Black Mirror has proven terrifyingly accurate in portraying the near-future of our digital world. The explosion of Big State government and the collapse of personal privacy seem to be colliding exactly as some have predicted for decades. Now, China is taking things to the next level by, among other things, restricting travel for citizens who lack the proper “social credit” score.
Last week, China officially announced plans to curb travel plans for “misbehaving” citizens. So far, the country has been tight-lipped about what infractions qualify as bad behavior. However, the Orwellian-inspired National Development and Reform Commission indicated the range of potential misdeeds includes everything from reporting fake terrorist threats and being an unruly airline passenger down to smoking on trains and attempting to use expired rail tickets.
However, the system also targets citizens guilty of financial wrongdoings. This might include anyone failing to pay a fine or employers who are past due on their mandatory social insurance. Or saying censored things and downloading too much porn could ding your credit. The entire scheme is inline with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ongoing social policy: “once untrustworthy, always restricted.”
The government’s aim is to ensure that every Chinese citizen has a respective social “meta” file attached to their identity. Scores range from 350-950, but those who have higher ranked connections can see a boost in their own score. The “elite” within the system will be afforded access to more and better social privileges. Those who rank near the bottom (550 and below) will effectively be second-class citizens. They may, for example, be banned from travel, be required to put down large deposits on things like bike rentals, or be excluded altogether from certain classes of hotel. Other penalties could include more thorough examination for international travelers passing through customs or not being able to score a bed on an overnight train.
The concept of a government-endorsed social credit score system is eerily similar to the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive.” In it, a creepy, Stepford Wife-esque character (Bryce Dallas Howard) lives in a world whose citizens are beholden to their social credit score. Every interpersonal interaction is logged and rated via a mobile social media app, and users are ranked according to their overall behavior. The lower their score, the worse their opportunities financially, socially, and career-wise.
While the news out of China is just now garnering mainstream attention, it appears the travel restrictions may have been in effect for a while. Last year, Reuters cited the country’s Supreme People’s Court who claimed the Chinese government had already limited domestic travel for more than six million citizens due to “social misdeeds.”
The end is nigh, folks. It starts — for now — in China on May 1, 2018.
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