Your Social Credit Score

data wave

You don't have a social credit score today, but you might in the near future.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic since first hearing of a Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government that is starting to take shape. It is essentially a national reputation system with the intent to assign a "social credit" rating to every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

If it sounds more like a science-fiction horror story of the future, that was what I thought at first. It reminded me of a 2016 episode of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror shown on Netflix. In that episode ("Nosedive"), people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, and the protagonist is someone obsessed with her ratings. When her rating drops, she panics and goes on a campaign to bring her score back up.

A Chinese app called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score. "Zhima Credit" rates you from 350-950 based on finances and and other factors. 

Reputation systems are not brand new ideas. They are programs that allow users to rate each other in online communities in order to build trust through reputation. You already have a reputation score if you use E-commerce websites such as eBay,, and Etsy or online advice communities such as Stack Exchange. Reputation systems are a trend in decision support for Internet mediated services such as shopping and advice.

A variation is collaborative filtering which aims to find similarities between users in order to recommend products to customers.

The Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government is meant to rate every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.  Does that sound like a mass surveillance tool using big data analysis technology? Well, it is.

On the surface, it is a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market. This can be called "surveillance capitalism," a term (introduced by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney) that denotes a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance.

The idea was popularized by Shoshana Zuboff who says it emerged due to the "coupling of the vast powers of the digital with the radical indifference and intrinsic narcissism of the financial capitalism and its neoliberal vision that have dominated commerce for at least three decades, especially in the Anglo economies."

It is a new new expression of power she calls "Big Other" which makes me think of a new novel plot combining Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the Internet Information Age. She feels the concept was first discovered and consolidated at Google, who are to surveillance capitalism what Ford and General Motors were to mass-production and managerial capitalism a century ago.

Facebook and others have since adopted the concept for ways to extract, commodify and control behavior to produce new markets of behavioral prediction and modification.

The Chinese government's "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)" focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be "societal integrity."

One news story I heard said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored - trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police? Eight companies were picked by the People's Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said in a frightening quote I can use in that new novel that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

Her is hoping that you will be able to move freely and without obstruction in the future.

Event-Based Internet

Event-based Internet is going to be something you will hear more about this year. Though I had heard the term used, the first real application of it that I experienced was a game. But don't think this is all about fun and games. Look online and you will find examples of event-based Internet biosurveillance and event-based Internet robot teleoperation systems and other very sophisticated uses, especially connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

HQWhat did more than a million people do this past Sunday night at 9pm ET? They tuned in on their mobile devices to HQ Trivia, a game show, on their phones.  

For a few generations that have become used to time-shifting their viewing, this real-time game is a switch. 

The HQ app has had early issues in scaling to the big numbers with game delays, video lag and times when the game just had to be rebooted. But it already has at least one imitator called "The Q" which looks almost identical in design, and imitation is supposed to be a form of flattery.

This 12-question trivia quiz has money prizes. Usually, the prize is $2000, but sometimes it jumps to $10 or $20K. But since there are multiple survivors of the 12 questions that win, the prizes are often less than $25 each.

Still, I see the show's potential (Is it actually a "show?") Business model? Sponsors, commercial breaks, sponsors and product placement in the questions, answers and banter in-between questions.

The bigger trend here is that this is a return to TV "appointment viewing."  Advertisers like that and it only really occurs these days with sports, some news and award shows. (HQ pulled in its first audience of more than a million Sunday during the Golden Globe Awards, so...) 

And is there some education connection in all this?  Event-based Internet, like its TV equivalent, is engaging. Could it bring back "The Disconnected" learner?  

I found a NASA report on "Lessons Learned from Real-Time, Event-Based Internet Science Communications."  This report is focused on sharing science activities in real-time in order to involve and engage students and the public about science.

Event-based distributed systems are being used in areas such as enterprise management, information dissemination, finance,
environmental monitoring and geo-spatial systems.

Education has been "event-based" for hundreds of years. But learners have been time-shifting learning via distance education and especially via online learning for only a few decades. Event-based learning sounds a bit like hybrid or blended learning. But one difference is that learners are probably not going to tune in and be engaged with just a live lecture. Will it take a real event and maybe even gamification to get live learning? 

In all my years teaching online, I have never been able to have all of a course's student attend a "live" session either because of time zone differences, work schedules or perhaps content that just wasn't compelling enough.

What will "Event-based Learning" look like?

I Doubt That We Can Blame Society's Destruction on Facebook

First I saw the headline "Man who became rich from Facebook criticizes social network for destroying how society works" and the next day I read "Facebook responds to criticism that the network is destroying how society works." Chamath Palihapitiya joined Facebook in 2007 and served as its vice president for user growth. He is "the man" in the headline with a net worth near $1 billion, and one thing he has said is “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works." Those loops include things such as the "like" button and other ways we can "engage" with content we see in our News Feed.

Since leaving Facebook, he has entered venture capital  and runs his own VC firm focusing on investing in technology, healthcare, and education. He is not adverse to still investing in social media - his firm is an investor in Slack, for example.

A video of Palihapitiya speaking at Stanford Graduate School of Business in November created a buzz online. The buzz grew louder because earlier Facebook's founding president Sean Parker had also made a comment about Facebook "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

In their response, Facebook pointed out that "Chamath has not been at Facebook for over 6 years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then, and as we have grown, we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We've done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we're using it to inform our product development."

Mark Zuckerberg said on his most recent earnings call that "We are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made."

Society's ills are many. Facebook has flaws. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election content on Facebook had an impact. But so did the squawking on Twitter and every other social network and on every traditional and cable news outlet. If Facebook disappeared overnight, the problem would not be solved.

Opportunities for Higher Ed Social Media (webinar)

The Social Campus Report: 8 Opportunities for Higher Ed in 2018 is a free webinar offered by Hootsuite on October 3, 2017
11:00AM PT / 2:00PM ET.

Based on surveys of hundreds of social media pros from schools around the world to understand where they are now—and where they’re going, the webinar will share the results for insights into the state of social media in higher ed - and to discover 8 strategic areas of opportunity.

If October 3, 2017 doesn’t work, register now and they will send you a link to the webinar archived recording once it’s ready.


Don't Fire the Humans Yet

human intelligence

AI is the thing everyone wants to use. Social media is in love with artificial intelligence. Of course, much as the cry went up when computers first appeared, some people say that "AI will take our jobs."

Facebook has almost 2 billion users. Those users post a lot of content. Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that live video is a big part of the future of Facebook. But the company has come in for a lot of criticism for violent video posted this year, including murder and suicide.

How does Facebook (and other social media companies) decide what content violates its community standards? They all are desperately implementing and experimenting with AI, but they still rely mostly on humans.

Facebook announced recently that it is using an AI system designed to identify users contemplating suicide or self-harm. How? By using pattern recognition to determine if a post and its comments resemble previous posts identified as being about self-harm. Facebook is also including clearer options for reporting posts that appear to indicate self-harm. It is people reporting to people who determine inappropriateness.

AI-based image-recognition tools that users can use are assisting human moderators now. Can the 54,000 potential cases of sexually related extortion and revenge porn reportedly posted each month can be found and deleted by AI? Not yet. 

Did you see the film Hidden Figures ? In the early 1960s, the mathematicians working at NASA were called "computers" - people who did computations. But those human computers also saw the entry of IBM mainframes into NASA that were better  computers. They realized they would need to become the humans who could program those electronic computers if they wanted to keep working. Take note Facebook and other companies - and anyone who wants to work for those companies: AI requires human intelligence. 

After 2 murders were broadcast live on Facebook in April. Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would add 3000 employees to the already 4500 employees who work on their Community team reviewing reports on videos. Live video is growing rapidly online, and Facebook Live is a service with 1.9 billion monthly users to broadcast video. Lawmakers in Germany and the UK have also been pressuring social networks to better remove illegal hate speech and clamp down on fake news. The 3000 new workers will monitor all Facebook content not just live videos. This team would operate around the world and will most likely be virtual contract employees.

Just last week, Facebook's "leaked" guidelines for dealing with these types of situations became public that hopefully can make a big difference in preventing suicide and other life-threatening situations.