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China’s Social Credit System proves that we’re living in a dystopian future. Want to know why?  Stay tuned. 

China is in the process of setting up a massive surveillance system that will track the behavior of its citizens and rank them based on their “social credit”. This system might sound similar to an American Credit Score, but it’s far more eerie. Citizens will be monitored and ranked on a point-based system that has little to do with their credit, and everything to do with how the Chinese government has become the biggest surveillance state in the world. In a country with sparse political freedom, is a surveillance and ranking system of this nature not the biggest threat to its citizens? Spoiler: It is. 

What is the Social Credit System

China’s Social Credit System was first announced in 2014, but it has yet to roll out nationwide. The program is due to be fully operational across China by 2020, and will be mandatory. The program is intended to reinforce the idea that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful”. Yikes.

The program has already been implemented in numerous towns throughout China, with millions of people participating. The Social Credit System aims to keep track of China’s citizens through a mix of statewide, AI-led surveillance (China has 50% of the world’s surveillance cameras) and citizen informants. The overall idea is to encourage “good” behaviour and discourage “bad” 

behaviour, but what does that actually mean for the people who have to live under it? 

How Does It Work?

So, how does it work? Each citizen starts with 1000 points. Much like a credit score, points can be earned and deducted – but on the basis of behavior, not whether or not you pay your bills on time. Good deeds will earn you points and can range from anything like helping your drunk neighbour home, handing in a lost wallet, or donating blood. Bad deeds will cause you to lose points, and the reasons behind that are equally as vague. Buying too much alcohol, posting anti-government messages on social media, or failing to yield at a pedestrian crossing, could all cause some serious damage to your score. 

What Are The Ramifications Of This System? 

On the one hand, many Chinese citizens back the social credit system, as those with good scores get a number of perks. These include cheaper public transport, tax breaks, shorter wait-times at hospitals, priority for school admissions and employment, easier access to loans, deposit-free car and bike hire, free gym facilities, and jumping the queue for public housing. 

However, should your score dip below 1000 points there are some terrifying consequences. Citizens with scores below 1000 may: be banned from buying plane tickets or using the train, have their internet speeds throttled, be denied loans, receive limited access to public services, be unable to send their children to certain schools, will be ineligible for government jobs, may be denied licenses, permits, and access to social services. 

All of that seems bad enough, right? We haven’t even gotten to the public shaming. Falling below 1000 points could also lead to citizens being publicly shamed online, on TV, or in other public spaces. Their name, photo, and ID number will be displayed. Even phone dial tones will indicate whether or not the person on the other end is a “dishonest debtor”. 

China: A Dystopian Surveillance State?

China’s Social Credit System proves that we’re living in a dystopian future, straight out of a sci-fi movie, and it’s a terrifying sign of the world to come. With AI, facial mapping in the apps on our phones, surveillance cameras on every street corner, and deepfakes, there’s only one way our future is going – and it doesn’t look pretty. 

China’s Social Credit System is a herald of a future that we don’t want to, or can’t bear to think about. A future run by state surveillance, false state-mandated morality, and facist governments – a dystopian future. Let’s not pretend we didn’t see this coming.