As various places across China have erected their own so-called social credit schemes, some people have already faced some harsh consequences for having low scores. A new draft regulation could now expand scored behavior to include content shared online.

If the new regulation is put into effect, internet users who fabricate, publish and spread information online that goes against public morals or business ethics could be deemed “seriously untrustworthy.”

Users aren’t the only ones being targeted. The draft from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) stipulates that both internet service providers and internet users could be blacklisted under China’s social credit system for “seriously untrustworthy conduct.”

The CAC didn’t detail what makes certain behavior “seriously untrustworthy.” It only gave a few examples. Besides sharing false information, the CAC said companies that have violated laws and regulations, had their websites shut down or business licenses revoked, or failed to carry out a punishment could be blacklisted.

China Internet Report

Until now, the things most likely to get someone blacklisted have been offline behaviors like behaving badly on public transport or failing to repay debts. Now it looks like the government is seeking to change that.

In some cases, the impact of China’s expanding social credit schemes is easy to see. One national blacklist has more than 14 million people listed as “discredited.” 

As of right now, social credit remains a complex combination of different schemes run by local governments and financial institutions, but they all share data with each other. Fewer than 10 pilot cities currently rate individual residents with scores. But the Chinese government says a national social credit system will be completed by the end of 2020.

In the city of Rongcheng in Shandong province, citizens are graded by a point-based social credit system. (Picture: 信用中国(山东荣成))

However different the systems are in different cities, they all aim to accomplish the same thing: Punish people who fail to abide by rules and regulations and reward those behaving in ways considered good for society. 

Blacklisted individuals could be named and shamed in public places such as cinemas, crossroads or on a national website. This could lead to being banned from public transport and excluded from certain social benefits. Those with good social credit can enjoy certain benefits like free health checks and cheaper utility bills.

Attempting to control online content is certainly nothing new for China, a place known for using cyber police to monitor online activities. Comments considered “sensitive” are routinely censored, and “spreading rumors” on social media could land a person in jail. 

Still, none of this online behavior or speech has been linked to social credit before. But authorities apparently think it’s a great way to control content online.

“With technology, people’s activities leave traces everywhere and are clear at a glance,” said a commentary piece in the state-owned Guangzhou Daily about the draft regulation. “That is why it’s more efficient to track untrustworthy behavior online.”