Networked totalitarianism

My Observer review of Kai Strittmatter’s remarkable new book.

Kai Strittmatter is a German journalist who writes for Süddeutsche Zeitung and is currently based in Copenhagen. From 1997 until recently, he had been a foreign correspondent in Beijing. Prior to those postings, he had studied sinology and journalism in Munich, Xi’an and Taipei. So he knows China rather well. Having read his remarkable book, it’s reasonable to assume that he will not be passing through any Chinese airport in the foreseeable future. Doing so would not be good for his health, not to mention his freedom.

We Have Been Harmonised is the most accessible and best informed account we have had to date of China’s transition from what scholars such as Rebecca MacKinnon used to call “networked authoritarianism” to what is now a form of networked totalitarianism. The difference is not merely semantic. An authoritarian regime is relatively limited in its objectives: there may be elections, but they are generally carefully managed; individual freedoms are subordinate to the state; there is no constitutional accountability and no rule of law in any meaningful sense.
Sign up for Bookmarks: discover new books in our weekly email
Read more

Totalitarianism, in contrast, prohibits opposition parties, restricts opposition to the state and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life…

Read on

Facebook’s data-powered navel-gazing

From Recode…

Facebook built internal tools to manage its damaged reputation when it should’ve been managing bigger issues. A Bloomberg report found that starting in 2016, Facebook developed and deployed two internal tools, dubbed Stormchaser and Night’s Watch, to track and combat misinformation about the company and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The tools also measured shifting public sentiment towards Facebook and its leaders.

Why it’s a big deal: Facebook was devoting its resources to managing its own reputation at a time when fake news and political manipulation were propagating on its platform.

What happens now: Facebook told Bloomberg it’s stopped using its Stormchaser tool, but the technology still exists. [Mark Bergen and Kurt Wagner / Bloomberg]