China launches a new form of credit, “social” Credit

The “Nosedive” chapter of the third season of Black Mirror really  impressed me. This chapter describes a society in which social networks become perverse, to the point that every citizen is immediately rated by each person with whom they interact, and based on their global qualification they have access to more (or less) economic, social, and labor facilities.

But often the dystopian of the present ends up becoming the reality of the future. And with the exponential  socioeconomic progress, that future becomes present much faster than our capacity for reaction. In China, “Nosedive” is being implemented as a form of social ranking and credit, and it will be a powerful tool of power to control its population and to distribute the fruits of its economy.

“Nosedive” tells the misfortunes of a citizen who initially has a great reputation in cyberspace, and a  comfortable. But a series of casual events begins to affect her rankings severely.

An initial bad reaction to a mishap ends up triggering a spiral of negative ratings, overpowering a protagonist who keeps showing her less social face the more her ratings decline. In the end, she ends up not having enough “social credit” to fly by plane, has problems with the bus, and ends up hitchhiking as a last resort for arriving at a wedding of a very well-connected friend that can catapult her social relevance once again.

But nothing ends up being as she expects. Everything is twisted, and a succession of unfortunate behavior ends up sinking her social profile more and more. Nobody wants to relate to her. Your dreams of having access to the home of your dreams derail due to the loss of social status in the networks. Her whole life collapses until she ends up almost like a social outcast, and all because of how her surroundings judge her in a very short way by brief and ephemeral interactions.

Much more than a dystopian fantasy, “Nosedive” is a profound social criticism

Social networks are nothing more than a tool placed in the hands of society, and ultimately, of users. They have only been a catalyst for problems that have been rotting the foundations of our society for a long time, long time. For years, I have been writing to you about the growing and scandalous lack of ethics in our world and in our companies.

Certainly, the inhumanity of our world can end up making it so inhospitable that it becomes uninhabitable even for the social predators themselves.

China embraces the more dystopian future

It must be recognized that there really is a fundamental difference between Black Mirror dystopia and the reality of the system developed by China. While in the television series, the social credit comes from the qualification of the social environment of each person, in the case of the Chinese, that credit is determined by the regime. But what apriori may seem like a significant difference, in fact is not. The difference becomes then a mere adaptation to a different national reality, and parallelism emerges again with renewed strength.

It is even possible that the Chinese were inspired by the series itself when designing their own socio-technological policy, as pointed out in this article from the National Post. It really surprises me how similar the “social credit” of Black Mirror and the new Chinese system are.

However, in this regard, it must be said that the Chinese state announced a future social credit system more than three years ago,while the visionary chapter was not issued for the first time until 2016.

The system will be fully operational by 2020, but there are already millions of Chinese who have fallen into their (social) networks. These (un) fortunate are part of a pilot program that claims a sinister perfection before the massive launch. Right now, the current system is a set of programs often directed by local authorities, but with the aim that when it is finally launched, it has a unified scope at the national level.

Similar to the credit rating so widely used in developed countries, the social score of Chinese citizens may oscillate upwards or downwards according to their behavior. The maxim is that “maintaining trust is glorious, and breaking it is a disgrace”, with all the socio-political subjectivity that such a statement leaves in between, but with the objectivity that those who fall into this misfortune will really have a bad time.

The social scoring algorithm is a well-kept secret, but to get an idea of ​​the intrusiveness of the new system in the future life of Chinese citizens, it has been leaked that possible reasons for social discredit are, for example, bad leadership, smoking outside authorized areas, buying too many video games, or posting false news on the internet.

The precedents are not good, and the “social punishments” even less

I do not need to remind you of the strongly repressive policies of the Chinese regime – case in point, the late Nobel Prize winner and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose prize awarded by the Swedish Academy sadly received him an empty chair, while the laureate occupied a hostile Chinese prison cell.

The activist in favor of human rights and pro-democracy was sentenced to 11 years in prison in December 2009, accused of “subversion” for the terrible crime of only having dared to demand democratic reforms in the communist giant. With this in mind, what Chinese authorities will be able to end up doing now with such a social tool is multiple its capacity for repression.

The initial list of possible “social punishments” to impose on citizens who lose social rankings range from preventing the outlaws from flying or taking a train, to reducing their speed of access to the Internet, through preventing the enrollment of their children into good schools, or block their hiring to jobs with good conditions. They will also be prevented from staying in the best hotels, or they will be publicly included in a list of “bad citizens.”

Again, I would like to point out that, just as for social (dis) credit reasons, these punishments are only the beginning. I do not doubt that new and creative forms of social condemnation will be put into practice.

Look, it is one thing to have a list of defaulters and a credit rating in our socioeconomies, and quite another to have a massive social penetration tool that does not hide its repressive goals from the start.

Of course, this new system of cataloging and social punishment will delight repressors. From now on, they will be able to apply serious corrective measures to any individual, and even make their lives impossible with a few mouse clicks.

A Bleak Future

We are headed towards the aberrant future that Black Mirror described, either in a serious way in a Chinese system with political-social connotations, or in a lighter way in developed socioeconomies where the influencers obtain fame and great advantages of all kinds….ahem the Kardasians.

In conclusion, I would simply like to emphasize that, with tools such as that of the Chinese social credit system, combined with the strong penetration of technology in all facets of our lives, I am afraid that the outlook is quite bleak. Systems like this will be almost impossible to escape, and we should not feel anything but terror for a world in which we are not just numbers, but one in which we are  assigned numbers that define our life, our happiness, and even our possibility of social exclusion.

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