Guest Blog Post: The Up-Vote, Down-Vote Conundrum

The Up-Vote, Down-Vote Conundrum

Written by: Richi Tam


“I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes. Do you think I should take it down?”

Does this sound like someone you know? Your friend? Your colleague? Maybe even you…?


Image used under CC BY 2.0 from Flickr user minimal#18

Well if you must know, I was just quoting the Chainsmokers. However, I think most of us can relate to the anxiety of uploading a social media post and praying for a steady flow of up-votes or likes. I often find myself hitting the refresh button or checking my phone for notifications, letting me know that the online community appreciates my self-proclaimed wittiness and cheeky humour. Does this artificial approval rating even matter?


We have seen examples of artificial approval ratings in popular culture. Perhaps some of you have seen the Black Mirror episode with Bryce Dallas as she navigates a world where people can up-vote or down-vote her actions, and her rating impacts her socioeconomic status. At one point, her rating drops, which means she is restricted to renting a rather ugly looking car at a dodgy place outside the city.


Typically, making restrictive judgements of a person’s character based on digital social clout is associated with a dystopian future; however, some shows like The Good Place present a world where if you are a good human, you earn the right to live in heaven instead of hell once you pass away, demonstrating the perceived benefits of this form of social capital.


Social Credit System

Apparently, a variant of the aforementioned system of measuring one’s “goodness” will go into full effect in China by the year 2020. It has been dubbed the social credit system, and will assess and rank citizens based on their ability to follow social norms, rules, and laws. Wired sums up the system’s full intent as follows:


The aim is for every Chinese citizen to be trailed by a file compiling data from public and private sources by 2020, and for those files to be searchable by fingerprints and other biometric characteristics. The State Council calls it a “credit system that covers the whole society” [1].


So far, China’s proposed social credit system appears to be punitive in nature. Here are some of the results in early trials:


  • 9 million people have been banned from buying domestic flights;
  • 12 million people face domestic travel bans; and,
  • 3 million people have been restricted from buying business class plane tickets [2].


The Chinese government has been non-transparent about the specific correlation between a citizen’s credit score and their access to social privileges, however, we do know that the Chinese government is using the Zhima Credit system as their experimental framework. Zhima is an app that rates invidivuals between 350 and 950 based on their actions. For example, if you don’t repay your loan on time, your Zhima rating drops. If you have friends with high scores, that will boost your score. A low rating could mean your child would not be allowed to study at certain private schools.


While the Zhima model of social ranking can feel foreign and alarming, it may not be an entirely new system.


Credit Scores

The concept of credit has been in existence for over 5,000 years; however, credit scores and reports have existed since the capitalist turn in the 1850s[3]. Credit scores can be a main determinate if you are applying for a loan or seeking to rent an apartment. Credit scores balance your assets, liabilities, lines of credit, ability to meet payment deadlines, number of credit cards, mortgage interest rate, and other financial factors to determine your eligibility for further financial assistance. In the United States, it can serve to segregate and target certain races:


For decades, banks have systematically redlined black and Latino neighborhoods, refusing to make conventional loans or locate branches in non-white and lower-income areas[4].


In this light, the Chinese social credit system is not new, it is just evolving the traditional credit score system to meet the needs and opportunities of social media, and digital commerce. Despite this logical evolution, the social credit system begs the questions: to what extent does credit reflect social prejudice, and how much power do we want our social media to hold over us?



I have shared some fairly depressing facts, so I do want to provide a bit of positive commentary. I was taught that “what gets measured, gets done.” Perhaps we can utilize these systems to encourage positive behaviours, as well discourage negative ones. Let’s say the social credit system measures our ability to pollute less. Some perks could include a reduction in taxes or rebates on more environmentally-friendly products. When used for communal good, the social credit system may be an effective way to promote positive change in global citizens, in any case, it appears that Big Brother will be watching.


This piece was published as part of our guest blogger series! Richi is a young professional in Kingston, Ontario who answered our call for submissions. 

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