Recently, the Chinese regime unveiled new regulations to be observed by companies that hire celebrities to promote their products. Companies will have to fully evaluate the professional status and social credit of celebrities to avoid penalties for hiring celebrities who “pollute the social environment.”
These guidelines add to the already extensive network of social control systems for Chinese citizens in different areas, which began with a pilot project in 2013. It rated the financial trustworthiness applicants.
Then, the Social Credit System, which initially evaluated financial responsibility, debt records, and purchasing behavior, was extended to video game habits, virtual friends, and compliance with rules in public spaces.
Progressively, the control over sensitive aspects of Chinese people’s lives continued to extend to other systems. The police made provision almost everywhere in the country for the use of devices that allow the rapid extraction and scanning of data from smartphones. Court verdicts have cited private communications extracted from messaging apps and video from public surveillance cameras that operate by facial recognition.
The Chinese regime’s ability to monitor citizens’ lives has increased exponentially in recent years, continues to advance, and is a tool to restrict individual freedoms. Now it’s turning to celebrities.
Monitoring social behavior is lawful if the purpose is also lawful. On the other hand, if it becomes an instrument of social control for unclear purposes, what in principle is an instrument of protection can become sinister.
Properly used, the network could ensure morality, order, and security for citizens, public figures and companies. But given that China is ruled by an autocratic regime, fears of its overreaching use by the CCP are not unfounded.
Requirements for celebrities who want to make it in China
Under the new guidelines mandated by the CCP, celebrities are required to adhere to “correct orientation,” that is “adhere to the guidance of socialist core values,” and “consciously practice fundamental socialist values in publicity endorsement activities” if they want to score points and be highly rated.
Scoring points is equivalent to performing the expected activities as indicated, and taking care that everything they say and do is not contrary to the regime’s values, since all information circulating through their networks and cameras will be systematically evaluated and reported.
Effectively, the celebrity must mortgage his or her personal freedom to gain access to jobs. Companies are required to “strictly” observe the celebrities’ qualifications they want to hire, because according to the CCP they must “effectively clean up the chaos in all links of the entire celebrity endorsement chain.”
Having a low score in this system means being on the government-controlled misbehavior list. The consequences range from being excluded from the labor market, to being banned from buying tickets on public transportation, traveling abroad, buying a house, and even facing charges if they engage in “illegal” activities such as professing a religion that is not among the officially recognized ones.
The role of companies: Rewarding and punishing celebrities
The CCP’s instructions to companies that decide to hire celebrities to promote their products is clear: They must “effectively clean up chaos in all links of the entire chain of celebrity advertising endorsements.”
From now on, the regulation of the regime mandates companies to first investigate the celebrities they decide to hire in order to “fully learn about the professional status and social credit of the celebrity.” In other words, from now on they will control the reputation and behavior of famous citizens before the CCP.
The consequences of this mode of social control are many: Not only for celebrities, but also for companies operating in China. If they do not soon become familiar with the effects of the Chinese social scoring system, companies can also be severely punished.
To “learn” about the social credit of a celebrity, companies must abide by the “binding opinion” of the State Administration for Market Regulation, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, among other organizations, written in a guide of socialist values central to the communist regime. That it is “binding” means that it should be adhered to if sanctions are to be avoided.
This “value guide” will make Chinese-based companies hire celebrities on the basis of a high score, which rates the level of trustworthiness of citizens. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the “illegal and unethical” figures will be those who do not “adhere to socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
The truth is that these measures ensure a control system where disunity is sown between celebrities and companies, that is between peers. the seeds of intrigue and mutual distrust are planted. What is harvested is that each one is the enemy of the others. The Machiavellian principle that governs totalitarian regimes is fulfilled: Divide and conquer.
The advances to control the population are not only being implemented in China, some have been exported to other regions. The steps of the model that the CCP exports have gone as far as Latin America, in spite of criticism for jeopardizing human rights. What is even more worrying is that it leaves an open door for the CCP to control all the information that circulates through its networks and cameras worldwide.
One of the reports by the NGO Freedom House, which annually assesses the decline of global freedom, concluded that “Social networking apps such as WeChat, used by hundreds of millions of people in China, closely monitor users’ discussions to comply with government content restrictions. Surveillance cameras, growing in number and with facial recognition software, cover many urban areas and public transportation, and are expanding to rural regions.”
Freedom House reported that China has a surveillance network of more than 200 million cameras, expected to reach 2.76 billion by 2022, and has significantly increased controls over its cyberspace.
Countries that China does business with in telecommunications infrastructure, artificial intelligence surveillance, and facial recognition receive training sessions in China with media directors and CCP officials on new media and information management. Given that the regime is taking over – for example – many ports in the Indo-Pacific area, one wonders what the implications of this plan might be.