According to reports in Western media, the Chinese government, with the cooperation of Chinese social network sites (SNS), has begun ranking its citizens’ obedience much like a credit score.
The “Sesame Credit” system, operated by Sesame Credit Management, which is the financial arm of Alibaba, is designed to put a spotlight on online dissidents with the help of SNS providers.
Big Brother Uses Peer Pressure
The credit system is designed to rank individuals based on whether they have engaged in critical or unauthorized political speech on social network sites. Political dissent and criticism of authority will not only lead to a lower score for the individual engaging in criticism, but will also negatively affect the scores of friends.
The system, therefore, is designed to use peer pressure to deter dissenting voices on social networks.
In addition, the score is open to the public, which may result in public shaming and humiliation of individuals with low scores.
At the moment, only those who choose to opt-in are ranked according to this system. However, by 2020, the system is expected to become mandatory.
When Technology Facilitates Oppression
In the former Soviet Union, spies were sent to public gatherings to capture those who voice dissent in the public arena, forcing conscientious citizens to hold their peace.
Today, social networking (and network-based communication in general) has become a part of everyday life. The “Sesame Credit” system, which intercepts those communications in order to rank a citizen’s obedience to the state, and force friends to spy on each other, is eerily similar to the Soviet system of public control.
In Japan too, the My Number system goes into effect starting January 2016. Each citizen will receive a unique number which will be linked to personal information such as bank accounts and medical history.
While the system has been put forth with the aim of simplifying and enabling efficient government services, it can also potentially be used by the State to control its citizens. In a world where so much of our private information is accessible through the internet, a determined government could suppress dissenting voices by, for example, freezing an individual’s bank account with the click of a mouse.
While a technologically advanced society certainly has its conveniences, that convenience can also be used by “Big Government” to curtail the freedom of its citizens. The concerned may well have a point in being wary of such over-reach.