Shortly after Shanghai went into lockdown, Mark Liu volunteered to help authorities provide essential goods to millions of residents by becoming what’s known as a dabai, or "Big White."

The 33-year-old business director at a fund, who relocated to Shanghai recently from Hong Kong, hoped that signing up would allow him to get more transparent information on the COVID-19 cases in his complex. For the most part, the dabai work with neighborhood committees to ensure residents get food and other essentials to keep daily life running as smoothly as possible, as well as carry out mass COVID-19 testings.

But he soon grew disillusioned by the experience. Not only did the details on COVID-19 outbreaks remain opaque after he became a dabai, but he also saw some volunteers abuse their newfound authority to spy on neighbors or use their status to group-buy e-cigarettes — a luxury they denied to ordinary residents.