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Accepting but Not Engaging with It: Digital Participation in Local Government-Run Social Credit Systems in China

Haili Li and Genia Kostka

China’s central and municipal governments have consistently facilitated the development of social credit systems (SCSs) over the past decade. While research has highlighted the Chinese public’s high approval of and support for SCSs, their engagement with these digital projects has not been fully explored. Based on 64 semi-structured interviews, our research examines Chinese citizens’ digital participation in local government-run SCSs. Our findings suggest that, despite perceiving SCSs as accepting and positive, most interviewees do not actively engage with local government-run SCSs. Multiple factors can explain the gap between high acceptance and low participation, including a lack of awareness regarding local SCSs, a perception that registering and maintaining a decent credit score requires major effort, various concerns over SCSs (e.g., information privacy and safety, as well as algorithm accuracy and fairness), clarity of rules and guidelines, potential risks, unappealing benefits offered by SCSs, and the voluntariness of participating in local SCSs. Our research adds to the existing literature on digital governance in authoritarian contexts by explaining why Chinese citizens do not necessarily engage with state-promoted digital projects.

Title
Accepting but Not Engaging with It: Digital Participation in Local Government-Run Social Credit Systems in China
Author
Haili Li and Genia Kostka