• Louize Small

What Can We Learn From China's Social Credit System?

China’s Social Credit System, which ranks people on their behaviour, sees millions blacklisted and blocked from travelling each month because of outstanding debts and petty crimes. Citizens are named and shamed on public screens for receiving fines or acting out of line. Many Chinese people don’t see it as surveillance; they see it as a way of increasing honesty, security and convenience, even if it is at the expense of their privacy.

Facial recognition technology catches citizens breaching regulations and immediately deducts a fine from their bank balance. It is largely accepted because people trust the government and enjoy perks for good behaviour. China suffers with social trust issues and the public seem reassured that the system will encourage greater responsibility and better etiquette.

There are many small schemes, both government and private, which make up the whole and cover every aspect of conduct. People are judged on criteria such as wealth, security, compliance, social connections and consumption behaviour. The more you buy, the better you do. If your friends are well-behaved, you will fare well too. As long as you comply, there is no need to worry.

This hasn’t happened overnight. China’s Social Credit System was first announced in 2014 and was due for full implementation by 2020. With all the restrictions and enhanced police power last year, surely it has been easier to remove rights, force compliance and introduce radical changes to social systems worldwide.

2020 showed us the overbearing power of the government and the media. We have been pitted, baited and trapped. Freedom of speech has been eroded online by censorship and fact-checking and any idea that goes against the official narrative lands you in the tin foil looney bin. Stealth tactics edge us closer to what looks and feels like the Social Credit System. How far are we from sanctions and rewards? We’re already following arrows and standing on spots.

Friends and family members obediently surrendered to Christmas restrictions without so much as a tentative enquiry into logic and facts. The masses are outsourcing their minds to the ‘great and powerful’ government. We are told ‘it’s not about you’ in an underhand attempt to corral the masses into ‘groupthink’ mentality. We are sheep to be herded and we must act for the greater good. The individual is no longer permitted. To think for yourself is selfish, abhorrent and criminal in some eyes.

For the best part of a year we have been stealthily primed for acquiescence. There have been over 200 new laws, acts, rules and regulations since March. We have surrendered our rights under the cover of Covid and now behave like automatons on the conveyor belt of compliance. Some cower and panic while others carry on as normal, defiant and oppositional. We see division, censorship and paranoia everywhere we go. And let's not forget, this is by design.

Do we want a Social Credit System in our country? No, we don’t! But it seems that some now wouldn’t oppose it. Many are firmly under the spell of the mainstream media propaganda machine, convinced that the only way to secure a safe and germ-free future is to introduce further control strategies. Free-breathers are challenged, not by the government but by scornful fellow citizens who pompously believe they’re doing their bit. Those who protest are blamed for new spikes in cases even though evidence is non-existent. There is a growing disdain for those who refuse to follow the rules, even though the rules make very little sense when scrutinised. The public have been well and truly turned against each other.

But let’s face it, we’ve been publicly analysed for years. Store cards, credit scores and loyalty schemes have been around for a while and we all like, love and rate each other on Facebook, eBay and Uber without thought to whether we’re being monitored. The Internet is a mass surveillance system and businesses can buy our data already. What’s so wrong with a Social Credit System?

Aside from the obvious invasion of privacy, the system is open to corruption and bribery and it clearly favours those who are comfortable already. Being able to make a donation to improve your assessment makes a mockery of a scheme that purports to encourage fairness. It promotes consumerism and greed as people score points for shopping and spending money. It is the gamification of society.

Anyone who has seen the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive, will understand the stress involved in such a suffocating superficial existence. Just one off day could cause a catastrophic downfall. Self-censorship would be rife and we would quickly become miserable facsimiles of our former selves, scared to put a foot wrong for fear of public humiliation.

Those spending more than four hours a day streaming television, watching films and gaming would suffer penalties. Criticising the government on social media would see you downgraded. Disobeying traffic laws, being bad with money and paying bills late would result in fines, embarrassment and inconvenience. According to research done by ABC Finance, 40% of us would have a bad social credit score by Chinese standards.

The truth is, most people are good and when they’re not, it’s usually due to innocent mistakes or preventable circumstances. Could we justify such stringent measures in this country? I’m not sure we need them but I think the herd may disagree.

(c) Louize Small - 'One Little Warrior' - 2020

This article appears in February's edition of The Light (Issue 6).


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