China Looks To Quell Dissent With 'Citizen Scores,' A Number That Tracks Purchases, Opinions And Social Circles
from the not-free-men/women;-just-numbers dept
China's plan to control the hearts, minds and internet connections of its citizens continues unimpeded. That's the great thing about authoritarian regimes: rollout of mandatory programs is usually only a problem of logistics, not opposition.
The Chinese government has mandated a rating system for all of its connected citizens. It looks like a credit rating but goes much deeper than just tying a measurement of financial risk to a number. It's a way of defining who someone in terms of the government's desires and aims. And its desires aren't all that honorable.
Everybody is measured by a score between 350 and 950, which is linked to their national identity card. While currently supposedly voluntary, the government has announced that it will be mandatory by 2020...This is where all the government's moves towards greater control of the internet comes to fruition. To keep "score," the government needs to tie IDs to online activity. Keeping the internet within the government's walls makes it that much easier. But it's not just online activity that will affect "citizen scores." It's almost every aspect of their lives.
In addition to measuring your ability to pay, as in the United States, the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like, such as about the Tiananmen Square massacre that the government carried out to hold on to power, or the Shanghai stock market collapse.
Also used to calculate scores is information about hobbies, lifestyle, and shopping. Buying certain goods will improve your score, while others (such as video games) will lower it.Chinese citizens who want to remain in the government's good graces will need to balance "negative" purchases with offsetting positive purchases, most likely domestic electronics and appliances.
As disturbing this is, the truly horrific aspect of the "citizen score" is that it can be influenced by friends and family members.
It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them. Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create.The Chinese government is introducing a caste system -- one that will result in the shunning of people who can't be bothered to keep their dissenting opinions to themselves… or just enjoy certain leisure activities. Certain people will be considered too harmful to hang out with, thanks to the government's mandatory "citizen score." And with anyone able to check anyone else's "score," the pressure to ostracize low scorers will be greatly magnified.
Most disheartening is the fact that many citizens seem to view higher scores as status symbols.
Sadly, many Chinese appear to be embracing the score as a measure of social worth, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.The government's program feeds on the natural competitive desires of human beings. There may be no official leaderboard (YET!) but with millions of easily-accessed "citizen scores," anyone can enter this unofficial score-measuring contest. The government obviously realizes this, as it has tied perks to certain score tiers.
Those with higher scores are rewarded with concrete benefits. Those who reach 700, for example, get easy access to a Singapore travel permit, while those who hit 750 get an even more valued visa.Klout, but for controlling the hearts and minds of a large populace.
And just in case anyone wants to feel superior about China's decision to grade its entire populace on a mandatory curve, let's not forget that employers and loan providers are using applicants' social media interactions to determine their worthiness -- including who they're friends with and what those friends are posting to Twitter, Facebook, etc.
The US government may not be calling for a "citizen score," but there have been pushes for a national ID, and government agencies are certainly using the same hiring "tools" as the private sector when considering job applications. The US government hasn't made many direct assaults on dissent, but it does perform a lot of this same tracking behavior in the interest of national security -- what with the TSA asking for bids on social media mining software and the DHS suggesting retailers voluntarily report "suspicious" purchases.
The Chinese government, however, is sending an implicit message to its citizens with this program: conform or be cast out. The smallest of carrots is dangled and members of the public -- in the interest of maintaining their own high scores -- will act as the stick.