When Bentham Meets Big Data in Times of COVID-19: Social Credit System of China

When Bentham Meets Big Data in Times of COVID-19: Social Credit System of China

Filiz Resuloğlu (Kocaeli University, Turkey)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8421-7.ch010
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2020 has been marked by a ‘once in a century crisis' that influenced the dynamics of the globe deeply. Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic, most daily practices had to be transferred to online platforms as humanity was supposed to adopt social and physical distancing to avoid the risk of infection. Even technologically illiterate people were abruptly charged with online tasks as part of their jobs or responsibilities. It suddenly turned out to be high time to go online and have a digital identity to keep pace with the new normal life. Thus, internet has taken its place among the basic needs more specifically than before. This chapter is about the technology-driven supervisory social credit system which is said to have contributed to Chinese state to manage the COVID-19 crisis in a short time. Exploring the foundations, motives, and highlights of the system, this chapter proposes a framework for a potential digital governance model coined as the Cyber Leviathan and bears importance in terms of crisis management.
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It would not be hyperbolic to say that literature is a powerful springboard to explore more and gain perspectives. Being a renowned British novelist and social critic, Edward Morgan Forster goes far beyond his time in 1909 with his short sci-fi story The Machine Stops by depicting a future where humans live in isolated rooms in Subterranean Earth. The rooms are in a man made ‘’machine’’, having very few pieces of furniture yet equipped with hi-tech devices which enable them to connect to each other, serve meals, play music, provide hot baths and circulate the air inside. There are hardly no physical encounters and bodily functions are reduced to the essential lower requirements to survive. Believed to be uninhabitable for humans as a result of the over exploitation of the riches of nature, the surface of the Earth can only be seen from the windows of the airships and a request for a visit to the surface of the Earth is hardly welcome in / by The Machine. Like the protagonist Kuno, those who seek for physical, spiritual, mental exploration, meaningful human contact or some touch of the literal natural world are assigned abnormal relative to the general population. Forster’s work is acknowledged to be remarkably prescient in that he foresees the internet technology which nearly leads to dehumanization of people in the dystopian society of his fictional universe of The Machine (Forster, 1909).

Nearly over a century later after the breakdown of Forster’s Machine, the world fell apart at the seams with the arrival of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China in the last quarter of 2019. Covid-19 was accepted and announced a pandemic by World Health Organization on March 2019 as over 180 countries were already affected by the corona virus that was taking lives ceaselessly. As one of the gravest global crises of the 21st century, the Covid-19 pandemic can be said to bring about some inevitable global changes in the lives of humans parallel to the ones of The Machine as a result of the threat caused by the virus and the measures taken by the governments to avoid the spread of the virus and keep the risk at its lowest level. As for the similarities between the post-covid era and Forster’s dystopian universe pictured in his short story, Will Gompertz of BBC writes: ‘’ The Machine Stops is not simply prescient; it is a jaw-droppingly, gob smackingly, breath takingly accurate literary description of lockdown life in 2020’’ in his review on 29th May 2020 (Gompertz, 2020). The period after the breakout of the pandemic is referred to as “the new normal’’ era which is commonly associated with restrictions of the daily human activities, agendas full of deathrates, quarantines, lockdowns, social distancing, masks and hygiene, economic crisis, the rise of online deeds such as online education and online shopping, digitalization and digital divide. The most often-heard sentence, motto per se, is that in the years after the pandemic, nothing will be as it was before. The world is at a crossroads and governments, decision makers, economists, investors, sociologists, conglomerates, tradesmen, PR specialists, academicians and individuals have already taken their share in terms of this global crisis, trying to find a way out of the chaos brought by the pandemic. Meanwhile digitalization and the phenomenon relevant to it such as big data, surveillance, AI, Iot, machine learning have all become the hottest topics of the post-covid period to meet and discuss the rising needs of the digital age in which humans- digital citizens of the cyber world of the 21st century- strive to lead a life, being mostly locked down in their apartments, struggling not to be infected and knocked down by an invisible enemy named Covid-19.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Surveillance: Surveillance is supervision and monitoring of persons, groups, societies etc. in order to gather information.

Social Credit System: Social credit system is a data-driven system designed by the Chinese Party State and announced in 2014 to monitor and engineer better individual and business behaviour with a motive to create a harmonious and prosperous Chinese society.

Leviathan: Leviathan refers to a great power or to a sovereign with an absolute power to rule.

Panopticon: Panopticon is primarily Jeremy Bentham’s idea of an architectural building that allows supervision.

COVID-19: COVID-19 is a pandemic which was announced by the World Health Organization on March 2020.

Biopolitics: Biopolitics is a form of power that rule and control populations through regulatory practices by turning them into subjects in order to ensure, maintain, and multiply life.

State of Exception: State of exception is a special condition which requires laws to be suspended because of a state of emergency.

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