China brings Black Mirror to life with a freaky new "Social Credit" system

China brings Black Mirror to life with a freaky new "Social Credit" system

CultureNovember 26, 2018

Big Brother, in The People’s Republic of China, is growing to nightmarish proportions. And, very soon, it’s going to start looking very much like an episode of Black Mirror realized. Not only have they established comprehensive surveillance, watching everyone, all the time almost everywhere in the country, but soon, they’ll be grading people based on what they see.

It’s a strange and futuristic blending of government surveillance and social engineering; a futuristic credit scoring system that will drastically mold their society to the State’s vision; a paranoid person’s worst nightmare.

The massive “social credit” system will give each citizen a “social credit score”, essentially a grade that shows how “good” of a citizen they are. A grade that can either make or break a person; that can either bring them prosperity and opportunity or crush their future like a rice cracker.

First announced in 2014, this program is already largely in place, and is on track to be fully operational by 2020. Naturally, it will be compulsory for the millions of Chinese citizens who will pilot the program, and when it goes live, their social credit scores will begin to rise and fall according to their actions and mis-deeds – things like traffic violations, loud or unleashed pets, smoking in non-smoking areas, loitering in train stations, and even buying too many video games, will all work against their score.

And these transgressions can have some serious consequences.

For instance, if you spend too much time playing computer or video games, or posting news the government classifies as “fake” to social media, your social credit score can suffer because of it. And the government might choose to throttle your internet speed in response, like an angry parent taking away a child’s computer privileges.

Or, if you refuse to serve in the military, not only can you can be banned from high-class hotels and prohibited from traveling internationally, but your children can even be denied education from the best schools in China.

Is your dog loud? Do you like to walk it off the leash? Yeah, that’s going to cost you points, too. And if you run out of points because of your pooch, the State will actually come and take your dog away from you.

There’s an element of public shame involved with this system as well – “bad citizens” will be catalogued on a public list so everyone knows when you’ve messed up. It’s going to be a national naughty list, that stacks Chinese citizens against each other like some kind of sick computer game.

On the other end of the spectrum, people with high social credit scores will be rewarded for being “good citizens”. Their applications for foreign travel and vacations will be approved quicker, they will get better interest rates at banks than people with poor scores, discounts on energy bills and even more matches on certain dating sites.

It’s a carrot and stick approach to social engineering. And the danger of State manipulation, to punish citizens that stand up or against them, is very real and very high. Such a system gives the State almost god-like power to shape a society and its culture.

Not unlike how the American financial credit system has shaped ours. As US citizens, we each get a credit score of our own – only ours is based on financial merits instead of social ones. Our credit system is a capitalist one, whereas the soon-to-be in-place Chinese credit system is the socialist equivalent.

And it’s sure to have some freakish effects on the social culture of China.