It may have taken a little while, but the Chinese Communist Party woke up to the risks of losing control of information flows on livestream platforms.
Austin Li Jiaqi, China’s “lipstick King” and most famous beauty influencer, has been missing since last month from social media and livestreams.
Most trace his absence to a livestream on June 3 when Li was presented with a tank-shaped cake — it was the night before the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Li had gained a reputation as being loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, and his livestreaming career has been launched in close cooperation with regional governments. Still, his sudden disappearance from his 170 million fans is perhaps the clearest sign that China’s massive livestreaming industry now has the full attention of Beijing's powers-that-be.
Booming industry under scrutiny
On June 22, a new regulation on the livestreaming industry was issued by China’s National Radio and Television Administration and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This 18-point guideline lists 31 banned behaviors for livestreamers, raising the bar of entry and requirements for practices in the booming digital economy.
The regulation clearly states that live video makers “must not commit any act that subverts state power or endangers national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and a "sound credit evaluation system" will be established in accordance with this code.
Other notable points include the requirement that influencers have relevant qualifications to discuss topics such as law, finance, medicine and education. Also, livestreamers are forbidden from showing an extravagant lifestyle on screen, while the platforms are directed to refrain from promoting public figures, who have violated the law or shown “low morals,” from being able to express their opinions publicly.
Austin Li Jiaqi and the infamous "tank cake" featured on his livestream on June 3
Austin Li Jaiqi's livestream
Patriotism and political correctness
After Austin Li’s disappearance, the direct stress on “political correctness” and “good morals” in livestreaming indicates a significant new lever of control on freedom of speech on such platforms.
Especially with so many influencers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and even foreign webcasters joining livestreaming platforms in mainland China, their opinions and behaviors were also bound to be scrutinized.
The whole industry of livestreaming is now under the eye of Beijing.
On the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, videos featuring patriotic sentiments and “national pride” have been circulating all over Chinese social media, and many Hong Kong artists were asked to show their “loyalty and patriotism” on video.
In fact, this business of patriotism and nationalism is not a new phenomenon, having long been an easy way to attract online audiences. “Professionally patriotic” livestreamers have long been active on various platforms, including a few notable foreign voices joining in, posting videos that praise and sometimes even exaggerate China’s “progress.”
Of course, these were not the only voices. With frustration at COVID-related policies still alive in most regions in China, livestreaming has also been a medium for people and social activists to voice their dissidence and to reveal social realities.
The release of the regulations themselves also provoked mixed views from online Chinese-language social media. There seems to be a widely shared belief that most video streamers are not “well-intentioned”, and are just “hunting" for audiences, often using shock and vulgarity to gain popularity.
The new codes would regulate the industry by setting admission requirements, and could therefore actually improve the quality of video content. Yet on the point of whether influencers should have certain qualifications to discuss certain topics, it is notable that the administration has not yet specified which qualifications are being referred to for what topic.
Many Chinese internet users are opposed to this notion of approving all content, as they think it would be “regrettable and boring” if only professionals could deliver the relevant points in such fields. Still, it is evident that the whole industry of livestreaming is now under the eye of Beijing, especially with its landscape that gives everyone a chance to voice themselves.