Mar 19, 2018

It’s either we’re quickly moving into the Black Mirror-esque future, or we’re going back to the Big Brother-ruled world of 1984.

China, which has the world’s largest population and the second largest economy, is looking into implementing a social credit system or scoring system across the country by 2020. The program, The Week reports, takes into account “a person’s political activity, social interactions, and purchase history,” which is then translated by a computer algorithm into a “trust score.”

The scoring system can be summarized as follows, according to The Week: “Take care of your parents, pay your bills on time, and give to charity and you’ll be rewarded with a high rating, which can get you access to visas to travel abroad and good schools for your children. Run a red light, criticize the government on social media, or sell tainted food to consumers and you could lose access to bank loans, government jobs, and the ability to rent a car.”

Black Mirror’s Nosedive episode is an anxiety-inducing peek into a life where we’re obsessed with our social media scores. Photo courtesy of Imdb.

Your trust score could also be affected by your connections, your education level, and even something as seemingly mundane as the time you spend playing video games. In short, the system will reward good behavior and will punish bad behavior.

The Communist Party sees this social credit system as “a way to push citizens toward approved behaviors.” While pushing for discipline (possibly), law-obedience, and overall general good behavior is a commendable thing, the method to be used strikes me as problematic. (My hypothetical social credit score took a blow just by typing out that sentence.)

The issue of age

First of all, how old should you be before the government starts watching your every move? Are you watched and scored the moment you’re born?

Will this little girl grow up knowing her entire life and all her actions will be watched and scored by the government?

The algorithm is not error-free

According to The Week, China’s Supreme People’s Court blacklist will be integrated into the social credit system. More than 7 million people are on this list for outstanding fines or judgments. Getting into the blacklist could result from a careless mistake as entering an incorrect account number, and the bans could remain in place even after the mistake has been corrected. Academic and father of social credit theory Lin Junyue says that although these mistakes are inevitable, the ‘sacrifices’ of the people involved would be worth the general improvement of society.

Uh, okay.

Privacy is gone, and so are genuine relationships

In order to compute the trust score or social credit score, the government will be harnessing data gathered from a wide range of sources: video surveillance, financial apps, social media apps, your hotel reservations, train and plane bookings, chat apps, and more.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I knew my government was watching every single thing I did, and knows every single keystroke I’m making right now, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything at all anymore. (Or not, because that will also give me demerits. I’ll never win, will I?)

Point is, the fact that your movements would be more calculated diminishes the authenticity of it. Are you really charitable? Do you really care about your parents? Or are you just doing it for the social credit score?

Free will vs. state will

As I said, pushing for good behavior across the country is commendable. It’s something I wish we could do in the Philippines, too. But it’s the method that’s problematic. It’s just a little short of being dictatorial. Maybe I’d call it a soft dictatorship, even. By controlling the privileges (or even rights) the citizens get to enjoy, the state is also twisting the society’s consciousness into conforming with its own.

I guess this is the only time I’ll be grateful our tech isn’t as advanced here.

Good behavior should be inherent. It shouldn’t be inspired by something external like a government rating. Be good because you are good. Not because it’ll get you better seats on the train.


Read more:

No, this robot bee is not from a Black Mirror episode

Who’s really responsible for all this Fake News?

The problem with ugly food goes beyond Instagram


Read more by Pauline Miranda:

The right way to use social media, according to Vice President Leni Robredo

Here’s how you can check if a site is credible just by looking at it

Eat Chinese dumplings for good fortune this Chinese New Year

TAGS: china china social credit china trust score fixture News nolisoli social credit