Could a Black Mirror dystopian world actually become our future?

Imagine a world where the freedom of how you live depends on your social media rating. This is how citizens in China will live by 2020.

The Chinese Government is introducing a new ‘Social Credit System’ in 2020 where citizens will be given scores based on their behaviour.

This is similar to an episode in the Netflix dystopian thriller Black Mirror, which portrays the life of a woman who lives in a world where everyone is treated depending on their social score. The idea seems crazy and we wondered how bizarre it would be to live in a world like that. But for the 1.4 billion people living in China it’s becoming a reality.

Image courtesy of Free Stocks via Unsplash.

The Chinese government is rolling out a similar scheme that ranks people based on their behaviour. In an attempt to encourage ‘trustworthiness’ in society, the new social credit system will see people with better scores receiving perks such as discounts on heating bills or usage of free gym facilities. Digital revolutionary policies like this could only be conceived by an authoritarian regime like the Chinese Communist Party.

The system works as a mass surveillance tool and uses data analysis technology to monitor citizens. Bad behaviour includes not seeing family members regularly, bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones or paying bills late. As the nationwide scheme is in its early stages, local governments have launched their own versions to test it out.

In eastern province Rongcheng, the system allocates 1,000 points to each resident. As soon as they get a parking ticket or spend too long playing video games, their points are deducted. If a person’s score is too low, they will be banned from public transport and planes, or from sending their children to the best schools.

Although the system will not officially be put into place until 2020, Chinese authorities have claimed they have already banned more than seven million people who are untrustworthy.

According to the State Council Notice in the ‘Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System’, the system “is an important basis for comprehensively implementing the scientific development view and building a harmonious Socialist society”, which should “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

Eight large Chinese companies are also trialling the system. For example, ‘Alibaba’s Sesame Credit’, uses big data algorithms to decide peoples scores based on their social media interactions and purchases from their website.

Now imagine if the British Government introduced a similar scheme where you were banned from using the tube or entering your local pub because your social credit score was too low.

English economist, Professor Mark Harrison, from the University of Warwick spoke to Voice of London about the uproar there would be in response to the system if it was implemented in the United Kingdom.

There would be more obstacles here in the way of the government than in China. In China, one party monopolizes the state, and private property rights are basically subject to political conformity. If the party or the government issues an instruction, it is hard to resist, even if the instruction goes against one’s private interest. In the UK, there are private property rights and other rights that give people the ability and the incentive to resist government instructions.”

It’s hard to say how the lives of Chinese citizens will change when the official system is put into place in 2020.


Words: Daisy Newman | Subbing: Shruti Tangirala

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