For years, the Chinese Communist Party has been building a moral ranking system that will monitor the behavior of its vast population and rank them all based on their “social credit.”
According to a 2015 government document, the “social credit system,” first announced in 2014, is “an important component part of the Socialist market economy system and the social governance system” and aims to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
China’s economic planning team, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the People’s Bank of China, and the Chinese court system determine the rankings.
The system can be used not only by individuals, but also by businesses and government agencies. The private sector, including China’s burgeoning tech scene, has its own non-governmental scoring systems that it employs. According to the think tank Merics, Sesame Credit, which is owned by Jack Ma’s Ant Group, uses its own unofficial scoring system for its employees, such as studying shopping habits.
In recent years, the program has been piloted for millions of people across the country, and it was expected to be fully operational and integrated by 2020.
But, for the time being, the system is piecemeal and voluntary, with the goal of eventually making it mandatory and unified across the country, with each person given their own unique code that can be used to calculate their social credit score in real-time.
A person’s social score, like their private credit score, can fluctuate depending on their behavior.
The exact methodology is unknown, but examples of infractions include reckless driving, smoking in non-smoking areas, purchasing too many video games, and spreading fake news online, particularly about terrorist attacks or airport security. Spending too much time playing video games, wasting money on frivolous purchases, and posting on social media are all potentially punishable offenses.
China has already begun punishing people by restricting their travel, including flight bans.
According to the National Public Credit Information Centre, authorities prohibited people from purchasing flights 17.5 million times by the end of 2018.
They can also restrict access to luxury options — many people are barred from purchasing business-class train tickets, and others are barred from staying in the best hotels.
In the end, the system will specifically punish bad passengers. Attempting to ride without a ticket, loitering in front of boarding gates, or smoking in non-smoking areas are all examples of potential misbehavior.
According to Foreign Policy, credit systems, like financial credit trackers, monitor whether people pay their bills on time — but they also have a moral dimension. You or your children may also miss out on the best jobs and schools — in 2017, seventeen people who refused to serve in the military were barred from enrolling in higher education, applying for high school, or continuing their education.
In July 2018, a Chinese university denied an incoming student a spot because the student’s father had a low social credit score due to a loan default.
You could also have your dog removed. In 2017, the eastern Chinese city of Jinan implemented a social credit system for dog owners, in which pet owners lose points if their dog is walked without a leash or causes public disturbances.
Those who lost all of their points had their dogs confiscated and were required to take a test on pet ownership regulations.
Other strategies include naming and shaming. A 2016 government notice encourages businesses to consult the blacklist before hiring or awarding contracts to individuals on the list.
People will be notified by the courts before their names are added to the list, and they will have 10 days to appeal the decision.
Human Rights Watch reported that Li Xiaolin, a lawyer who was deemed “untrustworthy” after failing to comply with a court order in 2015, was placed on the list and was unable to purchase plane tickets home while on a business trip. He was also unable to apply for credit cards.
China’s social credit system incorporates a moral edge into the program, which has led to comparisons to dystopian governance, such as in George Orwell’s “1984”, in which the state controls every aspect of a citizen’s life.