Announced during China's Honesty week, Honest Shanghai is an app that ranks one's "social credit" score. Users sign up using their national ID number and facial recognition software locates associated government records. Users and businesses are given one of three scores— very good, good, or bad. Factors like "political, commercial, social, and legal activity" are considered in score making. However, implementation details are kept vague among the public. How factors weigh against another is unknown, but the government acts as the final judge in the matter.  Users with good scores are rewarded with economic benefits, such as discounted airlines tickets. China's hopes the system will reduce commercial fraud, the production of fake goods, tax evasion and academic dishonesty.
The system currently is voluntary, but China plans to implement this system nationwide by 2020. Shao Zhiqing, deputy director of the organization overseeing the Honest Shanghai application, hopes it will "make Shanghai a global city of excellence." Its success in Shanghai and other provinces will inform the government about how it should be modified before rolling out the system nationwide.
Star System in Schools
Jiayang Fan of The New Yorker talked about a system that was implemented in her school that resembled the goals of Honest Shanghai while she was a child in China. In an effort to motivate "better students, citizens, and stars", her school implemented a system where teachers allocated stars to students throughout the week according to their punctuality, performance, and orderliness. At the end of the week, the student with the most stars was rewarded, while the student with the least stars was sent to complete janitorial duties. As this system began to take hold of the students, parents began lobbying for their kid to earn more stars; furthermore, teachers received bonuses when their class had many stars, so some classes had star inflation. Ultimately, the system became too competitive and took away focus from learning. The Honest Shanghai app, while still in its infancy, has the potential to grow and impact society in a way similar to the star system.
In 2010, China created a similar social-ranking system in Jiangsu. A point system was implemented where good behavior would increase points, and bad behavior would lose points. Citizens were then ranked between four grades, from "A" through "D". Those with "A" grades received benefits, such as government support for entrepreneurs, or eligibility for promotion, while citizens with low grades were excluded from employment. Overall, citizens criticized the concept of being ranked by government officials and instead wanted a system where they could rank the officials. Despite the outcry in Jiangsu, the government continues to believe in the idea of social credit systems.
One of the government's goals outlined in China's 13th Five Year Plan is to develop a nation social credit system, specifically stating that the government must "strengthen the establishment of a national population-based information repository and improve the social credit system." Honest Shanghai is one of three-dozen social credit systems being piloted by local governments in China before a national rollout in 2020. The Central Commission for Guiding Ethic and Cultural Progress contended that the social credit system will promote integrity, credibility, and good faith in society. Shao Zhiqing argued that the app will allow residents to "learn they will be rewarded if they're honest," promoting a "positive energy in society."
Shao Zhiqing stated that apps such as Honest Shanghai will "look to industry associations, private companies, and social media" to create "a well-rounded rating for each resident," in addition to using the government records already collected. The government has a history of asking private companies for data it needs to achieve its objectives. For example, before Singles' Day, the government asked retail companies to create and send a list of vendors engaged in unethical selling practices online. Therefore, it is possible that future social credit systems developed in the future will incorporate data private companies hold on citizens, especially from companies that are already implementing systems similar to Honest Shanghai. Sesame Credit is one example of a private social credit system the government would likely be interested in integrating into their own score and analyzing to understand its impact on citizens.
Some have expressed their support for social credit systems and apps like Honest Shanghai. Wen Quan, a blogger that writes about technology and finance, contends that such a system creates a more fair society, since it "puts people's past history on the record" for everyone to see. Similarly, a saleswoman interviewed about Honest Shanghai stated that she thought it would "improve the quality of citizens in the long run." Others support a social credit system because of the rewards and convenience it can bring. A young woman in downtown Beijing stated that the Sesame Credit system is "very convenient" since it allows her to do things such as book hotel rooms without cash deposits.
Many have rejected the concept of a social credit system. Zhu Dake, a Humanities professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, thinks the main flaw with the app is that there is no way to scrutinize the government. He contends that the lack of monitoring of how the government allocates ratings and uses the system will allow them to "easily expand the criteria and start judging people on moral and ideological grounds," creating "a vision of Orwell's 1984." Jiayang Fan, a former resident of China, has expressed her concern over how the system will be kept honest, questioning whether there will be measures put in place to keep "the database from being rigged". Furthermore, she argues that such a system would likely become "an instrument of mass surveillance."
Impact of Competition on Professionalism
The star system described above shows that social ranking systems can result in mass competition, which provokes unethical behavior in hopes of getting a high score. Honest Shanghai is a system that similarly relies on competition, and citizens may violate their values to earn the potential rewards offered by the app. Professionals in all settings are focused on abiding by their values and beliefs, despite how it may impact their career or social status. Thus, should citizens feel that Honest Shanghai does not benefit society and instead is leading to competition and corruption, they should speak out as they did in Jiangsu.
Lei Feng and Citizen of the Month
Lei Feng was a member of the People Liberation Army that, according to the government, expressed selflessness and was devoted to Mao and the Party. After his death, the government made him the subject of a propaganda campaign, showing how model citizens that serve China are rewarded and honored. To the government, he is a professional citizen that society should follow. With Honest Shanghai, there are already speculations that the government will praise those with high ratings, while blacklisting those with low scores. This could lead to citizens doing many things they don’t believe in to obtain higher ratings for the purpose of being honored. In the case of Lei Feng, most saw it as propaganda. Thus, some may similarly view Honest Shanghai as just another way for the government to keep track of citizens. However, it is important to note that the Lei Feng ideal offered no tangible rewards, unlike the app. Therefore, more people may be inclined to compete and take the app's ratings seriously to receive the associated financial benefits.
When people on the Honest Shanghai app are rewarded for doing something morally sound, it is analogous to rewarding someone for doing their job? Is it righteous to work for the praise or for the work itself? Setting an employee (or citizen of the month) can demotivate others in the job or society, or it could result in massive competition leading to conflicts and unprofessional behavior. If the app fails, it will likely follow the same fate as the Lei Feng initiative – people not buying into the propaganda. However, like the star system, the app could lead to mass competition and incite citizens to act unprofessionally.
Dang'an and 2+2=5
Dang'an is a system similar to Honest Shanghai used by the Chinese government and started before the computer era. This system tracks a Chinese citizen for their entire life starting in middle school. A person's secret file contains information such as the person's grades, career aspirations, and feelings about the party's ideals. Depending on the party's favorable or unfavorable view on a person's dang'an, the citizen can be rewarded or significantly punished. Therefore, to not get punished, most citizens buy into the party's ideals and platform. This system allows the party to influence the thoughts of its citizens, even when preaching 2+2=5, because of the potential rewards and punishments associated with the dang'an. Honest Shanghai could prove to be used by the government in a similar manner. Professional citizens should speak out against the app if they find it is being used to influence citizens' thoughts and actions for the government's benefit.
Allegory of the Cave
Honest Shanghai can be mapped onto the case of the Allegory of the Cave, which helps to explain its potential to influence society. In this situation, the Honest Shanghai app is the fire which projects light and values upon society, since citizens will want to achieve a high score on the app. The government and app administrators represent the puppet masters. App administrators engage in the manipulation of the app to determine what the viewers experience and see. The puppet masters in this case can also block out certain facts that they don't want the viewers to see. The viewers of the shadows on the wall are the app users and in general, the citizens of China. The viewer experience is entirely determined by what the app (or fire) projects and what the app administrators (or puppet masters) allow the citizens to see. The app users are therefore not free to make completely informed decisions and are forced to accept their rankings. Finally, the shadows on the wall represent the social values the government believes citizens should have to achieve a high score. If any viewer leaves the cave (by visiting another country, for example), new, possibly unwanted information may be brought back into the cave. This could ruin the system created by the puppet masters, since the viewer may realize that the app's rankings do not benefit society. In this scenario, professionals should speak out to try and help the other viewers (citizens).
Honest Shanghai is still in its infancy stages, and many in China have yet to be exposed to the social credit system. However, when it becomes a national app, people should be cognizant of its impact on society. Should they feel it motivates unethical competition, people should express their disapproval to the app, as Margaret Chase Smith did when she spoke out against Joseph McCarthy. Ultimately, citizens must decide what they value personally and protect those beliefs, even if an app tells them to believe something else to receive a reward.
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