China is in the process of creating a nationwide database of “social credit” in order to not only rate the financial strength of their citizens, but also their trustworthiness.
Unlike the US or UK, China does not have a nationally recognized credit score system. However, also unlike the aforementioned countries, China’s new initiative will not only determine how good people are at paying bills. It will also be used to rate how obedient they are to the state.
Currently, this plan is in somewhat of a beta stage, as eight Chinese companies have set up sites to issue these credit scores.
Possibly the most high-profile of these is called Sesame Credit, a joint venture between Alibaba, Asia’s largest online retailer, and Baihe, China’s largest matchmaking service.
However, neither company will reveal how they determine or calculate the scores, nor will they directly speak to Western media out of fear of losing the lucrative government contract.
Conversely, they will admit that shopper’s purchases will be taken into account. As Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director, told the Chinese magazine Caixin:
“Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.”
This is a very controversial point, as it leaves the door open to the government deciding who can do and buy certain things based on subjective, and possibly stereotyped, life decisions.
From a different angle, this type of credit system is being valued as little more than another authoritarian propaganda tool.
In the extensive government planning outline, the Chinese government states in Article 5, Section 1 that it will actively encourage competition between citizens to work for high scores by incentivizing trust-keeping and punishing trust-breaking.
Many Westerners are beginning to see this as China hiding an Orwellian “big brother” behind the façade of a game. For more on that angle, there is the relatively short, but oft-linked video from Extra Credits on the matter.
As of now, the system is opt-in. However, as part of China’s most recent Five-Year Plan, the “social credit” system, in one form or another, will be mandatory in 2020.
Cover Photo Credit: Danny Mekic’/Flickr (CC By 2.0)
What Do You Think?
Cartoonist Dan Piraro looks up from his drawing monitor: “You mind if I keep working a little bit on the side here while we talk?”
Piraro is a busy man.
His one-panel comic series Bizarro is featured in more than 350 daily and Sunday newspapers, which requires him to churn out a hand-cramping seven cartoons a week.
He maintains a strict routine to keep up with this level of demand so he alternates his attention between his work station and his webcam where he chats with me via Skype.
Piraro is absolutely absorbed by his literal task at hand.
He responds to each of my questions with a laid-back gusto- not dissimilar to the feel of his daily strip, although there are some topics that get him going. Take the environment for example.
“Virtually all animals know not to shit where they sleep,” Piraro said. “They try to defecate as far away from where they live and raise their families. In a local sense we do that but in a larger sense we’re poisoning the one planet that’s inhabitable to us.”
That’s one of the few riffs Piraro goes on during our 28-minute conversation.
He is a man of passion when he feels drawn to a topic.
It was the way he was raised.
His parents were Kennedy Democrats.
Public service was a big deal in their home and they wanted their children, Dan and his sisters, to show the same sense of responsibility their beloved president had.
“I was raised to believe that certain things in life are more important than your job or social standing,” Piraro said. “We were sort of raised with that notion that it’s up to everyone to build and maintain a society worth living in.”
Piraro doesn’t hide his liberal political views in his strip but he said that he doesn’t consider himself much of a political cartoonist either.
He’s different. Hard to pin down. So is his work.
In the world of syndicated cartoons, there are humorous comic strips featuring cute kids or sarcastic animals and then there are political strips that maybe feature cute kids or sarcastic animals who have a bone to pick with a specific politician or political party.
Piraro tries to keep himself within the lines but sometimes his sensibilities get the best of him.
This happened in 2005 when he drew a panel relating to gay marriage and changed it due to concerns that it would not be received well.
Piraro said that sometimes he worries that his panel will be received differently to a general audience that he wants it to be.
“My editor will call me saying that a certain cartoon might upset people in more conservative markets,” Piraro said. “It could result in losing a newspaper client and getting my strip replaced with something that doesn’t make pointed political statements.”
Piraro will sometimes side with his editor.
It’s not worth losing a client over a panel he isn’t 100% invested in.
But most of the time, Piraro said that he will take the risk of getting his point across.
Public service, remember?
“I’m not a balls-to-the-walls political activist but with my strip I have a growing audience and a sense of obligation to address some issues that seemed to me to be social injustices that could be repaired with changes in attitude,” Piraro said.
Despite the reluctance of syndicated strips to go political, Piraro says there’s one figure everyone’s making an exception for.
“When I started doing cartoons on Donald Trump I expected a similar response as to when I was doing George W. Bush cartoons,” Piraro said. “Lose a paper here or there but nothing happened. They didn’t mind I was taking these pot shots at Trump even though I’m technically not allowed to delve into politics.”
Readers don’t seem to mind either.
Dan claims his readership has actually gone up since Trump took office but he’s not allowing for “anti-president” material to dominate his strip any time soon.
He limits himself to one Trump cartoon for every seven panels he produces.
For now, Bizarro is more focused on the patented absurdism that makes it unlike anything else in the funnies.
Whether it’s a crossdresser lamenting the pointlessness of cross dressing in the Middle East or God creating mankind when he was piss drunk over a wild weekend, Bizaroo is the product of Dan Piraro’s hypernormal imagination.
It’s not die-hard political satire but it’s not exactly a cat who for some reason enjoys lasagna.
“My cartoons are an artistic representation of the way I think and imagine things,” Piraro said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not a millionaire.”
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.