Only 4 stars for you — China’s Social Credit System

pexels-photo-233129Confession—I have a poor Uber rating. Not terrible, but just below satisfactory, and lower than mom’s. That’s embarrassing.

Maybe it’s from splitting Uber ride with my friends, convincing the drivers to “please, please, please can we fit just three more girls?” We are really good at squeezing. Or maybe my poor rating is from choosing to engage in a conversation with my driver—or staying completely silent. Do people want to talk or does Ubers etiquette follow airplane etiquette?

It feels weird, getting out of the car, knowing that my driver just rated me—and I rate them, do I give them four or five stars? And that rating determines who might bother to pick me up next time I decide to Uber—and in some cases, if they keep their job. Drivers with a rating below 4.6 are automatically on probation and most likely fired—all because a passenger might not have appreciated being dropped off only one block away.

Social media is often times a means of improving one’s reputation, or seeming to at least. These ratings seem to have a similar effect but in a more impactful way, determining your next action or others decision whether to interact with you—it has evolved into the Uber “swipe right.”

However, China has taken this idea to a whole new level. By 2020, the Chinese government plans to launch a new system, ranking and rating its citizens based on trustworthiness and integrity, which in turn determine certain opportunities citizens may have. Eerily similar to an episode from “Black Mirror,” the introduction of the Social Credit System is a ploy to improve society as a whole.

Originally intended for purely financial purposes, the plan for the system has expanded into many other aspects of everyday life. Simple actions can hurt one’s “credit,” such as not showing up for a restaurant reservation, jaywalking, and cheating on online games. However, “good deeds” can help one’s credit, such as doing charity work or recycling.

This is weird and honestly quite scary. Reputation matters, but in the Digital Age, it seems to be everything. And now, it’s quantified. It’s a solid number with which you can easily compare yourself to others, and in China, citizens’ numbers determine what kinds of privileges they enjoy in society.

Citizens with good scores are eligible to receive benefits such as shorter wait times for hospital visits or free gym memberships; whereas, citizens with poor scores have limited travel access and face public shame, as their photo may pop up on large screens in city centers. Authorities have been know to tap into callers phones warning them they are calling a blacklisted citizen, as well as retrieve behavioral data from social media platforms—but more details about this have yet to be released.

It’s worth noting that the Chinese government is putting a positive spin on the seemingly-dystopian program as a way to hold government officials accountable—something America may find helpful. However, I’m curious to see how this actually affects their society. Will citizens “get better?”

These little trends from social media are bleeding into our everyday life, and it’s scary. Social media intensifies everything, and in this case, it’s taking reputation to a whole new level. For now, this program is just in China, but with many rating systems such as Uber, it’s not so far off from the rest of the world.

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