Black mirror’s social scoring episode ‘Nosedive’ is becoming a reality in China. Dubbed as the pioneer of digital social-domination in history, China’s SCS will be implemented nationwide by 2020. SCS is a reputation system produced by the government that aims to assess, manage and rate the social, moral, financial and political behaviour of their citizens . Simultaneously, recognizing the trustworthiness of people within the society.
Citizens are tracked in 2 ways :
- Mass video surveillance programme.
- Interconnected social apps (i.e. WeChat, TaoBao, AliPay) with bank details attached.
Big Data Bliss
“If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in” – Deng Xiaoping. This quote was the ideology behind the Great Firewall of China (GFW); one of the many social control systems done in China . In the context of SCS, the ‘flies’ or drawback here refers to the expense of one’s privacy.
Although the idea of constant monitoring seems intrusive, it is not unprecedented in China. During the Song Dynasty, local spies were placed in every neighbourhood to report wayward behaviour to the state leaders . For centuries, China is governed by virtue instead of law. According to Hongzhi, ”governing oneself by virtue can guide one to become noble” , hence it is important to enact laws that will guide people’s morals in China for a better society.
Today, local spies are replaced with impartial technologies. Whether we realise it or not, most of our day-to-day activities are being recorded, be it through CCTV when we stroll down the streets or through countless apps as we scroll mindlessly . Utilising the enormous range of data and quantify them into a measurable value of trustworthiness, SCS promotes itself as a ‘behavioral guideline’ for China’s citizens by rewarding the trustworthy (i.e high scorers) and discipline the untrustworthy.
That being said, implementing SCS is simply giving digital technology a role in existing systems in China and tying them all together. The government’s intention of shaping a virtuous society by retrieving various information to form a comprehensive understanding of one’s habit is supported by Kant’s theory .
In a country where one’s credibility is in constant debate, having a transparent scoring system will reinforce the trust among corporates, government and society. The building of positive bonds align with the care ethics approach. This will encourage public participation in future government policy-making, bring common mistrust issues to light and push companies to be more reputable. This includes businesses refusing to pay wages, tax avoidance, scams, food safety, and etc . Decisions made in order to preserve the virtue of honesty – which is decided to be the foundation of good public relation, is classified as morally just from the standpoint of virtue ethics .
The reward and punish system nurtures the glory of trust keeping as well as the pains of trust breaking. This not only motivates citizens to be mindful of their actions, but also educate them on being responsible of the consequences. Living in a community that place emphasis on social status , the public shaming aspect of SCS will admittedly encourage both moral and law abiding citizens.
Even though controlling the daily routines of billions seem barbaric, this is completely ethical under the framework of stoicism, where self-control and acceptance of any given situation is upheld . In addition, Alexandra Ma explains how initially, righteous acts were carried out due to fear of losing points but later transformed to one’s involuntary habit .
A country where criminals and lawbreakers are easily weeded out will produce a safer environment for everyone. Philosophist, Jeremy Bentham’s theory on utilitarianism is in agreement to the aim of SCS, where any moral action considered, should provide happiness to majority of the stakeholders, which in this case being; billions of citizens .
A Dystopian Nightmare
“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” – John Perry Barlow. SCS gives the government access to one’s privacy. Social apps in China such as AliPay and WeChat are interconnected , and contain personal bank details, thereby easing payment almost anywhere, anytime.
Owning a mobile phone is necessary in this cashless society, but these apps collect data to monitor online behaviour everyday. Currently, participation is voluntary, but it will become compulsory by 2020 , which strips both a person’s freedom and privacy. The government’s duty is to prioritize its citizens. It is ethically wrong to discard these fundamental human rights simply because the government believes it would yield better consequences.
Deontology emphasises the value of each human being and their actions, and rejects that the greater good of SCS can justify a smaller harm, hence the SCS should not be enforced.
In 2015, Charney Research  found that 35% of companies in China pay bribes to operate. If detected, penalties can be enforced and their reputation will be tarnished. Conversely, the other 65% will be affected due to unfair competition. Utilitarianism believes that the greatest good comes from creating happiness for the greatest number of people. However, more parties will be negatively impacted in this situation, thereby increasing corruption.
The fact that individuals are not in full control over their own score, is unethical.  Fundamentally, SCS judges an individual based on their score, which follows consequentialism. If your family or friends post negative comments online, you will be penalized even though you were not involved. A lower credit score suggests that it is your fault even if it was the fault of your social circle. Ultimately, the SCS allows the government to control who you interact with and can predict your actions, which could remove every citizen’s freedom of thought, expression and speech .
The SCS has already been misused to silent dissents and ensure the government’s absolute dominance.  Liu Hu was charged with a speech crime and blacklisted as “dishonest” after uncovering corruption at top levels of the Party. His actions have affected his family and destroyed his career. Hu should be awarded points based on his actions according to deontology.  Having SCS is giving power to an isolated party, with full control over the people in the country, without a moderating system.
Although the system is meant to mitigate corruption, the government has clearly exploited the system for their own benefit, which is against Kant’s theory in making sensible decisions , by destroying and segregating lives of those speaking out against the government’s actions.
After considering both parties, we concluded that SCS should be implemented; supporting the quote: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide”.