‘Black Mirror’ Meets Reality: China Moves To Rate Its Citizens Using A ‘Social Credit System’

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Can you imagine a rating system being fully implemented into society that is not only meant to establish your “trustworthiness,” but is available for everyone to see? Well, China is seriously considering doing just that, as detailed in the State Council of China‘s document published in 2014 called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System.”

Though this hierarchal system is currently voluntary, it is set to become mandatory in 2020. If you’re getting sort of a deja-vu feeling, that’s totally understandable. The system China proposed sounds eerily similar to an ominous social rating system featured in an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, which depicted a chilling Big-Brother-type, social-media-obsessed future.

China Plans to Implement Social Rating System by 2020

First, let’s review the details of China’s social rating system, called the “Social Credit System” (SCS). Try to envision a world in which you’re constantly monitored, judged for your actions, and literally evaluated based on every choice you make and action you take.

There will be different categories that you’ll be ranked on, including behaviour, personal preferences, and interpersonal relationships. From the people you hang out with to the amount of time you spend on social media and playing video games to the types of purchases you make and how much debt you have, the world will know. You can say goodbye to privacy under SCS, because Big Brother is stepping in to monitor your every move.

Of course, a lot of this already happens. Many governments including the U.S. already spy on their citizens, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram collect an overwhelming amount of information on you, and Google is secretly recording pretty much everything you do. Google keeps the texts/videos you send and literally tracks your every move thanks to your trusty Google Maps app (read more about that in our CE article here).

The primary issue with the rating system is, not only are they monitoring citizens even more than they do currently, which is already a substantial and arguably inappropriate amount, but they’re labelling their actions as “positive” or “negative” as well. Should we really be comfortable allowing the government to dictate what’s right or wrong?

Sure, there are certain laws that are in place for a reason, but ultimately the government does not always operate in favour of society because they often put the needs of corporations over the needs of their own citizens. Laws are often heavily influenced by corporations whose main goal is profit, not the betterment of humanity as a whole.

Many governments allow corporations like Monsanto to fill our food supply with carcinogenic herbicides, they let Big Pharma influence their drug approval processes and advertise drugs to the public, and they allow the meat and dairy industries to dictate what their food guides deem healthy for our bodies, despite going against doctors’ recommendations.

This is precisely why rating systems in societies could pose a huge problem: We all have different moral compasses. Much of what the government does, you may not support. So, what happens when you voice your opinion, particularly if it goes against the government’s regime, in hopes of inspiring positive change within society? Well, you could get a lower score, rendering you ‘less trustworthy’ and ultimately affecting your ability to get a mortgage, a job, a loan, etc.

Of course, you could decide to speak out against them, and hope your rating wouldn’t affect your overall wellbeing, but how would that affect your friends’ and family members’ ratings?

The Chinese government has described the system as a method to improve trust nationwide and cultivate a culture of “sincerity.”

The policy reads, “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.”

According to the policy documents, if you receive a low score on the SCS, then you could face the following penalties:

  • You won’t be eligible for positions in public office
  • You will no longer have access to social security and welfare
  • You’ll face stricter regulations and “frisking” at Chinese customs
  • You’ll won’t be able to apply for any senior level positions in the food and drug sector
  • You won’t be able to sleep in a bed in overnight trains
  • You won’t be able to stay in higher-starred hotels and restaurants and will have more difficulty travelling
  • Your children could potentially suffer because they won’t be allowed to attend more expensive private schools

It’s very clear that this ranking system could create a lot of separatism and division, and allow the elite to gain even more special treatment than they already enjoy. This type of hierarchy is in no way conducive to equality, or a society that allows love to lead their decisions. We do not need to implement social ranking systems in order to increase sincerity within society; we simply need to have more compassion for other people and treat them like equals. 

The rating systems could seriously halt our personal growth, innovation, and thirst for knowledge as well. The government would be able to see exactly what books you’re reading and what you’re researching, and if it goes against the grain or challenges the current regime, then you could end up with a lower score. How are we going to be able to grow as a society if we don’t question the status quo?

We learn to improve ourselves by challenging the current norms and by stepping outside of our comfort zones. Renewable energy sources seriously threatened big oil and the government, yet this field was able to grow and advance because experts challenged our current energy system. We have made extreme advancements in health care because people found flaws in previous practices and had faith that they could improve them. This can be applied to quite literally every single industry, which is why these ranking systems could negatively affect growth, innovation, and our entire economic system as a whole.

If we can no longer challenge our current state of being and question our surroundings, then how can we continue to advance as a collective? As a collective, many of our strengths lie in our differences. A diverse society includes people with all different strengths and brackets of knowledge, but if we’re all racing to get a better ranking, then we could lose a lot of those differences in trying to become “people pleasers” and adhering to social norms.

How much could we be penalized for our creativity and forward-thinking under social ranking systems? It’s difficult to say. Perhaps there would be some benefits from this particular system being implemented in China, but until it is fully mandatory, we have no way of knowing the exact outcome.

China’s Social Ranking System Sounds a Lot Like This Episode of Black Mirror

Interestingly enough, an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror could give us some insight into how social rating systems could play out if they become mandatory in the future. If you haven’t watched Season 3 Episode 1 of Black Mirror yet, titled “Nosedive,” I’d highly recommend you check it out! The best part about this show is that you don’t need to watch the episodes in order, so even if you’ve never seen the series, you can still watch this episode without feeling lost.

The episode is entirely based around a social ranking system that had been integrated into every aspect of society, similar to what China plans to implement widespread by 2020 (though much more technologically advanced).

The episode focuses on a single social media platform that allows users to rank one another. The higher your ranking on this platform, the higher social class you find yourself in. Your score determines your livelihood: your access to services, your trustworthiness, your value, and your employability.

Your scores can also increase or decrease astonishingly quickly. You could lose so much in an instant, thanks to only a few people disliking you. You’re having a bad day, or perhaps you’re struggling with your mental health? Well, that could cost you your score, too.

The irony of this social ranking system was that it forced people to become insincere and disingenuous. Rather than improving their sincerity like China hopes their program will, it ended up encouraging people to simply play a “number’s game,” striving to please others and doing anything they could to fit into society’s norms.

The social ranking system depicted in Black Mirror just forced people to kiss up to higher-ups, making their lives one big popularity contest. The problem with this mentality is, if we’re not willing to challenge our superiors and “the popular kids” and speak up when we have genuinely innovative ideas or when we know something is “wrong,” then we cannot grow as a collective.

Another issue with this form of social ranking is that people could start to value themselves based on their numerical ranking and how society views them. The entire point of self worth is to determine how much you value yourself, not how much other people value you. It’s called self worth for a reason; you should not measure your worth based on society’s standards, but rather your own standards.

Final Thoughts 

We’re human beings, we often make mistakes, and in fact making mistakes can be a really beautiful part of life because we can turn our “mistakes” and “failures” into learning and growth opportunities. But, what if those mistakes became public? Would we be willing to take as many risks?

Although there could be some upsides to implementing a social ranking system, the risks far outweigh those potential benefits. So many of society’s problems today stem from our vying for social status and power, or from people holding their status over others. We certainly don’t need to add to this by further increasing separatism.

We need to encourage people to express themselves freely, question everything, and drop the fictitious barriers that social statuses create. We’re all human beings and we’re all equals, regardless of our social class or potential future social rankings.

If people start to value themselves based on a ranking system that may not even be “fairly ranked” to begin with, we will not become more sincere, we’ll just end up improving our “people pleasing” skills. We need to encourage others to go within to develop their self worth and build up their self love as well as express their creativity and their views; otherwise, we’ll end up regressing as a society instead of progressing.

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