Types of “Social Credit”

When it comes to engineered inequity, there are many different types of “social credit” programs in various phases of prototype and implementation that are used for scoring and ranking populations in ways that reproduce and even amplify existing social hierarchies. Many of these come wrapped in the packaging of progress. And, while the idiom of the New Jim Code draws on the history of racial domination in the United States as a touchstone for technologically mediated injustice, our focus must necessarily reach beyond national borders and trouble the notion that racial discrimination is isolated and limited to one country, when a whole host of cross-cutting social ideologies make that impossible.

Already being implemented, China’s social credit system is an exemplar of explicit ranking with far-reaching consequences. What’s more, Black Mirror is referenced in many of the news reports of China’s experiment, which started in 2014, with the State Council announcing its plans to develop a way to score the trustworthiness of citizens. The government system, which will require mandatory enrollment starting from 2020, builds on rating schemes currently used by private companies.

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Using proprietary algorithms, these apps track not only financial history, for instance whether someone pays his bills on time or repays her loans, but also many other variables, such as one’s educational, work, and criminal history. As they track all one’s purchases, donations, and leisure activities, something like too much time spent playing video games marks the person as “idle” (for which points may be docked), whereas an activity like buying diapers suggests that one is “responsible.” As one observer put it, “the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It ‘nudges’ citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.”55 Most alarmingly (as this relates directly to the New Jim Code), residents of China’s Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim province, are already being forced to download an app that aims to track “terrorist and illegal content.”

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