Social Media: A Dictator’s Paradise

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Carole Hornsby Haynes Education Analyst
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One of the greatest challenges for dictators has been obtaining detailed personal information about residents so they can be tracked anywhere, any time.  This is especially daunting for large countries such as China and the former Soviet Union.  Now, with advanced technology, that totalitarian goal is possible.

Several countries, including South Africa and India, have used technology to set up biometric database systems of residents.  In 2015 Pakistan followed,  undertaking a massive program to create a national biometric database system tied to mobile phones.  Residents were given a choice: be fingerprinted or lose their phones.  The government’s public excuse was that mobile phones have been used to detonate explosive devices in Pakistan and to extort money from victims by banned militant groups.  According to government officials, a national fingerprint database tied to cellphones allows the origins of crime and terrorist attacks to be traced.

However, this system works only if cellphones are used and an infrastructure exists.  Many areas of Pakistan do not have cellphone infrastructure, including those along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, so residents sometimes use Afghanistan networks.  Historically many Islamist militants have sought refuge in this remote territory.  With outside access to cell phones, they can escape having their mobile phones and fingerprints registered in Pakistan.   How then will the Pakistan government be able to trace terrorists if they are not part of the Pakistan mobile phone database?

This promise of using a national fingerprint database to keep citizens free from terrorists and criminals has taken a dangerous direction. Pakistan is bent on tamping down blasphemy.  The government has been bullying Facebook and Twitter to identify users who are suspected of blasphemy against Islam.  In March 2017, Daily Mail reported that Facebook had caved to government demands to block blasphemous content posted on its Pakistan website.

The Express Tribune reported in July 2017 that the Pakistan government has been pressuring Facebook to link mobile phone numbers to new accounts – a demand rejected by Facebook so far.  If Facebook caves on this demand, the government will have access to all Facebook users through the national mobile phone database.

Social media has previously been used by conservative individuals in remote areas of Pakistan for private religious debates.  No longer.  In June 2017, a poor Shia Muslim was sentenced to death for his posts on Facebook which allegedly insulted the prophet Muhammed.  The Pakistan government is censoring Facebook content, ordering Facebook to turn over information on nearly 2,500 accounts in 2016 alone. Facebook has complied with about two-thirds of the requested accounts.

The Pakistan government now has expanded the definition of blasphemy to include the State and the military.

The censoring of Facebook users is being carried out in Thailand where the royalist military government has added criticism of the royal family to the blasphemy list.  Vietnam, which has one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, forces social media sites to comply with content censorship by pressuring local companies to withdraw advertising if “toxic” content is not removed from the sites.

China is in the process of creating a giant social credit database for launch in 2020.  The Washington Post describes this sinister plan: “Imagine a world where an authoritarian government monitors everything you do, amasses huge  amounts of data on almost every interaction you make, and awards you a single score that measures how ‘trustworthy’ you are.”

A person’s social credit score can be affected by defaulting on a loan, criticizing the ruling party, running a red light or failing to care for elderly parents.  Your score determines your lifestyle – “whether you can borrow money, get your children into the best schools or travel abroad; whether you get a room in a fancy hotel, a seat in a top restaurant — or even just get a date.”

Chinese Communist leaders envision being able  to “collect every scrap of information available online about China’s companies and citizens in a single place — and then assign each of them a score based on their political, commercial, social and legal ‘credit.’”

Ignoring public outcry, the government insists the system is meant to regulate China’s market economy and curb fraud.  After decades of Communist tyrannical rule, who will believe that a social credit system is anything but a communist scheme to micromanage every citizen’s life?  Now, with technological advances, they just may be able to pull it off.

In the United States, Big Government, Big Business, and Big Data are colluding to legalize a national student database.  Some are openly advocating for greater surveillance and personal tracking. The bipartisan bill (S.1121 – “The College Transparency Act”) would do just that, allowing the government to monitor, track and pigeon hole Americans from the postsecondary level on through the workforce.

Already children are tracked from birth through the 12th grade.  At the behest of the feds, all 50 states have set up state longitudinal data systems, despite the angry clamor of grassroots Americans. Now elites want to connect state student data with federal student data, thus completing “cradle to grave” data for the federal government.

Monied interests want to go still further and connect all federal data including education, IRS, income, taxes, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Just as in Pakistan and China, U.S. government bureaucrats argue their actions are for the public good – connecting all federal data will bring greater efficiency.  When has the government ever been efficient at anything?  If Americans fail to stop these bureaucrats before they go any further, a student national database and connecting all of the systems will open the floodgate for total government control in the once “land of the free.”

Follow Carole H. Haynes at www.drcarolehhaynes.com  Twitter Contact at chaynes777@gmail.com