How Do You Control 1.4 Billion People?

Robert Foyle Hunwick at The New Republic: China’s “social credit system”, which becomes mandatory in 2020, aims to funnel all behavior into a credit score….The quoted text is from a 2014 State Council resolution which promises that every involuntary participant will be rated according to their “commercial sincerity,” “social security,” “trust breaking” and “judicial credibility.”

Some residents welcome it. Decades of political upheaval and endemic corruption has bred widespread mistrust; most still rely on close familial networks (guanxi) to get ahead, rather than public institutions. An endemic lack of trust is corroding society; frequent incidents of “bystander effect”—people refusing to help injured strangers for fear of being held responsible—have become a national embarrassment. Even the most enthusiastic middle-class supporters of the ruling Communist Party (CCP) feel perpetually insecure. “Fraud has become ever more common,” Lian Weiliang, vice chairman of the CCP’s National Development and Reform Commission, recently admitted. “Swindlers must pay a price.”

The solution, apparently, lies in a data-driven system that automatically separates the good, the bad, and the ugly…

once compulsory state “social credit” goes national in 2020, these shadowy algorithms will become even more opaque. Social credit will align with Communist Party policy to become another form of law enforcement. Since Beijing relaxed its One Child Policy to cope with an aging population (400 million seniors by 2035), the government has increasingly indulged in a form of nationalist natalism to encourage more two-child families. Will women be penalized for staying single, and rewarded for swapping their careers for childbirth? In April, one of the country’s largest social-media companies banned homosexual content from its Weibo platform in order to “create a bright and harmonious community environment” (the decision was later rescinded in favor of cracking down on all sexual content). Will people once again be forced to hide non-normative sexual orientations in order to maintain their rights? An investigation by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab also warns that social credit policies would be used to discourage protest.

State media has defended social credit against Orwellian charges, arguing that China’s maturing economy requires a “well-functioning” apparatus like the U.S.’s FICO credit score system. But, counters Lubman, “the U.S. systems, maintained by three companies, collect only financially related information.” In the UK, citizens are entitled to an Equifax report itemizing their credit status. In China, only the security services have access to an individual’s dang’an, the personal file containing every scrap of information the state keeps on them, from exam results to their religious and political views….(More)”.