Assessment 3

China’s Social Credit System: A Product of Algorithms

MECO6936 Social Media Communication
Assignment 3 – Online Article and Comments
Ziqi Melody Xu
SID: 450537024
Instructor: Cherry Baylosis, Thursday 15:00-18:00

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Source: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/chinese-government-social-credit-score-privacy-invasion

Introduction

China will launch a nationwide electronic system by 2020, called the Social Credit System, which is meant to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.4 billion citizens. This scheme is a product of algorithms and is described by the Chinese government as a way to measure “trust” and to build “sincerity” across the nation. The word of algorithms might be fairly new for most of the people, however, it often occurs when people use internet and social media platforms. This article firstly explains algorithms and China’s social credit system. After that, the advantages and the threats of algorithmic culturewould be stated in an effort to argue that the system should be used with proper regulations and monitoring.

What is an algorithm?

An algorithm is any well-defined computational procedure that takes some value, or set of values, as input and produces some value, or set of values, as output. An algorithm is thus a sequence of computational steps that transform the input into the output(Cormen, 2008). In other words, algorithm isa formal process or set of step-by- step procedures, often expressed mathematically – flows from this connection, although the OED insists it is a point of etymological ‘perversion’ (Striphas, 2015).In simple terms, algorithms are the codes that people use to solve problems and lead to desirable outcomes in the digital world. Our contemporary media environment is moving closer to what is considered an ‘algorithmic culture’, which echoes the limiting publicness and cultural diversity of the newspaper industry (Hutchinson, 2017). An algorithmic culture is one that sees ‘the sorting, classifying and hierarchizing of people, places, objects and ideas—increasingly to computational processes’ (Striphas, 2015). In the twentieth century, information is crucial to everyone. Since algorithms can access a wide rage of data, they are seen as a cultural intermediary which collect personalized data to niche markets and present relevant information to each user.

The advantages of algorithmic culture

Nowadays, people get different information from the internet in terms of their preferences and needs. However, the problem of information overload is often occurred in the digital world. Algorithms are seen as solutions as they can deal with massive amounts of data easily and efficiently. Hartley said thatin any communication the sender mentally selects a particular symbol… As the selections proceed more and more possible symbol sequences are eliminated, and we say that the information becomes more precise (Striphas, T 2015). Following this rule, it is clear to see how algorithms help people to find knowledge in an automated way with the personal selections of people. Furthermore, algorithms can better target what messages should be delivered to individuals such as news, advertising and services. Since people today are busy with their lives, embracing right and interesting messages is a good way for them to take a break and relieve the pressure. With the help of algorithms, people can easily get various messages through apps regarding to the types they prefer.

 The threats of algorithmic culture

Some people think that algorithms secretly run the world as they are lack of transparency. Algorithms are being used experimentally to write news articles from raw data, while Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was helped by behavioural marketers who used an algorithm to locate the highest concentrations of “persuadable voters” (Phys.org, 2018). From this case, it can be seen that algorithms not only a measure of objectivity, but also a means to achieve subjective goals. That is, if algorithms creators have their own purposes when they generate these mathematical formulas, these algorithms could be blindly trusting formulas which can not determine fair outcomes. Secondly, following the development of algorithms, people will gradually lose their autonomous thinking. As algorithms can be too convenient for people to follow their advices and suggestions, more and more of us might heavily rely on these formulas without deep considerations. From these ideas, it is clear that algorithms bring positive factors to people, however, they also contain some flaws which should be aware of. In the following paragraph, China’s social credit system is used as an example to further explain the concept of algorithms.

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Source:https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-has-made-obedience-to-the-state-a-game-a6783841.html

China’s social credit system

As mentioned above, the Chinese government will implement a social credit system by 2020 across the nation. According to the Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020) issued by the Chinese State Council, the pivot of the reform is to foster “honesty in government affairs”, “commercial integrity”, “judicial credibility” and “societal integrity” (Lezzi, 2018).The Social Credit System is thus presented as an important channel to improve the socialist market economy, by automatically generating standards and creating business opportunities in China (Lezzi, 2018).This plan is seen as a new and highly innovative approach to monitoring, rating, and regulating the behaviour of market participants (MERICS, 2018).The most high-profile social credit system is Alibaba’s Sesame credit. It uses algorithms to score the social credit of their customers from 350 to 950, and it rates based on factors including credit history, fulfilment capacity, personal characteristics, behaviour and preference. Under this socio-economic system, something like a person’s shopping habits can be calculated by algorithms and become a measure of character. Sesame Credit also cooperates with other data-generating platforms to converge huge amount of big data to see how people behave and score them accordingly. There are pros and cons associated with this program. It can help the government to identify and monitor fraud and intellectual property theft. Furthermore, this system contributes to a rigorous business environment as people can raise their scores by using Alipay. However, its flaws can also be seen clearly. These include the intrusion on personal privacy and too much power given to the system creators. Additionally, the system leaves no room for people to make an error, if people make mistakes their scores could be impacted seriously. More importantly, this kind of system can be easily controlled by politicians for particular political purposes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHcTKWiZ8sI

A video explaining how Sesame Credit works in real world

according to propaganda games

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Source:https://thewire.in/external-affairs/chinas-dystopian-social-credit-system-harbinger-global-age-algorithm

From the video and the comment from Jeffrey J Davis on Twitter, negative aspects of Sesame Credit can be seen clearly. It refers to the idea that this system is formed for pushing citizens to behave the way the government wants. For people who fail to do so could be punished by social isolation and so on. This video shows the concerns of China’s social credit system and the future of this kind of system.

With the analysis of the most high-profile social credit system, Sesame Credit, it is clear that this kind of program can be used for developing a trust environment across the nation, however, it should be fully regulated with proper monitoring as it involves grey areas that people can take advantage of.

Conclusion

In general, algorithms play a central role in the twenty century following the development of technology. In the digital world, algorithms help people to grasp valuable knowledge and fit their preferences with useful advices. China’s social credit system is a harbinger in the age of the algorithm, and Sesame Credit is an excellent example of this system which represents the benefits that algorithms bring to people. However, algorithms and Sesame Credit indeed have their disadvantages which may cause a series of problems in real world. In this case, these formulas need to have a complete regulation governed by the government, and it also need to be monitored properly for the best outcomes.

Reference:

Cormen, T 2008. Introduction to algorithms. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hutchinson, J 2017. Cultural Intermediaries. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lezzi, I 2018. China’s Social Credit System: a governance model in the era of Big Data?[online] MediaLaws – Law and Policy of the Media in a Comparative Perspective. Available at: http://www.medialaws.eu/chinas-social-credit-system-a-governance-model-in-the-era-of-big-data/ [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].

MERICS 2018. CHINA’S SOCIAL CREDIT SYSTEM. [online] Available at: https://www.merics.org/ [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].

Phys.org 2018. How algorithms (secretly) run the world. [online] Available at: https://phys.org/news/2017-02-algorithms-secretly-world.html [Accessed 24 Apr. 2018].

Striphas, T 2015. Algorithmic culture. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18 (4-5), pp.395-412.

 

2 thoughts on “China’s Social Credit System: A Product of Algorithms

  1. This article discussed algorithmic culture in the digital era. It is a product of new technology and its pros and cons are clearly presented. Algorithmic culture mainly refers to media organizations, especially social media produce personalized contents based on user’s past content consumption. Nowadays, algorithmic culture is reflected in our daily lives through a lot of aspects.
    The article started by introducing the Social Credit System that China is about to launch by 2020. This can be an extreme expression of algorithmic culture because it will actually ‘rate’ people based on their trustworthiness. This has aroused controversy and triggered heated debate around algorithmic culture.
    As algorithmic culture bringing convenience to our lives, the threats that being put forward are obvious. Firstly, it limits people’s thoughts and imagination by feeding them with only news and information they are interested in. People might easily develop strong reliance on it and gradually lose their abilities of automated thinking. My experience with YouTube can be taken as an example. Recently, I started to realize a problem which is every time I opened YouTube, I only watched those videos that YouTube recommended to me and I found my brain went blurred when I have to search videos by myself. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to watch and then I continued to refresh my homepage for new videos that shows up. I think it could be dangerous and I considered myself as a ‘victim’ of algorithmic culture. Secondly, privacy issue arises as our personal information being completely exposed on internet and be utilized by internet giants. The incident happened with Facebook recently is a great example.
    In conclusion. Just like every coin has two sides, the algorithmic culture as an inevitable outcome has been continuously shaping our lives.

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  2. I found your post very interesting as understanding algorithms can be complex and tricky. I think the point to raise about algorithmic culture being too convenient is a very good one. If we are only receiving information and suggestions perfectly tailored to our past information intake, I think we are running the risk of strengthening ideological ecochambers. While yes, it is great to have personalised media, I think it’s important that we all see what else is out there. I suppose it’s a double edged sword in that sense.

    With regards to the social credit system, I think this is a very dangerous and unethical government intervention. My buying trends should not have future impact on the types of jobs I can get. I think this sort of system strips people of their individuality and makes them puppets of the state. As the video mentions, China has “gamified being an obedient citizen.” The problem with this is, how obedience is measure and who decides (the government). This is awfully similar to the episode of Black Mirror entitled Nosedive, as we discussed in class. I struggle to see the benefits of this as it really can go terribly wrong. Everything that makes us who we are – our friends, family, hobbies, education, and past are held against us in the pursuit of some kind of ideal society that is actually oppressive and scary.

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