Big Data, Big Brother, Big Profit?
Policy & Internet, 10(4), 372-392, 2018, DOI: 10.1002/poi3.187
21 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2018 Last revised: 9 Jan 2019
Date Written: November 15, 2018
Chinese social media and big data represent an important share of the global Internet, but have received relatively less attention. This editorial examines three dominant discourses based on China’s distinctive and complex political, economic and social realities: “Big Data” (technical focus), “Big Brother” (political focus), and “Big Profit” (economic focus). We argue that the prevailing discourse and practice of big data in China is largely technocentric, decontextualized and nonreflexive, and much less attuned to the social, political, cultural, epistemological, and ethical implications of big data that a human-centric approach would demand. Second, the authoritarian Chinese state poses incredible political challenges to big data research and practice. Third, the practice of Chinese social media and big data is imbued with a discourse of technological nationalism, driven by a handful of monopolistic “national champions.” Despite contention, the state and market players have formed a largely mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship to maximize their political and economic gains. We argue a comparative perspective to foster a global conversation on social media and big data is necessary in order to formulate collective responses to such challenges.
Keywords: China, big data, social media, Chinese Internet, ethics, government, business, politics, social credit system, surveillance
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