Almost every day, I receive an email from Google Alerts about a new article on China’s “social credit system.” It is rare that I encounter an article that does not contain several factual errors and gross mischaracterizations. The social credit system is routinely described as issuing “citizen scores” to create a “digital dictatorship” where “big data meets Big Brother.”
These descriptions are wildly off-base. Foreign media has distorted the social credit system into a technological dystopia far removed from what is actually happening in China. Jeremy Daum, a legal scholar at Yale Law School’s China Center, has suggestedthat part of why the misreporting persists is because the United States and Europe project their fears about extensive digital surveillance in their own societies onto China’s rapid technological rise. Compounded by the rhetoric around a U.S.-China “arms race” in developing artificial intelligence, the idea that China might somehow perfect an exportable model of a totalitarian surveillance state has made people more willing to believe exaggerated accounts of the social credit system.