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China’s ‘Social Credit System’ Sounds Pretty Dystopian, but Are We Far Behind?

China’s ‘Social Credit System’ Sounds Pretty Dystopian, but Are We Far Behind?

The ACLU declared China’s system “nightmarish,” and it’s not difficult to see why.
In its third season, the British science fiction TV series Black Mirror featured an episode called “Nosedive.”

The episode, which was co-written by The Office actress Rashida Jones and starred Bryce Howard, depicted a society of smiling people who walked around with holographic bubbles that contained their “rating.” These ratings were based on how people were scored by others. A positive interaction with someone was likely to earn a good score. Upload a picture people don’t like, and one could find his rating downgraded.

As far as television goes, “Nosedive” was an insightful bit of art, cleverly panning the fishbowl nature of social media and the timeless human obsession with status. It struck a chord with both viewers and critics, earning an 8.3 rating on IMDB as well as Emmy, BAFTA, and SAG award nominations.

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction 

The same month the dystopian episode premiered, China updated a policy—”Warning and Punishment Mechanisms for Persons Subject to Enforcement for Trust-Breaking“—that bears a striking resemblance.

China’s “Social Credit System” literally rates its citizens. Those who score well get privileges; those who score poorly do not. A citizen with a high score is likely to enjoy various privileges—high-speed internet, the ability to travel freely, access to the best restaurants, golf courses and nightclubs—that fellow citizens do not.

China’s rating scheme is the latest and most expansive effort by central planners to use government to encourage good behavior—or, rather, behavior deemed positive by the Communist Party. The system, which relies on vast amounts of digital data, has received scant attention in the United States.

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