Friday, 14 Dec 2018
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HUMAN BEHAVIOR | China’s social credit system: when ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ actually matter

Every “like”, “love”, or “wow” on your social media post indicates how popular you are in the platform. Companies spend hundreds of thousands in advertising dollars on Facebook to have their pages more visible to their audiences. Being socially acknowledged online has long been an addiction to us common netizens and was even a controversial topic in an episode of the sci-fi series Black Mirror. When we get more likes, we feel good and popular. When we get ignored, we are losers.

In China, handing out social merits and demerits have broken out of mobile and TV screens to become reality. It matters whether you get a “like” or a “dislike” in actions you do in real life – only it is the government that’s handing out these verdicts, and instead of emojis you get “social credits”. Thanks to the network of 200 million CCTV cameras, the government of China can watch individuals 24/7 – as they step out of their house, turn on streets, enter stores, go to work, or watch movies. Since 2014, the project has been on pilot, but all 1.4 billion of China’s citizens will be in the system by 2020.

The social credit system, the Communist party said, will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Good citizens
Actions that may tag you as an upright citizen are as follows:
> Paying bills on time
> Having a good credit score
> Dating equally upright citizens
> Buying “responsible” goods like diapers for babies
> Following rules

In return, good citizens enjoy rewards:

> Getting loans at low interest rates
> Deposit-free home rentals or hotel stays
> Boosted profiles in online dating sites
> Access to the best schools for children
> Getting preferential medical treatment

Bad citizens
On the other hand, you can get demerits by:

> Ignoring traffic rules
> Being related by blood or marriage to people who speak ill of the government
> Buying too much alcohol
> Playing too much or cheating in video games
> Being a member of dissenting organizations

Even during the pilot program, millions of citizens have been the recipients of the punishments in the social credit system such as:

> Disqualification from getting jobs or contracts
> Failure to purchase plane or train tickets
> Shutdown of social media accounts
> Throttled internet speeds
> Ban from making purchases from online stores

Investigative journalist Liu Hu is one of the deemed dishonest citizens. He had previously exposed top-level corruption in the Communist Party and had millions of followers on his social media sites. Today, due to his low social credit score, he is even unable to travel. He believes that his being blacklisted was a political move to silence him and says that other people have been unjustly placed in the same list. He fears that his standing will affect the future of his family.

While critics like Hu condemn this government-initiated dystopia that we thought we could only see in a Netflix TV series, many citizens have gotten in line to secure comfortable lives for themselves and for their children. An anonymous entrepreneur cites, “I feel like in the past six months, people’s behavior have gotten better and better. For example, when we drive, now we always stop in front of crosswalks. At first, we just worried about losing points, but now we got used to it.”

Sources say that international companies doing business in China may also be affected, to be rewarded or punished according to how they abide by government demands. Sounds like the world will have to wait and see what happens to the rollout in 2020. In the meantime, like this post if you agree.

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