Slip Slidin' Away
You have a credit score. A financial one called FICO--a number that determines your ability to borrow money. You may not know your actual number, but I’m pretty sure you’re aware that you have one. And I’m also pretty sure you’re aware that your number is based on your past financial behavior.
Your FICO score allows banks and lending institutions to assess your risk as a borrower. For example, do you have “too many” credit cards open, and hence “too much” access to easy credit? Or have you ever missed a mortgage/loan payment? The credit agencies’ assessment of your past spending behavior determines your ability to borrow money in the future -- and also what interest rates you’ll pay on debt.
But, I’ll bet you may not know you have another type of credit score.
It’s called a SOCIAL credit score. You probably haven’t seen or heard much about it yet, but you have one.
China has had a version since 2014, and it's now in full operation in their country. It is basically a big-tech powered surveillance system used by the government to “steer” citizens into “desirable” behavior. According to the Chinese government, it “allow[s] the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
The Chinese social credit system works a lot like our FICO score. The government monitors your activity and then can punish you for “bad” behavior or reward you for “good” behavior. Behaviors such as supporting a particular religion, criticizing the government, excessive video watching, gambling, smoking, failure to pay debts, or anything deemed “unacceptable” by the government will lower your social credit score. “Good” behavior, like donating blood, can earn you a few points.
How are you punished for a lower social credit score in China? You may find yourself banned from traveling or using public transportation, checking into hotels, eating in restaurants, being hired for a job, or getting your children accepted into private schools. Believe it or not, punishment can even include slower internet speeds and blacklisting from social activities.
“Wow! That’s crazy,” you say. “That can’t possibly happen here in OUR country.”
Sorry, folks. It’s already here and being driven by Silicon Valley.
Here are some examples of how big tech is enabling businesses and government to use a social credit system in our society:
Insurance companies are now accessing your Facebook and social media posts to underwrite their policies. Pictures of you drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, shooting guns, trying to take selfies with bears in Yellowstone, or any other “frowned upon” behaviors can come back to haunt you with higher premiums.
A company called PatronScan has developed a system for bar and restaurant owners to rate customer behavior. By scanning your ID, they know if you have been pegged by other bars and restaurants as a “troublemaker.” According to the developer, this list is shared among establishments, who can refuse to serve you for “objectionable” behavior. PatronScan doesn’t define “objectionable behavior.” It leaves that up to the individual business owner. Better not leave any negative Yelp reviews!
Both Uber and Airbnb currently rate you as a user of their services. If you misbehave for any reason (that they define), you are banned from using their services. And you have no appeal process.
Speak out on social media by expressing an opinion other than what big tech deems appropriate, you are canceled. It doesn’t matter if you’re just one of us little people…they do it to Presidents.
So what’s wrong with social credit? Don’t we want to encourage acceptable behavior? The big question is, who decides what IS “acceptable?”
We’re already seeing what the government says is “UNacceptable.” Things like speaking against the “approved” narrative, gun ownership, the “wrong” political party affiliation, membership in certain social organizations, and holding certain religious beliefs have you labeled. As a white, heterosexual male who publishes a conservative opinion blog and is a lifetime member of the NRA, I’m a marked man!
When our government views half of its own population as extremists and domestic terror threats for voting a certain way and holding certain values, isn’t it fair to question where this is all heading?
So…back to the Chinese. Last year, 11,000,000 of them with lower social credit scores were barred from flying and 4,000,000 were barred from trains. Could we be next?
Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson said, “There is no 'slippery slope' toward loss of liberty, only a long staircase where each step down must first be tolerated by the American people and their leaders.”
How many steps down are we willing to tolerate?
Note: If you subscribe to Netflix, I highly recommend you watch an episode of the series Black Mirror entitled, “Nosedive.” It is episode 1 of season 3. The episode depicts a fictional young woman enslaved to a social credit system and its devastating effects on her. It's satire, but at the same time, shocking and scary.
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