What Is China’s Social Credit System? | NowThis World

Chances are you might have heard about China’s new social credit system You know…the thing people are calling a scary dystopian surveillance program right out of George Orwell's book '1984

' [NEWS CLIP] it’s almost like they’re exporting dystopia [NEWS CLIP] China’s dystopian future

The world’s first digital dictatorship It’s been painted as a nationwide surveillance program that watches every single thing that you do, from what you’re posting online to the way you cross a street But what would you say if I told you that a country-wide behavioral monitoring system is NOT actually a thing in China — well not yet at least So China wants to set up a massive, state-sanctioned system that would rank every citizen based on their behavior [Ohlberg] Basically it's meant as a tool to enforce all kinds of different laws, regulations, and other policies more effectively by getting people to self-police their behavior and people and also legal entities like companies

So this is not just about regulating people's behavior, but also companies Behavior considered 'good' by the government would get a better ranking than behavior deemed 'bad,' which would get a lower ranking And if you have a bad score, you get punished You could be banned from flying Your kids could be prevented from attending good schools

And you could even lose out on a good job And when reports of the system hit Western media, some people were terrified They compared the proposed system to that crazy episode of 'Black Mirror' But the idea of a credit system that tracks you in certain ways to determine how much or how little access you should have to certain things isn’t new at all Take the United States, for example

It has a financial credit system where a number of different factors determine your credit score If you don’t have a good score, you can be denied housing, loans, or lines of credit And although it has its problems, it does serve a purpose It helps determine whether someone can trust that you can and will repay your debts And in China, the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy, there hasn’t been anything like that

So their proposal? The social credit system But China took the idea of credit a step further On June 14, 2014, the Chinese government formally announced its plans to create their social credit system, a policy it deemed essential in 'building a harmonious, Socialist society' [Ohlberg] The way that this is presented in Chinese media is that, you know, China is a low trust society There is no trust between market participants

Like, you can't really tell if a company or person's trustworthy, if they'll pay back the money So this social credit system is kind of presented as a cure-all of China's trust-based and supposed dishonesty-based problems And under their proposed system, all behavior, not just financial, would be considered relevant in your ranking So if you’re caught doing things like jaywalking, spending too much time playing video games, or posting things deemed inappropriate on social media, you could get penalized But the exact methodology the state will use to determine what is and isn’t relevant remains unknown

And that is probably because the government is still figuring out how they want this system to be implemented country-wide [Ohlberg] There are a number of cities that have kind of been designated as experimental zones in a way which is very common, and I know that's often how Chinese policies are rolled out: you try them out in certain districts, counties, and cities first and then you roll them out And the pilots vary Some of them aren’t as extreme as others There are those that aren't even digital-based, meaning individuals have to be caught breaking a law or doing something deemed inappropriate in person or have someone report on them

And then there are those that monitor someone’s social media and movement through camera systems And Ohlberg says, in some pilots, those who 'exhibit desired behaviors' get good grades and… [Ohlberg] supposedly those people are also treated differently

If they have, like, an A or an AAA, they kind of get preferential treatment and interaction with government ministries with the local government And in the future, an increasing number of different benefits But just because it’s not currently as widespread and problematic as the Western media has made it out to be, doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant ways the system could be misused [Ohlberg] It's on the one hand supposed to make sure that companies that violate environmental regulations or labor regulations get punished for that But on the other hand it’s also supposed to enforce very vague laws such as endangering national security

Laws that, if used maliciously, can be used to target citizens We know that China has targeted and detained large numbers of ethnic Uighur Muslims, placing them in government re-education camps And even though the Western media is sensationalizing the hell out of this story, it is possible that once a nationwide credit is implemented in China, it could be extremely problematic [Ohlberg] Ultimately the idea that different governments or companies trying to collect and centralize information about us, try to profile us, [and] try to write us ultimately is a problem that's going to affect all of us, Chinese or not Because even though what China is doing is kind of the extreme of this, it's not— ultimately it's a global problem that we are going to have to deal with

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