China has a new system, Credit Sesame, which links to citizens’ social networks and rates their behavior based on government approval or disapproval with a running score. This gamification of citizen loyalty even imposes guilt or approval by association, altering citizens’ scores based on the scores of their associates. In other words, it’s not only designed to control behavior using a point system, it uses that point system to control social acceptance of diverse behavior. Conformity is rewarded. Nonconformity is punished with a lower score, one which encourages the rest of the “players” to ostracize those who the government disapproves.
Don’t think a system like that could possibly work?
Do you shop at a store that has a reward program? Do you ever change what brand or the amount of something you choose to buy in order to obtain points, or a discount? How about financial behavior… have you altered any of your financial choices to take advantage of rewards or avoid penalties built into your nation’s tax system, or credit scoring system?
The system has been introduced as an opt-in system, guaranteeing that the first people to use it will be the ones already interested in displaying what good citizens they are. Some are already bragging about their scores on social media.
This ensures that the initial users will set a high standard to confront new users dragged in when the system becomes mandatory in 2020. After that, the system may be updated with rewards for good scores, and penalties for bad scores.
Knowing how people are already manipulated by credit scores, tax rewards and penalties, and even shopper reward systems, imagine what would happen under a mandatory-participation system with a publicly visible social score that affects your level of human interaction.
That score is already attached to the possibility of real-life penalties through its effect on your credit. A controlling enough government could tie an effect like that to anything.
Imagine if it were tied to your access to utilities, or the ability to buy food… or, like in China, the right to travel. What would you do to get a good score?
Would you alter your purchasing patterns for points, as people do when using shopper reward cards? Alter your investments, as people do to avoid tax penalties?
Would you disconnect from neighbors with bad scores? Friends? Family?
How about your dating habits? Credit sesame scores are also being used on China’s biggest dating site to determine which accounts get displayed preferentially to other users seeking a date. Citizens with scores reflecting a higher level of obedience are more likely to be seen, and therefore make connections. That kind of selective profile display on a dating site is tantamount to selective breeding… for compliance.
Before you think to yourself, “Well, I just wouldn’t participate,” answer this question: Have you ever unfriended someone on facebook or unfollowed someone on a social networking site because you were tired of seeing posts you disagreed with? Have you ever selectively presented posts on a social networking site like facebook, using privacy controls to decide who can or cannot see it, to avoid conflict? Would you still do it if you knew connection with you affected people’s credit scores? This system uses these perfectly normal behaviors… to control behavior… by controlling what is accepted as normal. How long do you think it will be before other authoritarian powers are using this, or a system like it?
- The dystopian quandry | HBR Talk 170 - March 4, 2021
- Back for more! Masculinities and covid-19, continued | HBR Talk 169 - February 25, 2021
- UK considers making misandry a hate crime | HBR Talk 168 - February 18, 2021