet in terms of raw population is the People’s Republic of China. From a single email in 1987 (‘across the Great Wall, we can reach every corner of the world’), China’s online presence has expanded to nearly 689 million regular internet users on 3.24 million domestic web sites by the end of 2015.These are not ancient dial-up PCs labouring in greasy internet cafes either- 83% are using smartphones and China’s broadband network is extensive and widely-used. The Chinese online gaming markets are huge, their domestic online shopping and social media sites are economic giants in their own right. Chinese netizens have been an unholy headache for their government too; while the government owns all internet access points through state-owned telecoms companies, and attempts to enforce various rules through the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’, as with all online systems hackers have been easily able to penetrate their security and discontent is expressed regularly online.
The Chinese government has done its best to prevent this.The BBC reported in 2013 that nearly two million people were employed to monitor web activity online, and profanity filters, overt censorship and more covert measures like bandwidth throttling are widely used to shut down people expressing unapproved opinions.
The latest attempt to bring China’s restless netizens under control is a new credit-rating system being developed by the Chinese government, China’s Amazon-rivalling e-commerce giant Alibaba, and the media/internet/gaming/ISP company Tencent. Now, credit-rating systems are pretty much ubiquitous in the western world, and while they undoubtedly cause a fair amount of misery, it’s no more by design than the rest of the economy, right? In most countries, a credit-rating system is designed to rate an individual based on how able they are to fulfil financial commitments based on previous dealings. Just another economic widget, albeit one that can, and does screw people over on a regular basis.
Sesame Credit and its ilk are something else. Sesame Credit is a social engineering tool specifically designed to control and quantify social behaviour on a massive scale.
Scary stuff, huh? And while a good start, that video doesn’t begin to do the system justice. Sesame Credit is currently one of six corporate pilot schemes being run with the blessing and involvement of the Chinese government, with a full mandatory rollout planned in 2020. They aren’t trying to hide the system or its purpose, either. As laid out in the vast and repetitive design document the Chinese government released in 2014, the system is designed to ‘establish the idea of an [sic] sincerity culture, and carry forward sincerity and traditional virtues.’ It’s also supposed to be used to fight corruption and financial crime, but the main focus appears to be on finding a way to control and keep track of China’s vast and growing population.
The system already pulls down vast amounts of data, and has already had a profound impact, even in its early beta phases. Your Sesame Credit score already has access to all the data generated by Alibaba, which provides a vast array of online shopping, auction, payment and financial services, as well as dating sites, taxi companies and utility companies. The higher your score, the more ‘trustworthy’ you are considered to be, and the more perks and bonuses you unlock, like deposit-free car rentals or money off hotel rooms. There’s currently no set downside to having a negative score beyond losing said bonuses, but as the score is available for anyone to check users are incentivised to keep it high. The developers have refused to explain exactly how this score is generated, but they have confirmed that it includes elements based not only on how much you buy but also what you buy. The company tracks time spent in-game and purchases to attempt to build an image of the individual. Buy lots of nappies, you’re probably a parent and ‘more likely to have a sense of responsibility’, giving you a higher score. Play video games all day and your score goes down. In addition, it tracks financial credit scores, qualifications, even whether users bothered to settle taxi bills and bills with small retailers.
While the current systems are still largely financial entities, a number of disturbing trends are already apparent. For one, Sesame tracks ‘somewhat unusual types of information, such as a person’s hobbies and whether he or she has a financially irresponsible friend.’ The latter component is particularly disturbing; it incentivises social division and provides tangible benefits to ostracising the less financially stable or fortunate. Imagine having to stop talking to a friend because they missed a rent payment, and facing financial loss or ostracism yourself if you don’t. Worse, imagine having to cut yourself off from a friend because their ‘hobbies’ fell onto the negative list. China’s LGBTQ+ record isn’t the worst in the world and it’s improving year by year, but the country only removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001 and then there’s shit like this. Social credit systems provide a way for this sort of institutionalised prejudice against subcultures and minorities to become omnipresent in the name of social harmony.
…if this system works, and makes dissent in China slightly more difficult, imagine how long it’s going to be before other governments start looking at similar ideas?
The reaction in the West to this story has of course been tinged with the standard Far East response, a mix of cultural othering and ‘It can’t happen here’, but let’s examine that. Of course, China’s closed internet and more overtly restrictive government provides a better environment for systems like this to be widely implemented, but Sesame Credit is much more than just top-down government and corporate rule-sets. The combination of bonuses and arbitrary scores essentially functions as operant conditioning, in a manner already seen in hundreds of absurdly popular free-to-play games. It’s the same mechanics that compel people to keep playing Clash of Clans or Eve Online- social pressure combined with compulsive design.
Scarier still, it’s working. Early adopters are enthusiastically using the system, some lured by financial gains and others by patriotism. Scores pop up on dating sites and social networks. Currently if friends join Sesame Credit, your score goes up regardless of theirs. As this slightly less hysterical article says, the current system is purely financial, and serves more to enforce customer loyalty. The potential, however, is entirely real. Even if the government-mandated system is abandoned, the existing systems make life significantly easier for the Chinese government to snoop if it wants to. Worse, if this system works, and makes dissent in China slightly more difficult, imagine how long it’s going to be before other governments start looking at similar ideas? Given the British government’s complete disregard for the privacy of its own citizens, a self-reinforcing system for stifling dissent that leans heavily towards the carrot end of the spectrum rather than the stick has to have caught their interest.
Featured Image: http://blogs.globalasia.com/madeinprc/tag/infografias/