In the medieval times, Kings often sent their spies among the subjects to check their loyalty to the crown and kingdom. Those who showed signs of the slightest dissent faced punishments that could be as cruel as beheading.
In the Information Age (which is the age you and I are breathing in), China has built something for its citizens that performs like a spy.
It appears like any other innocuous social-networked online game but is in fact a tool that helps the government to gauge people’s loyalties.
The worst part is that participating in the game will be mandatory for all Chinese by 2020.
The game is called ‘Sesame Credit’ and, as the name suggests, it gives credits to the player based on a very cleverly drafted strategy.
The strategy involves a mix of questions, your posts, affiliations and performance of friends playing the same game.
How does this work?
Simple. You post anything that is against what China’s Communist Party wants you to do, your credit points go down.
So if you write something against any leader, even if he is corrupt, you risk a credit tumble.
But if you praise to the skies even the most audaciously outrageous policy of the Government, you get a credit raise!
Who is behind its creation?
Alibaba and Tencent – two of China’s biggest corporate houses. Both are the real controllers of the entire social media and internet in the country.
Alibaba is also the largest e-commerce portal in the country and one of the biggest in the world. Perhaps this is why they called it ‘Sesame’, after the popular phrase in the Arabian Nights story, “Open Sesame!”
Both companies can keep a complete record of the users in their databases. This should not come as a surprise because nearly all of the world’s top internet companies do the same thing, including Facebook.
So, whatever purchases a Chinese citizen makes will also act as a determiner for the points they gain or lose in the game.
Purchasing anything that China’s Communist political thought does not approves of will pull down a player’s credit and vice versa.
What it means for the players (or Chinese citizens)?
Experts have pointed out that China will be using the data on the citizens gathered through this method to reward or penalize them. Yes, penalize them.
No one can say for certain what “rewards” a citizen might get for proving his “loyalty” to the party. The penalty could be anything from less access to basic facilities to a kind of political ostracisation.
How will Sesame Credit impact society?
Sesame Credit is a social-networked game, which means that friends of a player/participant are connected to it too. If the performance of someone is low, it will have an impact on the performance of everyone who is a friend with this person.
In the olden days, it was scandalous for someone to be friends with a dissenter or a critic of the king. Dissenters always found themselves all alone. The same applies to this credit system too.
If someone is not “praising the system”, his friends will most likely block him to prevent their own scores from falling.
Why is this a more effective tool for the Government?
Incentives are known to work wonders. If you offer someone a gift, there is a greater chance of winning that person’s loyalty than trying to force loyalty by force. Sesame Credit gives people more if they simply follow the party line.
Johan Lagerkvist, the internet specialist on China at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs said that the system is “very ambitious in scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people read. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist.”
Remember, by 2020 every Chinese will have to be a part of it whether or not they want to because…