STEINBERG: China now, Facebook later? ‘A new model of totalitarianism’

SHARE STEINBERG: China now, Facebook later? ‘A new model of totalitarianism’

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Halloween is over, but there’s still a lot of scary stuff out there.

Among the continuing terror attacks — as opposed to good old-fashioned homegrown mass killings, which somehow don’t count — and Congress sharpening its shears to fleece the middle class and Donald Trump doing what Donald Trump always does, it takes the heart of a lion just to uncurl from your fetal ball, stand up and face the day.

So I hate to add one more worry.

But have you ever had two unconnected aspects of life resonate with each other? One big and one small? So they seem to mean something?

Like last week’s Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and a blog post of mine being kicked off Facebook.


The congress, in case you missed it, sealed Xi Jinping as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. Immediately “he proclaimed the regime’s intention not just to become the world’s leading power, but to establish a new model of totalitarianism,” according to a Washington Post report.

At the same time, I went to Facebook and posted Monday’s column on the sale of Howard Tullman’s art collection, containing many, many naked women.

I wouldn’t dream of trying to run a photo of his art harem in the paper. Newspapers defer to our older, more conservative readers, and nudity upsets them. But the internet? Another story entirely. I splayed a particularly flesh-filled photo atop a post on my personal blog — paintings, drawings and watercolors, remember. Then I posted it on Facebook, which featured the photo atop the entry.

For exactly two minutes.

Then Facebook yanked the post down, declaring it a violation of community standards. Facebook has 10,000 people checking posts, but my gut tells me that no human interceded in that 120 seconds. Rather a computer, taught to interpret dark triangles juxtaposed with pairs of spherical objects, clucked electronically, shook its head, and flicked the image away.

What’s the connection? China can monitor — and punish — its citizens for what it considers anti-state behavior because they’re a monolith. Just as Facebook is where more and more readers get their news. Facebook isn’t the only show in town, but they’re getting closer. And while Facebook’s behavior is benign, so far, it could just as easily turn malignant. There is no First Amendment for private companies, as we were reminded during the NFL protest.

If you want a glimpse of the future, here is the key paragraph from the Post report on Jinping’s speech:

State control of all behavior. In the past five years, Xi’s regime has wiped out the modest avenues for dissent his predecessors allowed, from human rights lawyers to non-government groups and cautiously critical journalists. Now it is developing a far more ambitious system of social control driven by new technologies. Every citizen will be given a social credit rating based on data collected through the internet, the financial system and public surveillance, which will be stored along with facial images. Those with bad ratings will have good reason to fear being recognized by the regime’s ubiquitous cameras. At last, the overused term Orwellian will be accurate.

I am not equating Facebook with Communist China. Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild has 2 billion users, 42 percent more people than in China. Facebook — just like the newspaper — doesn’t want loyal readers driven away by a patch of pubic hair. I accept that. But what if Facebook is someday put off by, for instance, all the fake Russian scam sites and decides that, along with the naughty bits of ladies, its spider censors are also going to pluck away conversations that contain a laundry list of political terms? They could do that. And then where would we be?

You want to know the worst part? I leapt to pull the risque picture off my blog post and swap it with one that showed less skin and would be acceptable to Facebook’s bionic bluenose bot. Grumbling a bit, to both them and myself, true. But I conformed, quickly, so as to not risk being exiled from my Facebook playpen of imaginary friends. As the president would say, “Sad!” And scary.

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