China’s leaders don’t want to suppress criticism of the government. In fact, they probably like it

Andrew McAfee is coauthor with Eric Brynjolfsson of Race Against the Machine. If you have not read the book, please do. Then (or first) read Tyler Cowen’s Average is Over. Then please report back here your take on the future, and how we can best navigate where we will be in 20 or 50 years.

Meanwhile, for a quick read I recommend the fascinating McAfee piece Big Data Reveal Three Surprising Facts About Chinese Censorship. The future ramifications of Big Data are impossible to foresee — but this is an excellent example of surprising results today. Excerpt:

Crimson hexagon, which King cofounded, constantly collects a huge amount of social media from around the world. By seeing which of this content later disappeared from within China the team gained an unprecedented view into a dark and fascinating topic: which aspects of its people’s speech a modern totalitarian regime wants to suppress. This view also allows us to make better-educated guesses about why and how this censorship happens. What we learn from it would have surprised even Orwell.

(…snip…) As the old saying goes, “the mountains are high, and the emperor is far away.” Not any more, since the advent of social media. Citizens use these tools to complain loud and long about corrupt local officials. This provides a great way for Beijing to know who’s stealing above their station, and hence who to crack down on when the kleptomania and/or public pressure to do something about it mount too high. It’s a perverse result, but free online speech turns out to be the top despot’s great friend, because it allows him to keep his underlings in line.