Gamified compliance: China's reputation network Huxleys to the full Orwell

The Extra Credits video series has a great segment on Sesame Credit, the Chinese government's public-private "reputation economy" that uses your social media postings, purchases and known associates to assign you a public score rating your citizenship and reliability.

As EC points out, the private suppliers to this system give it a particularly sinister character: Tencent, the Chinese company that operates one of the largest social media networks in China as well as owning large stake in many western games companies; and Alibaba, the giant electronic retailer that is even bigger in China than Amazon is in the USA.

By gamifying the system, the politburo will get citizens to police each other -- making sure that their friends and relatives aren't engaging in conduct that brings down their scores. It's a kind of cost-effective, soft, "positive reinforcement" that shortcuts the usual popular anger created by heavy-handed policing -- the social equivalent to the 50 Cent Army, who backstop China's censorship system with astroturf comments that undermine the credibility and reputation of anyone who raises questions about fairness and corruption.

The system is voluntary now, but the politburo says it will be mandatory by 2020. Already the participants in the "game" are behaving in precisely the way that the politburo wants them to: by policing the people on their friends lists, evincing politically palatable beliefs, and making purchases of the sort they are directed to make.

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