Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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Social Credit System

China is setting up some kind of large-scale "social credit system" to rank and monitor the behavior of their citizens. Citizens with low scores can get penalized in various ways like being denied travel or access to top-tier schools and so on. It's quite creepy, and the mere idea evokes the dystopian Black Mirror episode "Nosedive" where people use an app to rate other people.

China's social credit system might be even worse than the Black Mirror one because:

  • it's instigated by the state, instead of a (presumably) commercial app like in Black Mirror. Instead of people you interact with regularly rating you, it's now some faceless bureaucrat who might have an agenda. At least if it's people, you might be able to cozy up enough to other people to get your rating back up.
  • how would you opt out? In the Black Mirror episode, the protagonist's brother was the type of person who didn't care about social status so the ratings didn't affect him. In a system administered by the state and applied universally, you have no choice. Well, I guess you can still be all "meh, I don't care" and just don't avail of the benefits unlocked by higher ratings, but since it's the state promoting this, it's likely the scope where the ratings matter will only become larger with time

Why is the idea of a rating system inherently creepy? People judge other people all the time. We judge other people by how they look, the clothes they wear, how they behave, where they went to school, what job they have, what kind of car they drive, and so on. And people often do change their own behavior to influence how others judge them. In certain countries, they already have financial rating systems that allow companies to judge you based on your credit history. It's simply a factor in how human societies work.

I think having a numeric rating system for social behavior feels so off because it attempts to quantify something that we understand to be inherently subjective, and attempts to impose that standard rating system indiscriminately. And a rating attached to each person universally feels like it would be very difficult to shake off. If someone judges you based on your looks or your clothes you can always change them. If all the people in your neighborhood dislike you, you can always move to a new area. But if there's a quantitative rating attached to you in some centralized database somewhere? People who don't know you can judge you instantly, even if they've never heard of your past indiscretions. The rating would follow you around where ever you go.

At least financial credit systems are there to promote good financial decisions (since they are used to judge your credit risk). China's social credit system looks like it's designed to promote obedience to the state or adherence to state-preferred behavior, which means reduced freedoms. One can only hope such an experiment fails and does not propagate to other more democratic-leaning countries, but given the recent worldwide trends, I am not too hopeful.

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Last modified at: Jan. 17, 2021, 4:56 a.m.. Source file