3 Quick thoughts on the Social Credit Rating System (from Singapore)

I thought that it was rather bold of China to launch a Social Credit System to rate its citizens. The idea, although a simple one does contain many cans of worms but yet I tend to be an optimist so I was rather thrilled at the applications.

The article mentions that the system will affect people in these ways:
  1. Slower internet speeds
  2. Restricted access to restaurants, nightclubs or golf courses
  3. Removal of the right to travel freely abroad
  4. Low scores can influence rental and loan applications, employment opportunities especially in the civil service, journalism and legal fields.
  5. Restrictions to enrolling themselves or children in high-paying private schools
This list is most likely not exhaustive. China's people have already proven itself competent when it comes to creativity and problem solving (enter WeChat, Alibaba and so on) so I'm pretty sure they will have more applications up their sleeves.

I mean, just look at the list of five things up there and tell me you don't sense any useful applications?
With all optimism, here are three of my thoughts:

The unruly Chinese tourists can be kept in rein

Here is something that I can probably relate to in my work or travels. I'm not putting all Chinese citizens in the same bucket since I firmly believe every country has its bad eggs. I've had rude students (from China) who insisted they were part of a conference and wanted free food and I've also had incidents of rude/unethical tourists when I travelled to the Maldives for a short holiday. How did I know? Well, they caught seafood off a marine sanctuary and cooked them in their rooms. Upon being found out, they argued and insisted they were in the right. Well, I mean, Culture aside, they knew it was illegal to poach but went ahead anyway.

If you can determine that someone has a bad reputation on social media (swears often, has bad reviews, friends block him) and bar him from travelling, would that result in less "bad eggs" going overseas to tarnish the reputation of their country? Would we see more desirable tourists originating from a country?

Every country has bad eggs and if you can use the power of digital to evaluate them, then imagine the possibilities. China has a billion or so people anyway so scaling is beneficial. In fact, in February 2017, China's Supreme People's Court announced that 6.15 million of its citizens had been banned from taking flights over the past four years for social misdeeds.

And yea, we're already doing this in some small ways in Singapore! I am evaluating drivers based on their star rankings and if their rankings are low...

Say Yay to no more fake news?

Without a doubt, fake news has been the talk of the year and I think there's potential for the system to work here. The article already mentions limiting employment in journalism, legal and government if you have a bad rating. That's a really cool method to sift out people. It probably works in the same way as how we tend to curate our social media newsfeeds over time (I unfollow or block non-credible sources all the time). If people already tend to spread fake news on their social media and are identified by bad ratings, then yes, please don't work for the government, legal or the newspapers.

Come to think of it, we're already really doing it in a micro way: Employers looking at your social media feed before they employ you; citizens scrutinising a minister's social media page.

Of course, whether this can really work depends on the fake news and audience receiving it. Some people simply spread fake news unknowingly so that's an education problem. My mum sends me fake news all the time but she thinks it's very real...

Owe money and don't get a loan

The most practical application ever and I left the simplest to the last. You can buy things with your social media accounts in China and this means that if you're a bad paymaster, everyone will know. If people post an O$P$ post on your account, everyone is going to know. And if you have no money or credibility, no loan for you. Simple.

Again, come to think of it, we're already doing it in a micro way. The loan sharks have done it for ages by sticking pigs heads (and then your neighbours stop loaning you money or you restrict your own travelling because you're afraid to go out). Credit companies have been assigning credit scores for ages.

Okay, that's all for my thoughts and I know there are lots of question marks about social credit rating too. Here's some of them and I won't go into detail because like I said, I'm an optimist ;)

Big question marks:

Will the system cause inequality? 

Yes probably. There are some folks that do think of it as being a modern Indian caste system and there are similarities. I'm pretty sure my grandfather is not on social media and if that means he gets a ranking of zero, then it's not fair. Social media is also a benefit that is enabled by having an internet connection so folks that can't afford to have internet will lose out completely.

Personality differences on social media vs real life

I'm probably an occasional lion when it comes to voicing opinions on social media but I prefer to let the fluffy clouds go by peacefully in real life.

The system might only work for extreme ends
  1. Rude person doesn't pay loans and blah bla blah. Restrict them! Good Job!
  2. Normal person on social media: Likes some posts a day. Mildly active on social media. Gets "normal" benefits.
  3. Person active on social media: Likes 100 posts every day, is friendly and social. Makes friends with everyone. Get all the benefits?
Basically, we can really identify if someone is really bad or really good but many question marks for those in the middle. Also, ethical questions are called into play here. What really is good and what really is bad? Are civil offences considered bad? Does divorcing your partner make you bad? Does getting into a civil lawsuit make you a bad person?

Flip it the other way round. Does saying Happy Birthday to everyone on Facebook make you a good, friendly person?


Nigel works at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the go-to person for the School when it comes to Social Media. Whether you are a student, alumni or just curious, he invites you to connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Nigel does recreational fishing and diving in his somewhat little spare time.


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