The owners of China’s largest social networks, Alibaba and Tencent have partnered with the Chinese government to create something akin to the US credit score. Under the innocuous name of “Sesame Credit”, they have created a score for how good of a citizen you are.
Instead of measuring how regularly you pay your bills, it measures how obediently you follow the party line. They dredge data from your social networks. So, if you post pictures of Tiananmen Square, your Sesame Credit score goes down. Share a link from the state-sponsored news agency about how good the economy’s doing, and your score goes up.
As Alibaba and Tencent are also the largest online retailers in China, Sesame Credit is also able to pull data from your purchases. If you’re making purchases the state deems valuable, like buying work shoes or local produce, your score goes up. If you import anime from Japan though, your score goes down.
This score has real-world consequences. Having a higher score gives you special benefits, like making it easier to get the paperwork you need to travel or making it easier to get a loan. Allegedly, there are no consequences for having a low score, yet but there’s been talk about implementing penalties once the system becomes mandatory in 2020 (!) Penalties would include slower internet speeds for low-scoring citizens or even restricting the jobs that a low-scoring person’s allowed to hold.
There’s another layer to Sesame credit that goes from being repulsive to downright insidious. As all of this data is part of a social network, Sesame also scans your friends. Participants will lose points for having friends with low-obedient scores. At any point, anybody can check anyone else’s score. When you check your own score, Sesame Credit provides a handy map of your friends.
In the past, you obeyed power because you were afraid. Fear kept you motivated, but fear is negative. It fosters resentment. The world we’re stepping into instead uses positive reinforcement to promote being subservient to the will of the regime. Its big brother’s kinder, gentler hand.
The system’s not mandatory yet. For now, it’s opt-in but it will be mandatory in 2020 (!) There’s a terrible brilliance to phasing that in. Early adopters will be excited about this system. Those who are already patriotic may be eager for anything that’ll help display that patriotism to the world. As early adopters, they’ll talk it up. They’ll give it an air of being positive and fun.
Then it will be foisted on the society as a whole.
More than that though, the early adopters will compete to see who can agree with the government the most, using the psychological motivating rules identified in video games plus Big Data algorithms and artificial intelligence. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese people respond to this.