China wants to control how its famous live streamers behave and dress

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Zeng, who asked to be called by her last name so as not to be identified, thought it was ridiculous. “I don’t think she did anything unreasonable or morally corrupt by today’s standards. On the contrary, I think she’s doing something that can help everyone,” she says. Longfei’s account was finally reinstated in June.

Live streaming started in China in 2016 and has been one of the country’s favorite ways to pass the time ever since, featuring 635 million annual viewers† Top live streamers have huge audiences across e-commerce, music, gaming and comedy, earning huge amounts of money from their millions of devoted fans. As a result, they often have as much influence as A-list celebrities.

But many streamers, such as lawyer Longfei, are grappling with the Chinese government’s increasing willingness to weigh up what’s acceptable. A new policy document, Code of Conduct for Online Streamers, released on June 22 by China’s top cultural authorities, is designed to instruct streamers on what is expected of them. After operating under the radar in recent years, live streamers are now confronted with the full power of China’s censorship machine.

The code lists 31 categories of content that should not appear in online videos, ranging from violence and self-harm to more ambiguous concepts such as religious teachings and flaunting wealth. The guidelines also include rules about the appearance of streamers, and it prohibits the use of deepfakes to joke about China’s leadership.

“I see it as an upward integration effort aimed at covering the entire country, all online platforms, and any genre of online streamers,” said Jingyi Gu, a doctoral student studying Chinese streamers at the University of Illinois, Urbana. – Champaign. It replaces previous regulations that are patchy or provincial, and it also complements other regulations for platforms and marketing companies. †[This one] considers online streamers a profession in its own right, just like actors,” says Gu.

It is clear that the Chinese government is taming an industry that has become too powerful to ignore. In the past year, some of China’s top live streamers fell from their thrones after being fined for tax evasion or causing censorship around political events. But by putting restrictions on paper, the Code of Conduct paves the way for further interventions in the future.

‘The End of the Universe’

There is a saying that is popular in China at the moment: “The end of the universe is selling things via live stream.” It mocks the fact that today professionals from all professions…lawyers, teachers, celebrities– seem to have become streamers making money as QVC style product presenters.

“Americans and Europeans certainly don’t see live streaming as a mainstream channel for shopping, and probably not even a mainstream channel for entertainment, but in China it has become extremely popular,” Gu said.