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We’re just data: Exploring China’s social credit system in relation to digital platform ratings cultures in Westernised democracies



Social media platforms and apps have become increasingly important tools for governance and the centralisation of information in many nation states around the globe. In China, the government is currently piloting a social credit system in several cities in an ambitious attempt to merge a financial credit score system with a broader quantification of social and civic integrity for all citizens and corporations. China has already begun to experiment with metrics and quantification of the value and virtue of its citizens, going beyond the function of measuring workplace performance and health-related self-tracking to measuring one’s purchasing and consumption history, interpersonal relationships, political activities, as well as the tracking of one’s location history. China has also already begun to apply a reward and punishment system that rewards those who comply with the Chinese government’s ideals and punishes those who deviate from them. Although there are no such ambitiously unified systems currently proposed in Western liberal democratic countries, some aligned structures and cultures of social media use are already well in place. This article seeks to offer a comparative examination of the structures and cultures of China’s social credit system with those which are already present and in place in Western liberal democratic countries. While it may be convenient to digitise everyday social, political and economic life, China’s social credit system brings about a vision of what may be to come, should democratic countries continue to do so without stricter data use policies in place.
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Global Media and China
2019, Vol. 4(2) 220–232
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DOI: 10.1177/2059436419856090
We’re just data: Exploring China’s
social credit system in relation to
digital platform ratings cultures in
Westernised democracies
Karen Li Xan Wong and Amy Shields Dobson
Curtin University, Australia
Social media platforms and apps have become increasingly important tools for governance and the
centralisation of information in many nation states around the globe. In China, the government is
currently piloting a social credit system in several cities in an ambitious attempt to merge a financial credit
score system with a broader quantification of social and civic integrity for all citizens and corporations.
China has already begun to experiment with metrics and quantification of the value and virtue of
its citizens, going beyond the function of measuring workplace performance and health-related self-
tracking to measuring one’s purchasing and consumption history, interpersonal relationships, political
activities, as well as the tracking of one’s location history. China has also already begun to apply a
reward and punishment system that rewards those who comply with the Chinese government’s ideals
and punishes those who deviate from them. Although there are no such ambitiously unified systems
currently proposed in Western liberal democratic countries, some aligned structures and cultures of
social media use are already well in place. This article seeks to offer a comparative examination of the
structures and cultures of China’s social credit system with those which are already present and in
place in Western liberal democratic countries. While it may be convenient to digitise everyday social,
political and economic life, China’s social credit system brings about a vision of what may be to come,
should democratic countries continue to do so without stricter data use policies in place.
China, digital culture, F. policy and law, privacy, ratings cultures, social credit, social media
The social credit system is the Chinese government’s ambitious plan for creating a system for
measuring social and civic integrity as well as financial credit scores. It is planned that participation
Corresponding author:
Amy Shields Dobson, Internet Studies, Curtin University, Kent Street, Perth, WA 6845, Australia.
0010.1177/2059436419856090Global Media and ChinaWong and Dobson
Original Article
Wong and Dobson 221
will be mandatory for all Chinese citizens in the year 2020 (Hvistendahl, 2017). The social credit
system bears a resemblance to, and is inspired by, credit score systems used in Westernised coun-
tries, such as FICO scores in the United States. However, the social credit system in China goes
beyond credit score systems. Not only does the system take one’s financial information into account
but also includes broader aspects of a person’s life, such as their purchase history, political activities
and interactions with others (The Week, 2018). Each company and citizen in China will have a citi-
zen score which will be affected through constant evaluation and monitoring of these aspects of
one’s daily life through digital networks. The main purpose of the social credit system, according to
the Chinese government, is to foster honesty among the citizens of China. China seeks new digital
ways of cultivating trust and policing ‘dishonesty’, understood as the common factor across high-
level corruption, commercial fraud, food safety crimes, and the production and selling of counterfeit
goods, as well as the ‘malicious arrears’ of individual citizens, such as the evasion of taxes and flee-
ing bank debts (Wang, 2017).
Honesty is a highly valued moral virtue in China. Implementing a social credit system that
comprises disciplinary technology that rewards those who are honest, trustworthy and virtuous,
while punishing those who display signs of dishonesty, corruption and deception is alleged by the
Chinese government to be a necessity in fixing moral decay and bringing about a virtuous state of
social harmony in China. China is considered a ‘low trust’ society in comparison with Westernised
cultures (De Cremer, 2015). The Chinese concept called Guanxi is highly valued among the
Chinese society, whereby almost automatic and personal trust exists between people who have
personal relationships with one another, whereas strangers are immediately shown with distrust
(De Cremer, 2015; Hunwick, 2018). Furthermore, Chinese society is thought to be currently facing
a crisis of trust related to several cases of fraud and corporate corruption and mismanagement
exposed in China over the last decade, including the toxic baby milk scandal in 2008 (Klabisch,
2018). China remains the counterfeiting capital of the world, with many companies producing
goods with fake luxury brand labels (Suokas, 2016). When one is deemed to be not trustworthy, the
individual may ‘lose face’, and their reputation being tarnished. In China, the maintenance of one’s
reputation and social standing is very important, as individuals do not want to bring shame to their
family (Qi, 2017, p. 13). ‘Face’ represents the personal dignity of an individual and how they are
viewed by others (Wang, 2017). The social credit system in China has been linked into these
important cultural discourses around trust and is billed as a solution to the crisis of trust and dis-
honesty in Chinese society.
While the Chinese government may promote the social credit system as a powerful tool in
establishing China to be a prosperous, harmonious and successful state, in the eyes of the media
in Western liberal democratic countries, the social credit system has been strikingly portrayed as
an omnipresent and panoptic mass surveillance system which is instrumental to the Chinese gov-
ernment for social control. Headlines such as ‘Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate
its citizens’, ‘China Uses “Digital Leninism” to Manage Economy and Monitor Citizens’ and
‘China’s dystopian social credit system is a harbinger of the global age of the algorithm’ have
been prominent in the Western media (Botsman, 2017; Brehm & Loubere, 2018; Browne, 2017).
The social credit system is described in Western media as an advanced system that consists of
technologies for mass surveillance and social control, disguised and hidden behind promises of a
flourishing state with a harmonious and a righteous society, as well as the increase in credit oppor-
tunities for the Chinese citizens. In Western democratic countries, there are increasingly promi-
nent public concerns about the issue of surveillance, data use and privacy, as companies and
222 Global Media and China 4(2)
governments continue to monitor citizens and gather information about them across multiple
types of digitally connected platforms, apps and devices. In common with the systems currently
being piloted in China, in liberal democratic countries, the representations of individuals through
their digital activities, such as consumption behaviours and social interactions, are suggested to
have become more pertinent as the subject of surveillance than physical, biological selves and
bodies (Galič, Timan, & Koops, 2017). Digital data collected are used to construct unique profiles
for each individual on different apps and platforms, and such profiles play a part in limiting one’s
access to certain information, services and places, sometimes leading to the possibility of the
offering or refusal of certain social and economic perks (Galič et al., 2017). Credit score systems
long in use in countries like the United States are one example. The rating mechanisms present in
platforms such as Uber, Ebay and Facebook are another example that constitute mechanisms
whereby the value of an individual is calculated representationally, in the form of the number
likes, ratings or stars awarded (Hearn, 2010); with the prevalence of rating measures available
across various digital platforms, many people are also participating in the digital and representa-
tional rating of others (Hearn, 2010).
The concept of surveillance in Western democratic countries has been theorised as an ‘exchange
relation’, whereby individuals are submitting themselves to progressively comprehensive forms of
monitoring in order to have access to the services provided, often freely or cheaply, by social media
and search companies (Andrejevic, 2007). This has created ‘digital enclosures’ of data ownership
over a very broad array of social, cultural and political lives and practices (Andrejevic, 2007).
While all the infrastructures and technologies are thus already largely in place in Western demo-
cratic countries, they are currently often unconnected. This is in contrast to China’s social credit
system plans, whereby the Chinese government aims to create an ambitiously centralised system.
The objective of this article is to comparatively assess China’s social credit system, together with
the cultural, social and technological infrastructures that are similarly present in Western demo-
cratic countries in light of concerns over the implementation of similar systems in Westernised
democratic countries in the near future.
Social credit system pilot projects in China
On 14 June 2014, the social credit system in China was first announced via a document entitled
‘Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System’ by the State Council of the
People’s Republic of China. The social credit system project (SCSP) is coordinated by the Central
Leading Small Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms and is managed by China’s state
leader Xi Jinping (Meissner, 2017). By 2020, the SCSP is expected to be up and running in full
function as the Chinese government wishes to launch it nationwide and make it compulsory for all
Chinese citizens (Meissner, 2017). The SCSP consist of ‘blacklist’ and ‘red list’ systems that sup-
ports reward and punishment mechanisms built into the system (Creemers, 2018; Liu, 2017).
Model citizens with high scores will find themselves on ‘red lists’, while those who possess low
scores will find themselves on ‘blacklists’ (Creemers, 2018). Each citizen in China is expected to
have their own exclusive score tailored to their behaviour as it is the Chinese government’s inten-
tion to link the scores together with the identity card system in the hopes of establishing a unified
social credit code system (Yin, 2014).
The execution of the SCSP is in its preliminary testing stages. Currently, there are pilot projects
in which both the public and the private sectors cooperate together, such as the Sesame Credit
Wong and Dobson 223
or Zhima Credit. The Chinese government had enlisted the help of eight Chinese companies,
including Tencent and Baidu (Economy, 2018; Hatton, 2015; Swanson, 2015). The government
has allowed them to build and implement their own pilot credit systems, in the hopes of implement-
ing some of the algorithms and centralising them in their own SCSP (Economy, 2018; Hatton,
2015). One of the more notorious pilot projects is Sesame Credit, developed by Alibaba. Alibaba
has a large and unique database of consumer information. This allows the company to give a
Sesame Credit score to every individual in the database based on their financial transactions and
other factors such as their personal information and timely payment on bills (Hatton, 2015). Sesame
Credit is largely based on credit score systems developed in countries like the United States, but
expands to include social ranking systems that rate individuals based on ‘credit history’, ‘fulfil-
ment capacity’, as well as interpersonal relationships and purchasing history (Botsman, 2017;
Greenfield, 2018; Hvistendahl, 2017). Among the different specific factors that Sesame Credit uses
to score individuals, the types of products purchased is one known factor (Botsman, 2017). This
shows that the Sesame Credit aids in shaping the behaviour of Chinese citizens, as it ‘nudges’ indi-
viduals away from behaviours and purchases and towards others. While individuals have their
credit scores shared publicly, the algorithms behind them are a trade secret. Therefore, users will
not be able to know how their data are being collected, used or shared by Alibaba (Hatton, 2015;
Hvistendahl, 2017). As the algorithms lack clear transparency into how the credit scores are calcu-
lated, users are obliged to accept the scores given.
Another pilot project currently operating in China is the ‘Honest Shanghai’ application.
Individuals can opt to voluntarily download and sign up for this app by providing their identifica-
tion number from their resident identity card or through the usage of facial recognition technology
(Creemers, 2018). The application itself draws from 3000 pieces of information from nearly 100
public authorities (Schmitz, 2017). The application relies mainly on facial recognition software to
identify and locate chunks of personal data associated with an individual across multiple govern-
ment platforms. These data are then collected and integrated to produce a customised credit report
on individuals and businesses. Whether the Chinese government decides to integrate these private
pilot platforms with a centralised SCSP in the near future or allow each of them to continue work-
ing independently, or even completely abandoning them, remains to be seen.
With reference to the public sector, there are already several pilot cities in China where social
credit schemes have been implemented by China’s central government and are currently being
operated by the respective state governments. One of the public pilot projects that is currently in
operation in China is located in Rongcheng, a city in the Shandong province. Each resident in
Rongcheng initially starts off with 1000 points and, depending on their scores, will have a grade
which ranges from A+++ to D (Mistreanu, 2018). According to the Director of the current pilot
project in Rongcheng, individuals who possess a score of more than 1050 are considered to be
model citizens and will find themselves on ‘red lists’, while those who possess a score of 849
should take caution as it is at the warning level before certain restrictions are imposed on them
(Farrell, 2017). If an individual’s score drops below 599, they will find themselves added to
‘blacklists’, published publicly, as well as becoming an ‘object of significant surveillance’
(Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 2017; Farrell, 2017). Those who possess scores that are situated in the
C-group will have certain restrictions imposed on them and are visited regularly by government
authorities, while those who possess scores that are situated in the D-group will lose their credit-
worthiness and will no longer qualify for certain job positions like management roles
(Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 2017).
224 Global Media and China 4(2)
Techno-social tools for influencing Chinese society
Before the establishment of the SCSP, there were related efforts to create digital social systems
undertaken by the Chinese government. The Golden Shield Project is one of them. According to
Hoffman (2017), the Golden Shield Project was an early phase in the technical establishment of a
SCSP and consisted of China’s plan to link all of the state’s individual surveillance networks with
a large centralised online database to automate information sharing. This is only recently feasible.
Technology has made it possible for the Chinese government to compile all the collected data on
Chinese citizens in digital databases, as well as allow them to integrate surveillance with systems
that consistently ‘nudge’ towards compliance (Creemers, 2016). Resulting interventions have
already been implemented in several places in China. In Dengfeng, a city in the Henan province,
one is greeted with an audio message instead of a ringing tone that informs the caller that the per-
son reached is an irresponsible and dishonest person when trying to call an individual who is on the
system’s blacklist (Wang, 2017). In the city of Taishan, light-emitting diode (LED) billboards and
TV screens located in public places have been used to expose and publicly humiliate people on the
blacklist by displaying their pictures (Yu, 2018). Other punishments include restrictions from trav-
elling via trains and airplanes. Over 44 government departments in China have signed a memoran-
dum to limit and restrict ‘discredited’ individuals across multiple levels (Yang, 2017). The
memorandum can be seen as an important act in regulating the behaviour of Chinese citizens via
the creation of a network of entities that can cooperate together and act in the interest of the state
by punishing certain citizens. Across a span of multiple years starting from 2013, it has been
reported that around 7 million people have been banned from taking flights and another 3 million
people have been banned from riding on high-speed trains by the Chinese government as a punish-
ment for showing dishonest behaviour by not repaying debts to the state (Xu & Xiao, 2018; Yang,
2017; Yu, 2018).
As technology continues to advance, the SCSP integrates further tools such as facial recognition
technologies. China is believed to own the world’s largest camera surveillance networks with
176 million surveillance cameras at present and expected to grow up to 626 million by 2020 (Global
News, 2017; Grenoble, 2017; Wang, 2017). With the integration of China’s large camera surveil-
lance network with facial recognition technology, the Chinese government will have the ability to
cross-reference surveillance footage with other kinds of digital data on individuals in the central-
ised database (Wang, 2017). Such developments chime with Foucault’s theory of biopower, where
he asserts that the regulation of the body is the best and most efficient method for states to govern
people (Ceyhan, 2012). Foucault (1991) argues that a succession of control techniques to produce
obedient and loyal citizens is vital in the survival of a state, and parallels can be seen with the
technological tools used in China’s SCSP. Several pilot cities in China, such as Shenzhen, Jinan
and Fuzhou, have already been utilising facial recognition technologies to track and identify
offenders such as jaywalkers and immediately publish their names in local media (Chin & Lin,
2017; Wang, 2017; Yu, 2018). These facial recognition technologies are also currently being used
in airports and banks to verify identities as well as to allow access to places like hotels and resi-
dences (Denyer, 2018). This technology is also being used to police minor crimes such as theft of
toilet paper from public restrooms by limiting the amount of toilet paper that can be taken (Denyer,
2018; Grenoble, 2017). Through such developments, it is then both the digital representation of
individuals that is monitored (Galič et al., 2017), along with the faces and movements of bodies in
physical spaces. This can be seen as a tool for assimilating biopower into digital systems.
Wong and Dobson 225
Comparative infrastructure possibilities for social credit systems
in Westernised states
Credit score systems
The infrastructural and cultural foundations for a social credit system exist in Western democratic
countries. Across different countries, the credit score system has already been implemented and is
widely used across different areas in many democratic countries. Due to China’s large population, it
has been difficult for the Chinese government to construct a centralised financial credit score system
(Hvistendahl, 2017). Nevertheless, the Chinese government has continued to place great emphasis
on establishing a centralised credit score system through the SCSP. A large part of the intention of
the SCSP by the Chinese government is to implement financial credit score systems more widely in
China (Hvistendahl, 2017). The general aim of credit score systems is to predict risk for financial
institutions, and banks use such systems to evaluate financial and social data to enable them to dif-
ferentiate between low-risk and high-risk clients (Thomas, Crook, & Edelman, 2017).
However, credit scores statements that are formulated by mostly large private agencies have
shown signs of going beyond their stated function and more generally acting as measures of trust-
worthiness (Arya, Eckel, & Wichman, 2013). The FICO system determines the credit score of
American citizens and has the possibility to influence the interest rates that they are offered as well
as determining whether they can obtain loans, credit cards and mortgages (Schneier, 2016). The
FICO system primarily looks at the criteria of one’s new credit, types of credit used, payment his-
tory, length of credit history and the amounts owed in order to calculate one’s total FICO score
(Hurley & Adebayo, 2017). In Germany, the Schufa also utilises geo-scoring: factors such as hav-
ing numerous neighbours with poor credit ratings or living in a low-rent or substandard neighbour-
hood can lead to one’s overall credit rating to be lowered (Jahberg, 2018). This indicates that these
credit scores already exert extensive power in several Western democratic countries: an individu-
al’s credit score can influence significant aspect of life such as career opportunities, the possibility
of obtaining loans and the locations where one can live (Jahberg, 2018; Wilson, 2018).
Several companies have begun to experiment with social media data to build an algorithmic
model that is able to measure creditworthiness through the evaluation of one’s phone number, email
and social media accounts. The posts, pictures and connections the individual has on their social
media profiles will give companies the ability to evaluate how the individual is currently living their
life in alignment or not with deemed creditworthiness, based on this representational data. In the
United States, the financial company Affirm has moved away from traditional credit reporting to the
scanning of one’s profile on social media platforms like Facebook to evaluate if they are deemed
worthy of a loan (Redrup, 2017; Reisinger, 2015). In Australia, Lodex predicts likelihood of loan
repayment through the analysis of an individual’s smartphone usage and emails (Redrup, 2017).
Factors such as one’s purchases online and the frequency at which one responds to emails are some
of the data points taken into account by Lodex’s algorithmic systems (Redrup, 2017).
Metrics and self-quantification movements
The emergence of a plethora of digital platforms in conjunction with computational developments
that allow for very large data storage capacity is giving rise to a society where many aspects of
human behaviour and life are being measured quantitatively, and human judgement is being replaced
by algorithmic models that function to calculate the values of human beings (Carah, 2014;
226 Global Media and China 4(2)
Cheney-Lippold, 2017). In many countries around the world, quantification itself is becoming
routine, as metrics are discursively constituted as key to enhancing the lives of individuals as well
as improving bureaucratic efficiencies (O’Neil, 2016). As more wearable devices and mobile
applications such as Google Fit and Fitbit pedometers are being used by individuals for self-track-
ing, the quantification of one’s self has become normalised (Lupton, 2016; Sharon, 2017; Swan,
2013). Metrics are being applied to individuals in areas ranging from the measurement of total
steps taken or the level of calorie intake, to one’s water consumption, sleep, heart rate, alcohol
consumption and estimated blood-alcohol levels, to bowel movements, stress level indicators and
so on (Lupton, 2016). Several companies do incorporate some sort of reward measure in the form
of soft incentives. Like China’s social credit pilots various reward mechanisms, they provide light
‘nudges’ to individuals in the form of rewards for conformity to a specified behaviour. In Australia,
some insurance companies now offer lower premiums on life insurance if individuals decide to
share data from their fitness-tracking device (Munro, 2015). In the United States, there are health
insurance companies that offer individuals Amazon gift cards as a form of reward if they reach
their daily goals in relation to measurements via Fitbit wearables and iPhone health apps such as
steps taken daily (Purbasari, 2016). Companies have also begun expanding into other areas such as
the tracking of people’s driving so that careful drivers will be offered a lower insurance payment
(Dredge, 2013).
Ratings cultures
The act of quantification also goes beyond the measuring of one’s self, as ratings cultures encour-
age digital citizens to designate a value to other individuals and services as well. Individuals are
encouraged to publish public reviews and ratings of other individuals and services, and non-partic-
ipation in ratings culture can become a form of social and economic disadvantage or marginalisa-
tion, akin to other kinds of digital divides (Dahlberg, 2015). From writing restaurant or online
entertainment content reviews, rating food delivery services, menu items, to rating drivers and
driver services and other service-industry businesses, to rating teachers and learning institutions,
government departments and services, to prisons, many common interactions, services and public
institutions now employ means of quantification through user-generated reviews and ratings
(Goldman, 2011; Mahdawi, 2016; Sanders & Sheptycki, 2017; Schwartzapfel, 2015, p. 52).
Companies such as Uber, OpenTable, and Airbnb each possess a two-way ranking system. Service
providers and customers have the power to rate one another. These review and rating mechanisms
have been theorised as the ‘digitisation of word of mouth’, as well as creating a new kind of cur-
rency in the form of reputation (Goldman, 2011; Hearn, 2010). There have been recent controver-
sies in Western liberal democratic countries over the development of rating systems and applications
that go beyond the rating of businesses and services to apply performance-based criteria to indi-
viduals. Peeple, which has been described as a ‘Yelp for people’ application, was created with the
notion of wanting to create a new kind of digital currency in the form of character (Newcomb,
2016). Individuals can be rated in three areas: dating, professional, and personal (Newcomb, 2016).
Several scholars believe that digital rating and review mechanisms have shifted from measuring
trustworthiness to measuring performance (Scott & Orlikowski, 2012). Where an intended func-
tion of digital application rating mechanisms was to allow customers to browse and select appar-
ently trustworthy services and providers, they now focus on continuously evaluating the
performance of individuals. This prominent rating culture has been suggested to be associated with
Wong and Dobson 227
broader social shifts and the creation of new forms of political as well as social inequality (Mahdawi,
2016; Scott & Orlikowski, 2012). These ratings are not only able to segregate society through the
production of ‘hierarchies of differentiation’ but also place a material value on individuals (Scott
& Orlikowski, 2012).
Ratings can be seen on personal social media platforms as well. Many users of social media
platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, find themselves participating in the rating of
individuals through the ‘liking’ of posts or pictures. Several scholars have argued that the ‘like’
button on these platforms creates a ‘like-economy’ and an ‘attention economy’, where one’s popu-
larity or reputation is mostly measured in quantified terms, in the manner of the number of likes
received (Gerlitz & Helmond, 2013; van Dijck & Poell, 2013). In these economies, those who
garner high engagement through likes and comments tend to be promoted further through algorith-
mic mechanisms, while many remain less visible, creating ‘visibility divides’ (Dahlberg, 2015).
In comparison to the ratings culture in most Westernised states, China’s social credit system is
seen to be taking the concept of quantification even further through the evaluation of individuals
in a more centralised and formalised manner – an ambitious attempt at tracking and quantifying
citizenship more broadly. China’s ambition is to have the power to effectively measure the value
and virtue of its citizens while, at the same time, regulating their behaviour. Ultimately, the scoring
system in the SCSP determines the overall worth and value of an individual in Chinese society. As
Westernised states also continue to quantitatively measure many aspects of human behaviour and
designate individuals with a value, this may eventually lead to new expectations and values in
notions of citizenship.
Surveillance infrastructures in Westernised democracies
Besides the self-quantification and rating systems that have arisen as prominent in social media
cultures, surveillance infrastructures and technologies have increased in both technical capaci-
ties and public prominence in Westernised democratic nations, particularly post-9/11. Countries
such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia monitor their citizens in a range of
ways we do not have the space to detail here. The 9/11 attacks are attributed to an increase in
surveillance and securitisation among these countries (Macnish, 2014). For the sake of security,
the governments of the United States and United Kingdom tend to view the personal data of
individuals as intelligence data which they have an obligation and responsibility to accumulate,
study, and retain in keeping the nation safe, instead of viewing them as the intellectual and per-
sonal property of citizens (Macnish, 2014). In terms of surveillance, citizens in Western demo-
cratic countries may also face the possibility of losing their rights to freedom of speech, privacy
and anonymity in this digital age, as many countries are utilising surveillance technologies and
infrastructures such as video surveillance imbedded with facial recognition systems (Kostyuk,
Chen, Das, Liang & Muzammil, 2017). Moreover, parallels can be made with the surveillance
infrastructures used in China with the use of ‘predictive policing’ algorithms in the United States.
In New Orleans, the police department has been working with a company that is believed to have
connections with the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to experiment with the
idea of ‘predictive policing’ with the data gathered from social media and police databases
(Loubere & Brehm, 2018; Winston, 2018).
While there are as yet no formal implementation of social credit systems in Western democratic
countries, the cultural and infrastructural means are already in place to some extent through rating
and self-tracking platforms and apps and the cultural acclimatisation to these means of everyday
228 Global Media and China 4(2)
metrics, as well as more direct and explicit forms of surveillance. However, data policy and regu-
lation may hinder the progress of potential social credit systems in the near future. The most perti-
nent example would be the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that was implemented by
the European Union in 2018. The regulation functions to harmonise data privacy laws across
Europe, restructure the way companies approach data privacy as well as to empower and protect
the data privacy of all citizens in the European Union (Baer, 2018; Privacy International, 2019).
While enforcement of the GDPR remains difficult and time consuming, many firms have already
been forced to make it easier for individuals to have their data deleted or retrieved and also to
ensure that their data are not being collected and shared around without their consent (Baer, 2018;
Privacy International, 2019). The GDPR has been seen as an important shift towards the enforce-
ment by democratic Westernised states towards more responsible and transparent uses of data by
global data firms. Some hopes have been expressed that the United States, for instance, will imple-
ment similar regulation in the near future (Privacy International, 2019). The California Consumer
Privacy Act which will come into effect in 2020 (Nicastro, 2018) is one further example of stricter
regulation of citizen’s data. However, it has also been suggested that in the wake of the global
financial crisis, there are broad moves towards authoritarianism, austerity politics, and a notably
tumultuous cultural and political landscape in the United States and the United Kingdom (Norris
& Inglehart, 2019). It thus remains unclear that the GDPR standards now in place in the European
Union will be taken up more broadly or that the cultural discourses around citizen privacy and
personal data protection will gain momentum in Westernised democracies over competing claims
of state protection and securitisation.
China’s SCSP combines both big data and algorithm models in order to create a new form of
power for the Chinese government. The system integrates data drawn from different govern-
ment departments to monitor and modify the behaviours of the citizens of China that are in line
with the Chinese government’s agenda. The emergence of this system has the potential to create
new forms of social inequality and restrict the freedom of individuals. Although there are no
systems as comprehensive as China’s SCSP being implemented in Western democratic coun-
tries anytime soon, similar cultures and structures are already in place. Credit score systems
such as the FICO scores are already mandated and in use. With the prevalence of social media
platforms and rating applications, there is also a rating culture present in many Westernised
states, whereby almost everything can now be quantified and measured so as to assign a value.
Many social media platforms have been continuously collecting vast amounts of data from their
users, and there are also companies that are utilising the data collected from wearable devices
to provide users with soft ‘nudges’ to comply to a certain behaviour. The concept of surveil-
lance is not unfamiliar in democratic states. The United States, The United Kingdom, and
Australia are, for instance, continuously implementing additional surveillance infrastructures
and legislatures, at the same time as prominent debates continue about citizen’s privacy and
rights in relation to their individual data. In view of the above, China’s social credit system
should be viewed as a warning to Western liberal democratic countries of what may be to come.
As our technological age allows for vast amount of data to be collected from individuals across
multiple platforms, integrated and used to construct representational profiles and map patterns
and behaviours, as well as the continuous rating of others via rating applications, the digitising
of identity and reputation is already well underway.
Wong and Dobson 229
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.
Amy Shields Dobson
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Author biographies
Karen Li Xan Wong completed her Masters in Internet Communications at Curtin in 2018 in the School of
Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry. Her thesis examines the cultural implications of China’s social credit
Amy Shields Dobson is a Lecturer in Internet Studies in Curtin’s School of Media, Creative Arts and Social
Inquiry. Her research focuses on digital and social media cultures, and issues of gender, youth, and public
... The findings have important implications regarding SCS as a state surveillance infrastructure. Theoretically, the study extends the understanding of valenced framing and chilling effects into the context of SCS and provides nuanced insights into the international fears and concerns that go beyond social credit, namely SCS may be employed to chill and restrict people's freedom of expression (Chorzempa et al., 2018), and modify the behaviors of Chinses citizens that are in line with the Chinese government's agenda (Kostka & Antoine, 2020;Li et al., 2019). Given behavioral inhibition theory (Zhu & Fu, 2020) and chilling effects (Townend, 2017), the study reveals SCS has a detrimentally restrictive effect on freedom of speech. ...
Studies on China’s social credit system (SCS) remain mostly theoretical and there is limited empirical research examining the surveillance effect under China’s SCS. This study investigates whether exposure to news framing of SCS affects individuals’ attitude, political online behavior, and opinion expression. Findings suggest exposure to negative framing of SCS chills participants’ intentions to engage in online political activities. Individuals who possess low levels of willingness to self-censor and are exposed to negative framing are more susceptible to the chilling effects of SCS, and thereby become cautious to share opinions, which in turn restricts their freedom of expression. Qualitative evidence reveals while most participants were supportive of SCS, yet still concerned about its privacy invasion and speech restriction issues. Implications for SCS as a means of surveillance are discussed.
... banks and insurance companies) in the broader field of social governance. It is not entirely dissimilar to credit rating systems operating in other countries (Wong and Dobson 2019), but for its scale, scope and pervasiveness. Furthermore, there is no singular system that is controlled by the central government to rate each individual Chinese through its massive database. ...
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This article offers a critical analysis of China’s health code system, a data-powered pandemic control and contact tracing system that supposedly subjects all individuals in the country to its panopticon control, a surveillance system that monitors and categorises the Chinese population into the healthy (green), the dubious (yellow), and the unhealthy (red). The article highlights the pretence of surveillance as care and the digital divide that normalises discrimination against the elderly and other digitally left-behind population. It also illustrates how, from policy making and technological design to user engagement, the health code system is implemented, optimised, and used in everyday life to meet the needs of the vulnerable population. The health code is better taken as a medium of adaptable and communicative process that can reset the relation between the system and the lifeworld. It is the process of interchange between the system and the lifeworld that deserves our critical attention.
... People's behaviours like political activities, socialization, and purchase history are recorded and they affect their credit scores (Wong & Dobson, 2019). People's credit scores can affect the outcome of their applications for financial services, personal loans, jobs, visas, hotel rooms, schools, etc. (Ding & Zhong, 2021;Kostka, 2019;Qiang, 2019); well-behaving citizens (in the government's eyes) can enjoy benefits like being able to book a hotel room without leaving a cash deposit (Hatton, 2015), and poorly-behaved citizens (in the government's eyes) can risk facing a travel ban (Ding & Zhong, 2021). ...
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While many people have been discussing the security implications of the development of the metaverse from a civilian or business perspective, very few discussions analyse the implications from a national security perspective. Thus, this article contributes to the security discussions by exploring how China can make use of the metaverse to maintain stability and international influence. This article argues that the metaverse provides an immersive and integrated environment, thus, facilitating the Chinese government’s spread of propaganda and invasion of the privacy of netizens accessing China’s Internet. This article will discuss China’s emphasis on Internet security; then, this article discusses how the metaverse assists China in influencing people’s mindsets and monitoring people’s behaviours. Finally, this article discusses the implication of China’s metaverse on individuals. As we sail into a new era of the digital world, everyone should maintain their independent thinking and be aware of their data security to enhance their resilience to government abuses.
... Data-driven methods for decision support -also known as data-informed decision support systems, AI-based decision support, or algorithmic decision-making -form useful technologies in many fields and get more and more widespread, not only in the private but also in the public sector [1,2]. However, this also raises concerns among the general public, as AI-based systems are prone to replicate biases present in data and application design. ...
The use of data-driven decision support by public agencies is becoming more widespread and already influences the allocation of public resources. This raises ethical concerns, as it has adversely affected minorities and historically discriminated groups. In this paper, we use an approach that combines statistics and machine learning with dynamical modeling to assess long-term fairness effects of labor market interventions. Specifically, we develop and use a model to investigate the impact of decisions caused by a public employment authority that selectively supports job-seekers through targeted help. The selection of who receives what help is based on a data-driven intervention model that estimates an individual's chances of finding a job in a timely manner and is based on data that describes a population in which skills relevant to the labor market are unevenly distributed between two groups (e.g., males and females). The intervention model has incomplete access to the individual's actual skills and can augment this with knowledge of the individual's group affiliation, thus using a protected attribute to increase predictive accuracy. We assess this intervention model's dynamics -- especially fairness-related issues and trade-offs between different fairness goals -- over time and compare it to an intervention model that does not use group affiliation as a predictive feature. We conclude that in order to quantify the trade-off correctly and to assess the long-term fairness effects of such a system in the real-world, careful modeling of the surrounding labor market is indispensable.
... Political activists also report having been followed based on what they have said on WeChat, and chat records have turned up as evidence in court (Zhong, 2018). Chinese social media platforms and apps play a paramount role in the implementation of China's "social credit system", largely deemed a mass surveillance and governmental control system in Western societies (Lix Xan Wong & Shields Dobson, 2019). This co-operation is enabled by many laws passed in furtherance of state security, public security, censorship and taxation that have granted the Chinese government extensive powers of access to private-sector data generated online by businesses operated in China (Wang, 2017). ...
This benchmarking report explores the degree to which the world’s top 50 online content-sharing services’ approaches to terrorist and violent extremist content (TVEC) online have evolved since a first report in 2020. This new edition finds there has been tangible progress: 11 services have issued TVEC-specific transparency reports over the past year (6 more than in 2020); and the 5 services that already issued such reports now provide additional information. However, transparency reports expressly addressing TVEC remain uncommon and services continue to use different metrics, definitions and reporting frequencies. It remains difficult to gain an industry-wide perspective on the efficacy of companies’ measures to combat TVEC online and how they may affect human rights. Meanwhile, there is a growing risk of regulatory fragmentation due to unco-ordinated transparency requirements across jurisdictions. There is an urgent need for increased, and more comparable, TVEC reporting.
The journey of foreign policy in independent India had begun before India’s independence, when the Asian Relations Conference took place in New Delhi in March–April 1947. It was hosted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was then de facto Prime Minister of the provisional Government preparing for India’s independence. From India’s Independence till now, there have been six significant changes to India’s foreign policies. Since its attaint of independence from the colonial masters in 1947, India has always cherished its principles of free and humanistic nature for the world, so India has supported China for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. However, on the other hand, China has always criticized India for being sympathetic to the Western world. We also witness the shift of economic power and ascendance of economic activities from the Western world to the Indo-Pacific order. Four democratic countries, namely, the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan, have formed an organization known as QUAD to deal with these threats. New Strategic Narratives are emerging in the world’s geopolitics. These make it imperative to now discuss and deliberate on this vital theme employing a multidisciplinary approach. I would like to discuss these new developments in India’s foreign policy in this chapter.
The article considers modern interpretations of neo-totalitarianism, the authors of which qualify current anti-democratic tendencies as signs of the formation of the XXI century totalitarian systems, which are significantly different from their industrial versions. The analyzed interpretations are classified as technological, economic and ideological conceptions. Their key theses are explicated, after the analysis of which a conclusion is made about the multilevel inconsistency of the modern interpretations of neo-totalitarianism. At the end of the article, a theoretical vector for overcoming the identified contradictions is indicated.
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This is an introduction essay to the IJAS special issue “Materialism and Materiality in Asia,” which is devoted to the intersections between Marxist historical materialism and the more recent new materialisms in different Asian contexts. The two materialisms correspond to two pressing social problems we are facing: the social inequality and alienations created by capitalism on the one hand and the environmental crises happening under the Anthropocene on the other. Bringing the two strains of thought together, we hope to explore ways to reconnect with the material world, and to develop theorizations that are more responsible to humans and non-humans.
Digitality is an imposition. This does not contradict the advantages of digital technology. Nor does it contradict the facilitation, assistance and productivity from which people profit in ever-increasing areas of their lives through the use of computers and their connectivity.
A governance perspective on China’s digital authoritarianism sheds light on the political logic and institutional landscape that characterises the country’s internet governance and policy. Tracing institutional development in the internet sector from early days of the Web in China through to the present, reveals both continuity and change in policy approach, especially from one generation of leaders to the next. This method exposes shifts in modes of governance that have had direct impacts on the content and effectiveness of China’s internet approach. As such, differing modes of governance from one era to the next, and their internet policy implications, is the dimension to be compared in this volume. This chapter introduces the key conceptual contribution of this study—party-centric governance (PCG)—which is used to explain the mode of governance that has emerged during President Xi’s leadership. PCG explains the more assertive, proactive, and ideological internet agenda in China that is evident today.KeywordsInternetChinaTech companiesAuthoritarianismParty-centric governance
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2020 the Chinese government is planning to implement a country wide social credit system. Rating citizens, organisations, companies and institutions on their behavior. This includes financial history, as well as criminal past, online comments and environmental performance. Nothing concrete is known yet, though Western media is already claimin Orwellian consequences. This short article is based on facts and plans and avoids speculation.
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Few readers notice that in a celebrated essay, Goffman, in a footnote, acknowledges the Chinese source of his concept of face. Around the time that Goffman published “On Face-work,” Merton urged that theory development requires, among other things, clarification or refinement of concepts. If culture is taken to be effectively related to action and meaning, it is necessary to go beyond the approach in which theories, concepts, and methods developed in one socio-cultural context are simply applied to data generated in another. The present paper shows that concepts from other cultures may challenge taken-for-granted assumptions, received wisdoms, and established conventions. The paper draws on semi-structured interviews with respondents in a number of sites in mainland China. Examination of the various notions of face articulated by respondents suggests possible developments in sociological conceptualizations of face neglected in previous discussion. It is shown that an individual’s face generation and outcome may arise out of another individual’s status or behavior. An individual’s action may give rise to a collective face outcome and a collective’s circumstances may have impact on an individual’s face state. Additionally, it is shown that face itself may become an object of self-conscious deliberation and construction. The paper demonstrates that conceptualizations employed by Chinese subjects can lead to the identification or illumination of properties and relations neglected in mainstream cultural sociology. New directions of research and theorization are thus encouraged by incorporation of culturally extraneous experiences and categories into mainstream sociology.
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State powers and high technology industries have historically and symbiotically implemented new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to advance their operational goals. However, much of the scholarship and policy discourse studying such practices is limited to well-known mass surveillance revelations in advanced-industrialized Western democratic contexts. We present the first event-catalogued case-history analysis of 306 cases of mass surveillance systems that currently exist across 139 nation-states in the world system. Identifying the ‘known universe’ of these population-wide data infrastructures that shape the evolving relationships between citizens and state powers, this study pays particular attention to and fills an existing void in the contemporary study and understanding of mass surveillance practices by examining how population surveillance systems have diffused across the international system. By closely investigating cases of state-backed cross-sector surveillance collaborations, we address the following questions: What is the recent, global history of state-sanctioned mass surveillance systems deployment? Which stakeholders have most prominently expressed support for, benefited from, or opposed these systems, and why? What have been the comparative societal responses to the normalization of these systems in recent decades? Addressing these questions provides valuable traction for understanding how comparative contexts shape the way governance technologies unfold and spread, potentially in ways that reinforce state powers’ interests and dominance over their citizens.
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The paper defines ‘stochastic governance’ as the governance of populations and territory by reference to the statistical representations of metadata. Stochastic governance aims at achieving social order through algorithmic calculation made actionable through policing and regulatory means. Stochastic governance aims to improve the efficiency and sustainability of populations and territory while reducing costs and resource consumption. The algorithmic administration of populations and territory has recourse to ‘Big Data’. The big claim of Big Data is that it will revolutionize the governance of big cities and that, since stochastic governance is data driven, evidence-led and algorithmically analysed, it is based on morally neutral technology. The paper defines moral economy – understood to be the production, distribution, circulation and use of moral sentiments emotions and values, norms and obligations in social space – through which it advances a contribution to the critique of stochastic governance. In essence the argument is that certain technological developments in relation to policing, regulation, law and governance are taking place in the context of a neo-liberal moral economy that is shaping the social outcomes of stochastic governance. Thinking about policing in both the narrow sense of crime fighting and more broadly in its Foucaldian sense as governance, empirical manifestations of ‘policing with Big Data’ exhibit the hallmarks of the moral economy of neo-liberalism. This suggests that a hardening of the socio-legal and technical structures of stochastic governance has already largely taken place.
Cambridge Core - Political Sociology - Cultural Backlash - by Pippa Norris