British-Malaysian comedian, TikToker, and online foodie Uncle Roger recently had all of his social media accounts in China suspended after a video circulated of him making a series of defamatory comments about the authoritarian communist country.
For those of you who might not be familiar with Uncle Roger, the content creator (famously known for his neon orange polo top) first gained online popularity after he began making YouTube videos criticising Westerners poor attempts at making Asian food—specifically egg fried rice. Most notably, he quite-rightly tore British chef Jamie Oliver to pieces for putting jam into his rice recipe…Since then he’s become a firm favourite among gen Zers for his hard truths and witty reviews.
The entertainer, whose real name is Nigel Ng, publicly informed his fans over the weekend that his accounts on websites Bilibili and Weibo, where he boasts an impressive 400,000 followers, had been suspended due to a “violation of relevant laws and regulations,” as reported by The Guardian.
The moment in question happened during one of Ng’s standup shows. Talking to a member of the audience, the comedian asked where the man was from, to which he replied “Guangzhou, China.” In response, the camera caught Ng making a scrunched up face and exclaim: “Good country! Good country.”
He went on to joke, “We have to say that now, correct? All the phones listening… this nephew got Huawei phone, they all listening.” Finally, Ng tapped at his phone and said: “Long live President Xi, long live President Xi… phew.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always been overt and ruthless in its mission to silence anyone who steps out of line or criticises the party, its history, its policies or its leaders. As reported by The Independent, in 2021, China launched a hotline for citizens to report any online criticism of the CCP. This “snitching tip line” was only one facet of the extreme censorship and free speech crackdown that’s taken place in the country over the past few decades.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time Ng has found himself facing pressure from the CCP.
In January 2021, the creator deleted a video he’d made with Chinese-born American food and travel YouTuber and outspoken critic of the communist party, Mike Chen. Ng went so far as to apologise to fans on his Chinese social media accounts for making the video with Chen and stated that he regretted making a bad “social impression.”
A lot of netizens, including Chen, felt as though the comedian was pandering too much to the CCP and that there had been no real need to remove the video. But, either way, it seems as though his feelings on the matter have slightly shifted.
Ng has yet made a statement specifically addressing the aforementioned clip of his standup routine, and whether or not that might’ve been the reason his accounts were suspended. However, this incident does reaffirm the lengths in which the CCP will go in order to maintain its chosen public narrative.
Back in December 2021, COVID-19 deaths in South Korea had hit a record high when former Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum admitted that the country could be forced to take “extraordinary measures” to tackle the surge. The plans included the use of AI and facial recognition by leveraging thousands of closed-circuit video cameras to track citizens infected with the virus.
At the time, the public raised several concerns about the technology’s attack on privacy and consent. Is the exchange of personal data for convenience, order and safety a fair trade-off for citizens? Or are governments using the pandemic as an excuse to normalise surveillance?
Now, reports are surfacing that the police in China are buying technology that harnesses vast surveillance data to predict crime and protests before they happen. What’s worse is that the systems in question are targeting potential troublemakers in the eyes of an algorithm and the Chinese authorities—including not only citizens with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups like ethnic minorities, migrant workers, people with a history of mental illness and those diagnosed with HIV.
According to a New York Times (NYT) report, more than 1.4 billion people living in China are being recorded by police cameras that are installed everywhere from street corners and subway ceilings to hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Heck, even their phones are being tracked, their purchases monitored and their online chats censored. “Now, even their future is under surveillance,” the publication noted.
The latest generation of technology is capable of warning the police if a drug user makes too many calls to the same number or a victim of a fraud travels to Beijing to petition the government for payment. “They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school,” NYT added.
Procurement details and other documents reviewed by the publication also highlighted how the technology extends the boundaries of social and political control and incorporates them ever deeper into people’s lives. “At their most basic, they justify suffocating surveillance and violate privacy, while in the extreme they risk automating systemic discrimination and political repression,” the report mentioned.
In 2020, authorities in southern China allegedly denied a woman’s request to shift to Hong Kong to be with her husband after software warned them that the marriage was suspicious. An investigation later revealed that the two were “not often in the same place at the same time and had not spent the Spring Festival holiday together.” The police then concluded that the marriage had been faked to obtain a migration permit.
So, given the fact that Chinese authorities don’t require warrants to collect personal information, how can we know the future has been accurately predicted if the police intervene before it even happens? According to experts, even if the software fails to deduce human behaviour, it can be considered ‘successful’ since the surveillance itself helps curb unrest and crime to a certain extent.
“This is an invisible cage of technology imposed on society,” said Maya Wang, a senior China researcher with Human Rights Watch. “The disproportionate brunt of it being felt by groups of people that are already severely discriminated against in Chinese society.”
In 2017, entrepreneur Yin Qi, who founded an artificial intelligence start-up called Megvii, first introduced a computer system capable of predicting crimes. At the time, he told Chinese state media that if cameras detected a person spending hours at a stretch on a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.
Fast forward to 2022, the police in Tianjin have reportedly bought software made by Hikvision, a Megvii competitor that aims to predict protests. At its core, the system collects data of Chinese petitioners—a general term used to describe people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities in the country. The model then analyses each of these citizens’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations to help authorities create individual profiles—with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”
“It would be scary if there were actually people watching behind the camera, but behind it is a system,” Qi told state media back in 2017. “It’s like the search engine we use every day to surf the internet—it’s very neutral. It’s supposed to be a benevolent thing.” He also went on to add that with such surveillance, “the bad guys have nowhere to hide.”