Imagine this situation. You are getting ready to board your plane when the flight attendant stops you at the entrance and says, “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t allow you to board this flight, your social credit score is not high enough”.
Wait, say that again. If this sounds dystopian to you, that’s because it definitely is. If it sounds too farfetched and not likely to happen, it already is, in China.
Meet China’s Social Credit System. An eerily Orwellian system that rates its citizens based on their social, economic and, of course political behaviour and affects their ability to travel by plane or train, get a job, go to good schools or stay at a nice hotel.
Be Careful What You Say or Do, because the Big Brother Could be Watching
Basically, anything you do or say can affect your social credit score. Attend a “subversive” political rally, play too many online video games or avoid paying a ticket in the bus and your score will go down. On the other hand, conduct yourself as a “good and obedient” citizen, perhaps point an occasional finger at your “non-conforming” neighbor and your “sincerity” score goes up.
The system is essentially designed to use mass surveillance (and there is no lack of that in China) to monitor the citizens behaviour and then uses big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to determine each individual’s “sincerity” score.
It’s an excellent example of the Chinese ability to take something Western and apply its own color to it. In this case, the social credit system is in good part based on the familiar Western credit score. If you were ever denied (and hopefully you haven’t been in this situation) a bank loan or what and where you can rent, it’s because of a bad credit score.
But as unfair as it might be, the credit score system is nothing when compared to this Chinese monster they call social credit system. One is used to curtail excessive consumerism and shopping frenzy, while rewarding those who are a bit more prudent with their finances, the other is essentially designed to enforce social discipline and, well, pretty much a police state, like something straight out of a Ray Bradbury novel.
Should People in the West be Worried about What’s Going on in China?
Now, it’s relatively easy to dismiss this as something that’s happening far away in China. Surely, it doesn’t affect us Westerners. We would never stand for it and so on and on.
But the reality is China’s social credit system can easily creep into our, Western society, as well if we are not careful. All it takes is one government, one man to say, “Hey, this sounds like a good idea!” and we’re there.
In fact, as a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says, the social credit system is already expanding past China’s borders. According to ASPI, the ruling Communist Party of China is seeking to extend its control not only to its citizens that live and work in China, but also those outside its borders.
In other words, if you’re a Chinese and live in the United States, European Union or Australia, don’t think for a moment that you’re safe or that the “sincerity” score doesn’t apply to you. Because it still does.
And it’s not just private citizens that ought to be concerned. The social credit system won’t apply to just them in appears. The report also says that international businesses will be affected by it as well. What this essentially means is that, if you want to conduct a deal in China and your business has a too low social credit score, you may not be allowed to do so, your products may be blacklisted and prohibited from sale, or you may at the very least be subject to higher interest rates.
Something like this already happened. In April this year, several international (key word here) airlines, among which were the Australian Qantas Airways, were accused of “serious dishonesty” by the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration. Allegedly, several dozen airlines violated Chinese laws by the way the listed Honk Kong, Macau and Taiwan on their websites and failing to list them as “Chinese property”. As a result of this, the CCP threatened to penalize the airlines and hit their social credit score, effectively dipping its fingers into a non-Chinese, international business.
A Social Credit Score System in the West? It’s Kinda Already Here
Now, if the whole SCS system sounds too farfetched and not something that would likely to happen in the West, you might want to reconsider that thought.
In a lot of ways, what you say and do on social media has deep consequences on your life already. It’s not just what your friends might think of you when you post a politically-charged tweet or what your girlfriend will do when she sees you hanging with another on Instagram, but your future employer may very well reject you based on your Facebook profile or Twitter account.
There is an old caricature from the New Yorker of two dogs using a computer and one canine saying to the other “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”. The situation has much changed since then. Now the Internet knows if you’re a dog or cat and not only that, it also knows what brand of dog food you eat, your favourite chew toy and much more about you.
And we’re okay with this, with companies collecting our data for “marketing purposes” or “to better target their products and services to us” it seems, in the West. So where exactly do you draw the line and not implement what the CCP is doing over in the East? What’s worrisome is that there are those who might say “hey, this sounds like a good idea!”