Are the Chinese Government mimicking Black Mirror?

There is a consensus nowadays that technology can only get better and that outcomes of technological progression must be beneficial. When reality and science fiction television become mirror images of each other however, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate this.

China has recently implemented a trial period of a new Social Credit System (SCS). It is similar to the widespread Credit Score System, but encompasses  social, political and personal behaviours as well as financial habits. The system is set to apply to all of China’s 1.4 billion citizens by 2020, according to Chinese government officials. It is aimed to evaluate the trustworthiness of citizens and determine their social rank based on various moral codes – reliability, kindness, obedience and conduct. Each person obtains the right to grade each other through a point-based system on whether they are acting as a good citizen or not.

From there, people reap benefits or face consequences for their actions as reported by other members of society. For instance, if a person is seen jaywalking, selling out-of-date food, cheating in online games and so on; they would face punishment in the form of ‘blacklisting’. ‘Blacklisting’ essentially means a person loses access to ‘luxuries’ such as being granted visas to foreign countries, the ability to buy train and plane tickets, access to bank loans, the ability to rent a car and so on. Similarly, there are various rewards in place for good behaviour – cheaper public transport, free gym facilities and quicker service at hospitals to name a few.

Measures have gone as far as exposing ‘blacklisted’ citizens on public television and announcement boards, as well as automated announcements  over the phone declaring that the person you are calling has been ‘blacklisted’.

This Orwellian implementation of social control by the Chinese government may seems somewhat familiar. It is an idea of which some variation is often portrayed in popular television and films, in particular Black Mirror’s episode ‘Nosedive’. The relationship between ‘Nosedive’ and the SCS are somewhat more than uncanny, if not starkly identical.

‘Nosedive’ is set in our implied societal destination in which each person grades another out of five stars after each interaction, accumulating to a higher or lower overall score depending on the nature of the encounter. In the episode, a person’s overall rating determines their place in society, the quality of their job and apartment, their access to public transport, and so on. After reaching a new low in her social score, the main character is unable to board a plane, and thereafter unable to rent a car – sound familiar?

The episode first came into conceptualization and entered the writing process in 2011, according to writer Charlie Brooker. The SCS, although already drafted, didn’t enter political discussions within government until 2014 – long after ‘Nosedive’ had been written.

Black Mirror has a habit of predicting the future, and what is now the present. Similar measures have already seeped into our daily lives in Britain as well. For instance, after riding in an Uber, you are required to rate the driver on a 5-star scale. While this is only grading them based on a service they are providing, it doesn’t seem like much of a distance from what we’ve seen in ‘Nosedive’, and in China currently.

While China seems geographically distant, and politically different than the UK, it’s important to remember that technology means that the world is small today. Ideas spread like wildfire. Based on the direction that global society is moving, at some point Black Mirror will lose its otherworldly appeal and simply become reality television.

Image: 756crystal via Pixabay

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The Student Newspaper 2016