Why, yes, I would love to learn about what terrifying dystopian hell awaits us all

Hold me, mommy, I’m scared.

I can see where turning patriotism into a game with a score and with government rewards would be incredibly effective. So let’s not, OK?


  1. erichoug says

    Meh, it’s China, you’re never going to get the whole story and even if you did, I wouldn’t bet heavily on being able to figure out what was really going on.

    When I went to Beijing for the first time, my Fundie step sister asked me about all the repression of Christians over there because here church had been preaching how horrible the CCP was towards them. She almost seemed upset when I told her that I walked past 3-4 churches on the way down to Tiananmen square and that I was approached by several Chinese proselytizers on the street while I was there. One of which had a big booth across the street from a government building.

    I got online at the hotel and was able to google images of the Tinanmen square massacre and access anything I wanted to on China. Although I have had friends tell me that the government blocks sites intermittently. So, who frigging knows.

    But, I agree with PZ, let’s not do that here.

  2. says

    Jesus. That’s terrifying. I can see that going over here all too well. I don’t game, and I’m not on social media, but I can see where this would also pressure people like me. I’ll see what the next three years bring, but right now, I’m not seeing a thing which would convince not to leave the country at the end of those three years.

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Fuck. That is scary, (said not just sarcastically) I see that going on IRL all the time, he in America. With “virtual” point system. This game is exploiting the current effect of society, not just “social network comm systems”. Points for people who agree with you and isolating those who don’t, is a quite common phenomenon resulting in pay rises, social status, better healthcare, etc.
    One of the aspects of “car culture’ and ego boost from showing off a “cool car”.
    crap, I’m running off the rails, over the cliff, into the deep end.
    need a break
    oh well

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 3 um in addition:
    conclusion of @3 is:
    Trump was our “big winning” from essentially this game running IRL “virtually” as we do mostly. errrr
    HE played this game, using us as the virtual players and got himself scored up into the big win rank of POTUS.
    And now he knows not how to be POTUS, it is just the badge the game awarded him, making us cope with it/him.

  5. Alverant says

    erichoug, thing Beijing is a big popular tourist/business destination so the government isn’t going to do anything that would hurt its public image. I recall reading an article earlier this year how a town in Montana rounded up all the poor people they could find and hauled them off to an open air prison so they wouldn’t be seen during a rodeo competition. This is the same thing but in reverse. They’re not going to crack down on proselytizing while the world is watching. Try going to a suburb of Hanzhong and looking up images of Tinanmen Square from an internet cafe where they don’t know you’re a tourist.

    I watch Extra Credits on a regular basis and contribute to the Patreon account for their Extra History series (a set of 6-part series on some historical figures you don’t hear about in school) and they do their research. They even have a “Lies” video which is where they bring up all the mistakes made. Usually it’s things like wrong flags or something had to be oversimplified for the sake of time or honest mistakes. (I think calling it “Lies” started out as a joke which stuck.) They haven’t done anything about China’s social media system since then so take that as you will.

    Fortunately I can’t see that happening here because of the free market. China’s system “works” because of how close the government and business are. If the Trump administration tried tying Facebook and Amazon people are going to go to alternatives or just not do anything “controversial” on them. They’ll go to Redit to repost an anti-GOP article or get Dawkin’s book from another online realtor. We have options. People in China don’t.

  6. Alverant says

    OK I want to edit what I just said in light of comments 3 and 4.
    Yes it can happen here, just not in the heavy handed way China is doing it. In a way, it’s worse because it’s not heavy handed, it’s softer and less obvious. It’s also a way for businesses to make money because it’s harder to notice when a bank decides to charge higher interest rates on loans to minorities. Banks have been doing that here for years before getting caught and there’s no indication anything was really done about it.

  7. erichoug says

    @ Alverant I would partly agree but I have been to other towns in China besides Beijing. My ex was from Huludao which is about 2 hours NE of Beijing close to the Korean border and, even there, I saw churches, mosques, temples etc. I’m sure there’s places where they do suppress certain religions. But, how are we any different with our mosque controversies and banning muslims etc.?

    I don’t think the CCP is great as the people have no voice in their own government. But then, we have a voice and look how well that turned out.

    This thing is pretty messed up. My argument is that it is impossible for any of us to get the entire and real story.

  8. Artor says

    I can easily see this happening in America. Like China, it will start out as a voluntary thing, garner a bunch of fanatical adherents, and then be made mandatory. I expect it will begin as a function of Facebook.

  9. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 10:
    ugh you reminded me. how could you? nosedive was so close to real it haunts, brrrrr

  10. juno says

    These prospective futures remind me how wonderful it is to be living in my twilight years. Woe to the younger generation though, and the awfulness like this one that seems all but inevitable.

    Social networking preys on our need for companionship. Another advantage to my old age is, I don’t give a shit anymore who approves or disapproves of me.

  11. mal099 says

    From what I can tell, erichoug at least seems to have the right idea, as it sounds like the stories regarding this thing have been highly embellished in Western media.
    It looks like there’s several different systems here – Alibaba’s Sesame Credit, which is the gaming one, which uses mainly your shopping history on Alibaba (=Chinese Amazon). Then there’s Tencent’s credit score system, which data mines social media, but there’s no evidence it takes politics into account. And then there’s the governments soon to be mandatory credit system, which is not a game, and there’s currently no evidence it takes social media into account. It’s a system designed to show your trustworthiness – few details are known about this at this point, and it’s certainly possible it could be something sinister, but it looks like it might just be something like a normal credit score.

    So while this thing does sound scary, and maybe could be possible at some point in the future (would still be hard to prevent people from just gaming the system if it really gave you a high score just for sharing political articles and such), it doesn’t look like it’s really happening just yet.

  12. says

    Juno @ 12:

    These prospective futures remind me how wonderful it is to be living in my twilight years.

    I’m 59, and that’s no comfort to me. I’d like to be around for a while yet, and I’m not seeing any sort of comforting future for my twilight years.

  13. says

    While I’m not too worried this type of system is going to be used for state control of a population (in democratic nations anyway), it could be used to further entrench the political divide we’re already seeing here and elsewhere. Imagine a Conservative Credit system and a Liberal Credit system where your rating depends on how good a conservative/liberal you are, and how many conservative/liberal friends you have, and so on.

    It might even get to the point where political discrimination has to be outlawed, otherwise landlords will be able to refuse to rent to those deemed not conservative enough, or the liberal owners of a restaurant can refused to seat an arch-conservative, etc.

  14. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Major movies are already being subsidized by the U.S. military, and are subject to their approval when the subsidies are accepted (compare the presentation of the military in DC’s Man of Steel which did receive a subsidy versus Marvel’s The Avengers which did not). And many games already have deep ties to the military industrial complex. And if they want to maintain the relationships that provide them with the information necessary to do their jobs, they have to treat the military well.

    Yeah, it’s not just the Chinese government which produces propaganda for its citizenry. It’s just that the U.S. government has outsourced that function.

  15. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Also, keep in mind that your credit score already has virtually all those scary properties we’re supposed to scared of about sesame credit. A low score can result in you being denied housing. Employers can and do check scores before awarding jobs to applicants and routinely deny low-scoring applicants. High scorers are regularly offered perks and benefits for being an obedient little capitalist.

    The only thing missing is the social media scrape, and I’m sure they’ll get to that eventually.

  16. blf says

    Whilst I haven’t watched the video, from these comments I may have a ghost of an idea what it’s about. As such, the current French government has a mad plan for a unified spy-on-people database, The Risks of France’s Big New Database:

    The government of President François Hollande has moved to combine existing information on at least 60 million French citizens into a single sprawling database. The government says the goal of merging data from French passports and national identity cards is to prevent identity fraud. But the measure risks opening the door to mass government surveillance of the entire country and increases the danger that private information about citizens could be hacked.

    The new Secure Electronic Documents database, known as T.E.S., will contain biometric information — like fingerprints and eye color — ID photos, names, addresses and marital status. One big issue is that the database could easily be checked against information, like video footage, collected by intelligence agencies. While the government claims the new database will be used only to confirm identities, it rejected a proposal for individual data chips in passports and identity cards that would serve the same purpose without compromising citizens’ rights to privacy.

    As the embedded France 24 (English) link observes, this isn’t new bit of madness in France, with the previous proposal being more open about its purposes.

  17. juno says

    Caine @ 14:

    Yes, that was rather off-the-cuff and selfish of me. But, I’m fighting best I can, teaching my immediate heirs that they teach theirs and so on, to see through the regressive motives of esp. American politicians and capitalism. I’m despaired for the rest of the family.

  18. unclefrogy says

    one of the interesting things about this “system” is the ability of anyone to look up anyone else’s numbers/score. That could go just as has been suggested if a positive score was desired and thus making “success” in an way acceptable way to the authorities or government interests. It would also be possible to help identify the underground economy and anti status quo fraction of the population just as easily by tracking and linking to those with the lowest scores. Where social status was achieved by seeing who could have the lowest numbers even negative numbers.
    It would really only work as feared to control and repress the population if it was also coupled with draconian enforcement by the authorities. Without draconian repression it would be very hard to control and would not foster the stability that is one of the primary purposes of such a scheme at least the stability of the order that instigates such a scheme.
    The values as implied to assign a number value would have to be ridged and unchanging for it to be repressive, and like all ridged things would eventually fail and probably given the size intended that failure would likely be spectacular. If it was allowed some flexibility and input from the population as a whole and not just the governmental/economic vested interests associated with repression and control it could be a positive influence and kind of mirror the social reinforcement of desirable behavior normally seen in societal cultural groups only only operating on vastly larger numbers than humans have historically been involved in.
    though given human history it will probably backfire
    uncle frogy

  19. komarov says

    Ah, excellent, this would go well with the ever-dreadful internet of things, with your various smart (or borderline) appliances feeding into your score.
    Your smartphone GPS tells us you went to a frowned-upon part of town. Also, according to your stepcounter you’re not completing your recommended daily work-outs anymore. So down the score goes.* On the upside, you’re no longer forgetting to turn off your living room lights, so no loss for that. However, you still lose points for not upgrading them with a manufacturer-approved smart light fixture and smart bulb. Oh, and you’ve just dropped below the score where it becomes politically expedient for your neighbours to avoid eye-contact with you. Have a pleasant and productive day, citizen!

    *Your health insurance company sends its regards and an adjusted bill.

  20. Jessie Harban says

    While credit scores are maddeningly opaque, they are at least somewhat coherent— you can make them go up by paying back loans and they go down when you default on loans or miss payments.

    If a government tried implementing an “obedience score” like the one in the video, where scores are calculated using social data and with a substantial benefit for a high score, it won’t take long before the game system is broken by people gaming the system. Facebook is largely inconsequential and already there’s a small industry selling likes, friends, and followers. Just imagine what might happen if having those things offered material benefits.

    Just to use the examples from the video—

    Score increased for sharing government propaganda? I already get paid to “share” fake news on my fake Facebook account where it will be viewed by my thousands of fake friends (but no actual people).

    Buy specific products the government deems indicative of social value? Exploiting poorly-written promotions is already a field of expertise. I’m not particularly involved in it or even that good at it, but I’ve already purchased stuff for less than nothing. (Speaking of: Anyone want a scammy “Pimsleur Spanish” CD? I only bought it because it cost negative ten dollars.) Exactly how this can be exploited depends on how the system works, but just offhand I can think of: (1) Buy score-increasing items and resell them. (2) Buy score-increasing items, gift-return them for credit, and use the credit to anonymously purchase score-diminishing items. (3) Buy score-increasing items and donate them to score-increasing charities. If such a system were implemented, there’d doubtless be far more effective ways of gaming it.

    Friends drag you down? That sounds terrifying until you remember that your friends don’t alter your score; your social network “friends” do. Then it becomes substantially less scary. There is zero overlap between my actual friends and the people I’ve friended on Facebook. If being “friends” with someone on a social network drags down your score and subjects you to penalties, then you don’t ostracize them— you “unfriend” them on the social network while remaining friends in real life. Or better yet— have a social network account solely dedicated to the game, where you become “friends” with fellow high-scorers.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    This video, and all of the semi-random sampling of stories I did from a DuckDuckGo search, dates from 2015.

    Rather odd, for something the Wikipffft stub entry describes as “highly controversial”…

  22. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Jessie Harban wrote:

    There is zero overlap between my actual friends and the people I’ve friended on Facebook.

    Do you imagine your use of social media is somehow typical or even common? I know a few people who use Facebook like you do, but I know many more who spend considerable time with their actual friends on Facebook and use it as a tool to plan their social lives. If these people find a friend is dragging down an important ranking, cutting the friend out of their Facebook friends list would end up being de facto social ostracisation.

  23. says

    @ Jessie Herban #22

    This “social media network” will be made mandatory for everybody in China, according to the video.

    That means that all of your real friends and family will be on it, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that connections will be made.

  24. applehead says

    @13, mal099,

    Thanks for pointing out this video is badly sourced scaremongering. But we all could have known it’d be utter shite before watching.

    It’s Extra Credits, for crying out loud.

    They’re one of those groups of marginally educated gamers who have as their agenda to convince us unwashed masses that video games – a genre that’s over 90% mindless shooting/punching power fantasies and male sexual gratification – are “Actually Really Really Important, Guys!” To see just how bad their research – hell, their entire pseudo-“academical” approach – really is, you needn’t look further than their history videos. (Why gamers presume to lecture others on history is beyond me, can’t help you explain that one.) The comments section is regularly riddled with watchers correcting errors that’d make high school kids blush. Those people are textbook examples of Dunning-Kruger.

    And if that doesn’t convince you, hopefully this will: EC believes in the Coming of the Singularity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_BfYkqWHD8

  25. says

    not to defend Extra Credits, but the original source given in one of the articles malo99 has linked to was the ACLU, who made the same mistake of smushing together three different point-scoring systems and oversimplifying. And the ACLU has more journalistic expertise among their staff.

  26. applehead says

    Well, then how come there’s total radio silence on that front? We’ve heard zip about the terrifying new social media/vidja games dystopian society since it made a splash in the media landscape long ago.

    Either Chinese state engineers are to incompetent to realize this stuff, which is good news, or there’s negative progress because it turned out to be a technically infeasible pipe dream, which is even better news.

  27. says

    I think you misunderstood. I share your opinion that the whole story is overblown, but it was done by journalists long before EC took it up. The ACLU piece is from October 5, 2015; the EC video from December. As they made the same mistake (of conflating three different credit systems), it seems to me EC simply repeated a story. Sure, they could have done their research and seen the technasia piece criticising the ACLU; as I said, not to defend them. I just don’t see EC as professional journalists, so I hold the ACLU to a higher standard.