Sesame Credit: Defeating Freedom with Facebook

I recently came across a new social network/“game” in China known as Sesame Credit (not to be confused with Credit Sesame). There’s a very good Extra Credits video about it, but the gist is that it’s a social networking site owned by two of the largest retailers in China, affiliated with the Chinese Government.

Okay, so it’s government run Facebook, whatever. But here’s the kicker: it gives you a score on how good of a citizen you are. Since two of the largest retailers own it, it can pull info from your online purchases. Buy things the state likes, score goes up, buy things it doesn’t like, score goes down. The same for sharing things on that site. Share things the state doesn’t want you talking about? Bad score. Say everything is fine and nothing will ever be wrong in China? Score goes up. (This is a tad reductive, but is the general gist)

As the video I linked notes, the worst part is that your score is also weighted by the scores of all of your friends. A perfect tool for social ostracization. Want to criticize the government? Fine. Don’t care about your score? Fine. But you’ll be hurting your friends too, and hey, they might cut you off to save their own score.

This system is opt-in right now, but is scheduled to be mandatory by 2020. Having a good score has real effects, it can make it easier to get loans or travel paperwork completed. And they’re thinking of imposing penalties on low score-havers after the mandatory system begins.

Does anybody have any more information than this? I’m kind of in shock, because this is basically every dystopian sci-fi novel and movie ever written. Hell, this is basically an episode of Black Mirror. This is the worst of McCarthyism, some of the most heinous parts of Nazi and East Germany, and the USSR, all presented with a smile and a cute little number congratulating you for being morally pure. I know it’s probably an understatement to say that China was never going to win any “least Authoritarian government” awards, but this is an entire extra level.

I was going to say, didn’t we see this exact thing on Black Mirror? And, now that I think about it, more or less on the “MeowMeowBeenz” episode of Community? They never made it seem like a good idea.

When you say it’s going to be mandatory by 2020, what will that mean? All citizens of China will be required to use it? Or, required to use it if they want to shop at those government-affiliated retailers? Or …?

I’m not actually sure what it entails. The (English-language) info on it is pretty minimal, I was hoping someone better-informed could help fill in some of the blanks.

Can you say “black market” in items frowned on by the government? They would have to do away with currency to make it work.

I think the insidious thing here is that nothing is banned and merely has a small negative effect on your score. So if you’re otherwise a model citizen, but have some weird interest in something the government isn’t fond of, you’re probably generating enough +'s to counteract the -'s.

If the penalties and commendations are calibrated correctly, this allows people just enough of an ability to be “deviant” that I think it makes it difficult for such a black market to really thrive.

Well, I’ve heard on this board that cash is obsolescent.

That’s it - I’m un-Friending Xi Jinping.


It’s sort of brilliant, in a “1984” meets “Facebook” kind of way. The particularly clever (and horrifying) part isn’t that the Chinese government does, or wants to regulate what its citizens like and think, but that via this social media platform, they’ve figured out a way for the people to do it to themselves.

Wow, I don’t see any way for hackers to take advantage of that system…

Count me in on being horrified, based on the admittedly limited information we have so far. Still, as I was watching the Extra Credits episode last night, I couldn’t help but think that it’s likely that citizens will figure out ways to game the system.

Also, how do they enforce mandatory use of the system? What if you don’t have internet? Are they prepared to deal with identity theft? Are they forcing integration with Facebook or do they plan to just block it entirely in favor of Sesame Credit?

The system is deviously clever, but the devil is in the details. It’ll be interesting to see how they implement this nationwide. Though I’d be much much happier if it didn’t exist in the first place.

Link to a previous thread on this subject.

Incidentally, this is also a strategy we see here in the west - not from the government, fortunately, but from idiots who try to cut all economic ties between “right-thinking” people and people who disagree with them.

Its like having the denizens of a site or board police themselves!

The crazy part is, it’ll probably come with incentives and benefits at first, dressed up in a cute cat mascot. People will flock to it, they’ll want to use it, and then it’ll be a part of their lives unintrusively without them even thinking about it. Until one day your score drops and you unfriend grandma because she went to a Falun Gong temple.

I’ve read this SF story in multiple variations before.


It’s a good thing the NSA can never crack Facebook, Amazon, ebay, and message boards!

Imagine what they could do!

For those who have never received a “You may Know” email with names, locations, and employment info of people you with whom you have not had contact for 40 years:
Your time is coming.
Just give one of the “social networks” your email.

Because in the west, we would never stop being friends with someone for having a bad sense of style or living a lifestyle the mostly Christian social leaders don’t approve of. Drinking too often and ending up friendless vs. buying too much beer and getting defended? I’m not sure there’s a difference here.

Behavioral pressure from society at large is different than that same pressure from the government. Your conservative friends deciding not to hang out with you because you posted an anti-GOP article on facebook is different from the government deciding to “lose” your passport application for six months because you did the same. It’s also different than the government pressuring your friends to ostracize you whether they want to or not, because they’ll be passing up benefits or incurring penalties if they don’t.

Social pressure, imperfect as it is, is directly based on the will of the people. Governmental pressure isn’t, especially in a government like China’s where it’s more difficult for the will of the people to be expressed in the government.