Chinese women showing the scores of their Zhima Credit of Alibaba’s Ant Financial, 2016. [AP / Imagechina]
9 grim things about China’s social credit system
>> 9 consequences of having a low score
China’s Communist Party has been developing a social credit system since 2009 when the ‘reputation program’ initiated regional trials. The government’s ‘Plan for Implementation’ revealed that the SCS should be fully implemented in 2020. Scores change in real time and the dystopian scheme is turning China into the world’s first digital dictatorship. It’s the largest social engineering project ever attempted and a way for Chinese elites to control over a billion people.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the pilot program was tested on millions of citizens across China, with over 200 million surveillance cameras using artificial intelligence and facial recognition software to support the program.
The policy states that “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”
9 grim things about China’s social credit system
- It can track pretty much everything
Facial recognition is installed everywhere. Data is combined with individuals’ government records, medical records, bank balances and loan repayments, driving offences, internet histories (imagine losing points for watching porn? Seriously?) and more, allowing the system to manage the rewards, or punishments, of citizens depending on their personal and economic behaviour.
“It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,” – Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
- It will become mandatory
Participation in the rating system is currently voluntary, but it’s likely that people who don’t volunteer are perceived to have something to hide, potentially causing others to look down on them. Any outstanding citizen would want to show off their incredible score, right? It’s like a status symbol.
It was reported that by 2020, involvement in the system would be mandatory. The behaviour of every individual and every company in China will be rated and ranked via the surveillance system, whether they like it or not.
- The media blackout
Due to the lack of media coverage, we may never know the full extent of what is going on over in China’s dictatorship. It’s even possible that they could even be chipping their citizens to make it easier to track them, like the chips which are inserted into the hands of willing citizens in Sweden.
- It creates distrust amongst social circles
Similar systems have found that people are prepared to report on friends and even family members, raising suspicion and lowering social trust across China. “If your best friend or your dad says something negative about the government, you’ll lose points too,” ABC reports.
- The system could be hacked
Given enough time, anything can be hacked, including this system. In the same way social media followers and interactions can be bought, individuals will be able to pay to have their score manipulated. This could lead to someone with serious debt issues receiving a high value loan, or someone with driving offences being able to buy or rent a vehicle, because all computer systems will work with the digital rating system. These black market deals would even give people the opportunity to have an enemies score altered, potentially seriously ruining their life.
- The consequences of a low score could ruin futures
Sesame Credit is a Chinese company which provides advice on keeping scores high. The companies’ chief manager, Hu Tao, warns people that the system is designed to ensure that “untrustworthy people can’t rent a car, can’t borrow money or even can’t find a job”.
- Citizens can lose points for so many reasons
Some reports claim that each citizen starts with an ‘A’ rating and a capital of 1,000 points. As their points increase and decrease, they have the opportunity to climb to A+ or fall to B, C, or D. It’s like going back to school, with the added risk of not just being expelled if you do something wrong, but your life being over too. Those with a B rating can be refused a mortgage and other basic essentials.
Small crimes like jaywalking and larger crimes like speaking out about the government will cost citizens points and they can’t even buy too much fucking alcohol, even if they’re having a house party (which they probably can’t do either…).
It isn’t all bad. Anyone caught littering risks losing three points, meaning streets and buses aren’t covered in cigarette butts, dropped chewing gum and empty cans. Drivers that don’t stop for pedestrians are fined 50 yuan (roughly £5.66), minus 3 points on their driving license (which has an initial total of 12), and lose 5 social credit points.
But other rules are less logical. Porn is banned, growing vegetables in the streets is banned, attending non-registered churches, banned. And what about if you get into a fight? There’s a 1,000 yuan (approx £113) fine and a loss of 10 points.
- Some people shouldn’t be on the blacklist
There are an estimated 10 million people with bad social credit, including journalist Liu Hu, 43, who was arrested, jailed and fined after he spoke up against government corruption. And obviously, his score was obliterated. “There are a lot of people who are on the blacklist wrongly, but they can’t get off it,” explained Hu.
“This kind of social control is against the tide of the world. The Chinese people’s eyes are blinded and their ears are blocked. They know little about the world and are living in an illusion.” Liu Hu said.
- How far will they take it?
What’s next? Will points be deducted from citizens who spend THEIR OWN hard-earned money on non-Chinese products? As the trade war between the US and China worsens, will citizens be punished for using an American-made Apple iPhone instead of a Chinese Huawei phone?
9 consequences of having a low score
- Publicly shared results
Mugshots of some blacklisted citizens are displayed on large LED screens on the side of buildings for everyone to see and they’re even shown before movies begin in the cinemas…
A Hebei court released an app containing a “map of deadbeat debtors” within 500 meters of users’ locations, further damaging social statuses and relationships with family, friends and partners. The app encourages users to report individuals who they believe could repay their debts. A court spokesman tried to justify bringing out the app by explaining, “It’s a part of our measures to enforce our rulings and create a socially credible environment.”
- Registration on a public blacklist
The rewards of having a high score include easier access to jobs, loans and houses they’ve applied for, as well as priority during bureaucratic paperwork. But if a score is low? It could affect EVERYTHING. Citizens could be sacked from jobs, rejected for a loan and even evicted from their home. Their internet connection could even be purposely slowed down. Yes, really. This is serious.
Missing just one loan repayment can have people blacklisted and the official CreditChina.gov.cn website lists thousands of individuals and companies with unpaid loans, fines or taxes, causing public humiliation.
- The destruction of careers & the shutdown of social media accounts
ABC reported that Liu Hu’s (the journalist I mentioned before) career was destroyed and he became isolated as his social life crumbled, making him worry for his family’s future – they can’t even travel.
Hu claims his Wechat and Weibo accounts, where he posted his investigative journalism, had a combined two million followers at their peak – right before they were deleted by the government.
- The travel ban
People with a low score are basically invisible. They can’t hail a taxi, fly on planes or rent a room in a hotel.
At the end of 2018, it was reported that 17.5 million flights and 5.5 million high-speed rail trips had been denied to prospective travellers who were on a blacklist. Reasons include that the travellers could be on a debtors list or they physically or verbally abused a member of staff in a travel-related establishment.
- The food ban
People with higher scores get priority treatment when booking restaurants. Yep, someone might not get into their favourite restaurant because they couldn’t afford to pay off their parking ticket fine that month.
- Exclusion from high prestige work
People won’t get a great job if even taxi drivers don’t want to pick them up.
- Scores can scare off friends and even a perfect match
Personal scores are used as a social symbol on online social and dating platforms. One drunk and disorderly arrest could stop someone meeting Miss Right on a matchmaking website. Or any woman at all, for that matter.
People get cut off by friends because of a low score, out of fear that they could be looked down on for associating with them. In fact, Sesame Credit (the advice company mentioned above) specifically warns about the downsides of friending someone with a low score.
Can you imagine being judged because of something your family member or friend shared online? “Posting dissenting political opinions or links mentioning Tiananmen Square has never been wise in China, but now it could directly hurt a citizen’s rating. But here’s the real kicker: a person’s own score will also be affected by what their online friends say and do, beyond their own contact with them. If someone they are connected to online posts a negative comment, their own score will also be dragged down.” – Wired
- Exclusion from private schools
Can you imagine your A++ child being excluded from their school because of your bad behaviour? In China, this is a reality. If one or both parents score below a certain threshold, their children will be excluded from the top schools in the region.
- The repression of religious minorities
Have you ever tried to discourage someone from following their chosen religion? China citizens could be rewarded for it…
Pilot projects for the social credit system actually rewarded citizens for aiding the authorities to enforce restrictions for practitioners of certain religions such as Falun Gong. Some of these practitioners were coerced into renouncing their beliefs. Uighurs who publicly pray and fast during Ramadan were also discouraged from performing these, and other, Islamic practices.