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Party building requires dialectical usage of big data

HUA YONG | 2021-04-15 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The AI Party-building Service Station was set up in Xuhui District, Shanghai.  Photo: Chen Yuyu/CNSphoto

While inspiring new economic forms, the data revolution reshapes traditional commerce and expands rapidly in other sectors. Big data is now broadly used in many regions in China to strengthen and improve Party building. However, dispute in ethics regarding big data in the commerce sector and the social need to further supervise it hints that the functional value of big data should be viewed dialectically when it is applied to Party building. 

Digital gaps in Party-building 
The performance of Party building through big data, first of all, depends on the usage of data tools and the large amount of data produced. The usage of data tools and production of data resources varies with different Party members. Compared with Party members in urban areas, apparent “data gaps” exist among members in rural areas. This not only is reflected in relatively low data literacy, but also can be found in their relatively low frequency of using data tools, for example smart mobile phones, as well as insufficient access to data. Party members in remote and impoverished areas in particular, obtain less data. With little exposure, it is hard to educate, manage, serve, and supervise the usage of big data in Party building. 
It is particularly noteworthy that Party members above 61-years-old have reached 26.577 million in China, which accounts for about one third of all members. Urban-rural gaps, regional disparity coupled with other factors lead to limited data usage among quite a number of elderly Party members who have little access to either intelligent devices or the internet. If purely relying on big data to advance Party building, the elderly group would be left out. However, this group plays an irreplaceable role in ideological publicity, policy advocacy, example setting, and contact between people. To omit the elderly group would therefore make Party building incomplete. What is more noteworthy is that due to physical, economic, and other factors, this group needs more help and caring from the Party. 
Over-reliance on big data 
The objectivity that data demonstrates to the outside world leads to the public misconception that data is neutral, which leads to people’s enthrallment in, and blind worship of, big data’s functional value. Many even believe that “big data is truth.” The “objectivity” of mass volumes of data and its analytical technology are considered able to rectify the subjectivity and injustices inherent in human decision-making. The result is that the decision-making overly relies on analysis of big data, which flips the subsidiary role of data analysis in decision-making, and the algorithm replaces human judgment. 
More importantly, such data worship easily leads to bad bureaucracy in Party building systems. The so-called “neutrality” of big data and its analysis is used as a pretext for administrators to shirk their responsibility and evade obligations. Decision-making is thus shifted off to the “expert system” of big data analysis. While it caters to the public’s belief that big data is neutral, decisions that officials are accountable for become mechanized. This phenomenon, of overly relying on big data, is in its essence, the alienation of technology. 
Dangers of digital monopoly 
Quite a few big data systems and platforms stem from commercial organizations, which develop and assist data operations and provide service guarantees. Even if platforms are set up by Party-building departments themselves, the core algorithms come from big data companies. The capitalist nature of big data means that these commercial organizations are driven by pursuing  profit. Since relevant laws about big data are incomplete in China today, the urge to pursue profit easily can cause data monopoly, and render Party-building platforms and systems the appendage of capital, which would divert from the goals of Party-building. 
Without effective supervision, the big data collected for the purpose of Party-building would be easily used by companies for their own commercial purposes, which would cause data leakage about Party members and organizations. This concerns the issue of maintaining privacy for Party members and the political security of the Party. In addition, data storage security is also worthy of attention. Massive quantities of data about Party-building are currently stored by commercial organizations, which need to be called into question. Though the ownership of the data does not belong to commercial organizations, they dominate the data in an objective way, by means of technological advantage. Therefore, the supervision of these big data companies needs to be studied and improved. 
Big data provides innovative concepts and methods for Party-building, which improves the coverage and efficiency of Party-building. However, this does not mean that traditional Party-building methods should be rejected. The CPC has a fine tradition of conducting in-depth investigation and research on the frontiers of people’s lives, and the convenience of data technology should not mean giving up face-to-face communication with people. Traditional methods should be therefore continued in the digital era in combination with digital ways for better Party-building both online and offline. 
Hua Yong is from the School of Marxism at East China University of Political Science and Law. 
Edited by BAI LE