What may seem like dystopian fiction is slowly being implemented in China. The country plans on ranking its citizens completely by their “social credit” by 2020, leaving no dark corner unturned. Within an outline of the plan, the Communist Party claims that the new system will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” hinting that the Chinese government plans on keeping an even closer eye on its citizens. But what does the Chinese government mean by social credit?
Essentially, the Chinese government plans on monitoring the behavior of its massive population, ranking each citizen individually by scoring them out of 800 (with 800 being the perfect Chinese citizen). The score is a numerical way for the government to measure the trustworthiness of companies and individuals. The exact methodology behind the idea is confidential to the public, but examples of infringements include bad driving, smoking within non-smoking zones, making negative comments about the government and posting fake news online.
Currently, government agencies and private companies are collecting enormous amounts of data about individual citizens, including, but not limited to: their finances, social media activity, credit history, health records, online purchases, tax payments and who they associate themselves with. Over 200 million surveillance cameras have been installed across the country, armed with facial recognition software, body scanning and geo-tracking capabilities according to an interview done by ABC.
The plan was initially proposed in 2014 and is now currently in the experimental phase, as it’s being piloted for millions of people across the country. Once the program is fully operational nation-wide, participation will be mandatory. For some, social credit will bring privileges — for others, punishment.
Those with higher credit scores will be provided various advantages within society. These advantages include discounted energy bills, better visibility on online dating sites, omitted deposits on rental properties and even better travel deals. Families who rank as “top citizens” are also rewarded with better housing options and the best education opportunities available.
Hospitals have even been toying with the credit score project. Those who have credit scores above 650 are able to see a doctor without lining up to pay.
If a citizen’s social credit score is considered “too low” by the Chinese government’s standards, punishments will be administered. Those with a lower credit score may find restrictions within their daily life, such as no longer having the ability to purchase high-quality goods or a new home. Punishments, though, can quickly become extreme. Citizens can be restricted from purchasing train or plane tickets, or even be placed under house arrest if their score hits a certain threshold.
Scores can fluctuate based on an individual’s actions. Purchasing diapers for your child may bump up your score since the system assumes you’re a responsible caregiver. Purchasing large quantities of alcohol? Your score may be lowered, as buying too much may hint at dependence and addiction. The system will be live, so social scores will update in real-time.
In October of 2018, freelance journalist James O’Malley tweeted a chilling video of an announcement made on a bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, warning passengers that their every move was being monitored. The video went viral on Twitter with over 2 million views, exposing China’s intense surveillance to the rest of the world.
This marks one of the largest social engineering projects in history, as China’s ultimate goal is to administer complete surveillance of over a billion people. If the program is successful, it could be the world’s first digital dictatorship.