WeChat and the Surveillance State

The beleaguered Western mind has been reduced to the flimsiest rationalizations for his or her way of life as a fully-fledged member of the technological society:  We are not China.  One says to oneself, it’s true they have what is called a surveillance state.  But the West has safeguards in place to prevent that kind of scenario from developing here, or at least prevent the worst excesses from taking root, says this beleaguered mind to itself.  Stephen McDonnell’s piece in the BBC dated 7 June 2019, “China Social Media:  WeChat and the Surveillance State” may give even the most sanguine Westerner pause.  Looking at the particulars of this article, it is very easy to see the up-to-now indistinct features of the coming revolution in social control, which of course has a worldwide scope, coming into focus.  For those of you that have not kept up these last centuries, I mean 7 years, WeChat is a combination of Facebook, Apple Pay, Twitter, Tinder and Google Maps all rolled into one, that is based in and serves the population of China, mainly.  The dutiful student of our civilization’s rapidly evolving technological characteristics may have even heard of the phenomenon of convergence to describe the integration of elements in the technological society.  WeChat has a billion users.  Of course it is an arm of the governmental apparatus.

McDonnell was trying to say something about the Tiananmen Massacre on WeChat, not exactly a prudent thing to do.  So he got locked out of WeChat.  So what, one might ask.  But in China, all things revolve around WeChat.  According to McDonnell:  “In China pretty much everyone has WeChat.  I don’t know a single person without it.  Developed by tech giant Tencent it is an incredible app.  It’s convenient.  It works.  It’s fun…[w]hen you meet somebody in a work context they don’t give you a name card any more, they share their WeChat; if you play for a football team training details are on WeChat; children’s school arrangements, WeChat; Tinder-style dates, WeChat; movie tickets, WeChat; news stream, WeChat; restaurant locations, WeChat; paying for everything from a bowl of noodles to clothes to a dining room table, WeChat.  People wouldn’t be able to speak to their friends or family without it. So the censors who can lock you out of WeChat hold real power over you.

McDonnell was temporarily locked out of WeChat for posting pictures of Tiananmen and answering a few questions posed by interested messagers.   To get back in, he had to follow a series of steps.  WeChat admin sent this message to him:  “Your login has been declined due to account exceptions. Try to log in again and proceed as instructed.” When McDonnell tried to log back in, he was greeted with this message: “This WeChat account has been suspected of spreading malicious rumors and has been temporarily blocked.”

As so McDonnell had to serve a one-day penalty of being banished from the promised land.  Lifting the ban required the following steps:  Admitting to spreading “malicious rumors”.  (click agree)  McDonnell clicked agree. Then a new message:  “Faceprint is required for security purposes.”  McDonnell:  “I was instructed to hold my phone up–to ‘face front camera straight on’–looking directly at the image of a human head.  Then told to ‘Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese’.  My voice was captured by the App at the same time it scanned my face.  Afterwards a big green tick:  ‘Approved'”.

San Francisco has banned facial recognition technology.   But they haven’t banned Facebook.  Zuckerberg wants to expand Facebook according to the WeChat model.  One by one, the dominoes fall.  It’s coming into focus now.  Can’t you see it?  This phenomenon has flourished in a society which places the collective over the individual, and has for centuries.  But who could convincingly argue that ours is not evolving in that direction?  And it won’t take centuries to get to where China is.

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