Social Rating Systems

Check In: All the sads and the meh continue to pound on me like Operation Gomorrah on Hamburg. I’m trying to write, as I don’t like skipping days, but I’m going to try to keep it short.

China is looking to implement a mandated social credit system, much like credit ratings here in the United States, but also measuring the conformity and state-approved behavior of participating citizens.

Currently, there’s a voluntary-participation test balloon called Sesame Credit gaining popularity in China, and the state mandated system, while separate, will be taking its rating cues from what Sesame Credit does when it is implemented and launched in 2020. I learned about this from Extra Credits and also found the article on the Beeb.

According to these sources, other than monitoring debt and payment history as per the credit system of the US, it also monitors a few other things.

~ It tracks what you say on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter

~ It tracks your purchase history for state-endorsed or -disapproved items

~ It tracks who you know and have friended, elevating or lowering your score based on if their score is higher or lower than yours. And by how much.

People with high enough scores can get loans and permission to travel and other nifty perks. People with low scores, well…don’t.

This is yet another tool to keep larger numbers of people in line and obedient to administration. It would work, too, in circumstances that the ruling class was able to consistently be fair and altruistic (or even long-sighted) in how they adjudicate, but so far in human history, we’ve never proven to be able to do this for very long (i.e. more than one generation).

Disclaimer: I know very little about China. The only thing that I can count on is that China is made of the sort of same naked apes that I encounter in my daily life, and when dissidents from China complain, they express the same grievances our dissidents complain about, and when the Chinese revel, their jubilee is over the things we find worth celebrating. I suspect culture is not necessarily going to affect how they generally respond to oppressive measures. Even ones that are effective.

So rather than imagining that I’m engaging in amateur futurism here, I’m going step further back into the realm of personal opinion to say: If I were writing speculative fiction about a society who, like China, decided to implement a social rating system by which to influence the people to behave, these are the features I’d include.

At the beginning of the story, the following elements would become evident:

~ Some of the perks you gain from achieving certain rating thresholds include what some of us might take for granted as inalienable human rights. (say the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, or the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution) That’s to say, if your ratings drop below a certain point, you start losing basic human rights. Some merchants are aware of this and will inform high-risk customers that they’re treading dangerously. Others will note such people for more subversive causes.

~ State-approved purchases that will increase your rating are advertised as such, and cost more for it.

~ There are false high ratings and false low ratings. The state appears unsympathetic.

~ You can make state-disapproved purchases at the market (e.g. Japanese Manga) by purchasing approved merchandise (locally-grown rice) and paying in-kind. It costs a bit more. At the end of the day, merchants buy back their own products from each other.

~ People sustain their social network pages like a resume, sharing only state-approved messages. Meanwhile they also sustain anonymous accounts to other social-network sites where they talk about less acceptable interests.

~ Services now exist to maintain and sustain your social rating by managing your social network accounts. They’ll make purchases for you and dump the product for a partial refund. They’ll post appropriate patriotic messages on your social network accounts. They’ll manage your friendships by friending you to high-rated persons and unfriend those who are below threshold, and send appropriate state-approved holiday greetings on time. All for a periodic subscription fee.

As the story progressed, new elements would be revealed.

~ People with super-high ratings are commonly super shallow, and will ostracize friends just for falling below threshold. In contrast, many others let their ratings suffer by associating with social outcasts that are close friends. Commonly, a social rating problem isn’t regarded as a behavioral problem but a rating management problem, especially for those who have to do their own management.

~ Some people whose ratings drop too low essentially become non-persons, no longer interacting with with white markets or mainstream social networks at all, who subsist on the goodwill of their friends and neighbors (often in trade for skilled work, such as a guy who fixes house plumbing for room and board). Those who can’t find such a network join the mob. Those less fortunate kill themselves.

~ Activist hackers sustain thousands of social-network accounts of automated social network puppets with artifically inflated ratings. Such puppets accept all friend requests (and are friended to each other) This is a free service provided so that people in the know can elevate their ratings and their circle of friends artificially. They’re whacked at continuously by the state and the social network administrators. Like a mythical hydra two appear for every one shut down.

~ Officials with the right connections can modify individual ratings with little trouble. If you’re a friend of his, expect good times. If he doesn’t like you, expect misfortune to come. Some such officials find they can profit immensely by capitalizing on this capability in the underground market.

~ Terrorist groups fish among people with especially low ratings for marks who are particularly lonely and purposeless, to give them new purpose. ISIL has a special propaganda team to recruit ostracized marks and groom them to violently attack the establishment via rampage killings or bomb strikes, without the mark ever knowing the identity of his benefactors.

All of this is good material for a spy thriller or a spaghetti western or a hard-boiled detective story. It’s a neat place to read about, to set a drama in. But you wouldn’t want to live there.

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