Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. This is what George Orwell predicted would happen in 1984. This prediction came true in China, in 2014.
In 2014, the Chinese Communist Party published an ominous document titled “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System.” It was a lengthy and boring policy document, but it contained a radical idea – “What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?” (Rachel Botsman, 10/21/2017, WIRED). Guess what – with today’s speedy advancement of technology, it is doable.
The Chinese Communist Party constantly paints itself as the best representative of humanity in all its fields, including inventive and innovative technology. Unfortunately, in this information age, Communist control married capitalist can-do. As a rising economic power, instead of helping Chinese citizens come out of poverty, the Chinese government has given licenses to eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for “Social Credit” scores. Two projects of ‘Big Data’ are being operated at present.
Scary, but the real, Orwellian Big Brother is well on his way. By 2020, this Social Credit System will be mandatory. The behavior of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity) in China will be rated and ranked, whether you like it or not. Every citizen will have a Citizen score or a Social Credit score, which is measured by the government. Big Brother uses it to rate the trustworthiness of 1.3 billion citizens.
The justification for the Chinese government to monitor citizens is to make ‘trustworthy’ people benefit everywhere and ‘untrustworthy’ people restricted everywhere. Big Brother says it will manufacture a ‘problem-free’ society. Trustworthiness is reported to be measured under five factors, and one of the five is interpersonal relationships. Under this category, you are not only monitored on who you socialize with online, but also assess what kind of online chat you and your friends engage in. If you share so-called “positive energy” online, nice messages about the government or how well the country’s economy is doing, your Social Credit score goes up… and vice versa.
In today’s Chinese Communist regime, ‘friends’ matter. In the Social Credit system, your score will be affected by what your online friends say and do, even when you are not part of the actions of your friends. If someone with whom your friends connect posts some “negative” comments online, not only will the scores of your friends be dragged down, but also yours. Posting dissenting political opinions or links mentioning Tiananmen Square has never been wise in China; now adding insult to injury, it will directly hurt your citizen’s rating. If you find this insane and surreal it’s because it is.
What does it mean? What are the practical consequences? People with low Social Credit scores will face obstacles in everything, from getting government jobs to placing their children in desired schools. Meanwhile, as part of this system, the government periodically publishes chilling blacklists, and people on those lists are seen as liars, cheats and crooks about whom police warn us to be alert. People who are rated as untrustworthy by the government are named, shamed and barred from almost everything in life, including taking flights and trains. Some local governments even put the pictures, full names and addresses of the blacklisted on billboards.
George Orwell saw it clear; he just missed it by 30 years!