It's time to kick China off social media, says tech governance expert

'Mischief abroad' is the Middle Kingdom's goal – without the possibility of using Chinese sites to fight back


Black Hat Asia The time has come to remove Chinese voices from global social media, according to Samir Saran, president of Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a commissioner of The Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, and a member of Microsoft's Digital Peace Now Initiative.

Speaking at the Black Hat Asia conference, Saran said China's Communist Party sees tech as a means of exerting control and uses social media to deliberately interfere in the affairs of other nations.

But China denies voices from other nations the ability to access its digital public square – while also preventing its own citizens venturing into spaces inhabited by those of other countries.

Saran thinks that disparity needs to end.

"Mischief abroad is the business model for Chinese tech," he said. "They are able to create hashtags that challenge national consensus and interject lies," said Saran. "We can't do that [in China], making it an unequal playing field."

"It is time to offload Chinese handles from the digital world unless we can participate there," he said. "If we are banned there, we must ban them here."

Saran added that Chinese tech policy decision-makers are also inaccessible to outsiders – and to Chinese citizens.

Elsewhere in the world, he said, citizens can at least lobby elected representatives for change to tech-related regulations – and in theory that is a strength.

But Saran thinks such lobbying is not succeeding at achieving important change, because Big Tech has an immense influence on society but puts profit before people.

"Digital societies need to be protected. Companies that provide for important needs need to be accountable to the people they serve," he argued.

The current lack of accountability means that tech companies are generally distrusted – even as they become integral to daily life.

Saran suggested that effective regulation is therefore needed to make the big platforms more trustworthy, by ensuring they serve the diverse needs of a democratic polity.

But he suggested such regulation may be hard to devise and implement, because Big Tech prioritizes fostering insular communities that feel little need to celebrate the diversity that makes nations strong. ®

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